Wahid Monawar, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is a former Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Currently, he is a member of the Peace Project. Follow him @AfghanPolicy.
In this column, he offers another point of view on issues related to US dealings with Pakistan.
“What can I do for you, my friend? But before you answer, let me reassure you that we have not made any promises to Pakistanis.” Those were almost the exact words of then the Secretary of State Colin Powell in a meeting with former Afghan foreign minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah in July 2003. I was part of minister’s delegation, not only I was impressed with Mr. Powell’s affable demeanor but his outright awareness of an outstanding question that had certainly played a part in derailing Afghanistan’s young democracy: how to tame a belligerent Pakistan?
Nine years later, Pakistan is still a diplomatic tragedy. Suffice to say that the unconscious guilt that dwells in Pakistani leaders is not a novel phenomenon. The unfortunate events of 9/11 would have never materialized had Pakistan played a constructive role as an ally in helping the United States capture Osama bin Laden while bin Laden was receiving protection and sanctuary from Pakistan’s surrogate, the Taliban.
Bruce Riedel a senior fellow at Brooking Institution and a former adviser to three U.S. presidents on Middle East and South Asian issues has rightly summed up Pakistan’s soul: “Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world today, where every nightmare of the twenty first century – terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the danger of nuclear war, dictatorship, poverty and drugs, come together in one place.”
Yet, Pakistan’s diplomatic delinquency resembles of that of a habitual offender. Pakistani leaders’ false promises to stop terrorism date back to the Clinton administration. In August of 1998, when the United States embassies were attacked in the East African capitals of Dar es Salam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, President Clinton pressed then Pakistan’s civilian and democratically elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif to rein in the Taliban, and through the Taliban bring Osama bin Laden to justice.
In December of 1998, in a meeting with President Clinton at the Blair House, Nawaz Sharif promised to help capture Osama bin Laden, who was enjoying VIP accommodations by the Taliban in occupied Afghanistan in exchange for a compensation package that included several dozen F-16s, and in addition to fighter jets, Sharif asked Clinton to train ISI commando team to take care of bin Laden.
Mr. Riedel who at the time was a senior official in the Clinton administration recollects: ´The proposal seemed far-fetched to me and most of the U.S. team. The ISI was fully embedded in occupied Afghanistan and had intimate relations with the Taliban. Why would Pakistan need U.S. assistance to bring bin Laden to justice? Sharif seemed to be offering a runaround, not a serious proposal.”
Nawaz Sharif, as good of a Pakistani man as he is, continued his delinquent behavior by demonstrating contempt to the intelligence of his American interlocutors and in the process reaffirming Pakistani’s status quo. Yet, Clinton raised the issued again with Sharif when they held a bilateral meeting while attending the funeral of Jordan’s King Hussein in Amman, Jordan on February 8, 1999. Those who attended the meeting remember Clinton’s reservation for another al Qaeda attack on U.S. interests.
When Pakistan yet lost another war and was humiliated by India during operation Vijay, Sharif wanted to fire the chief of army General Parvis Musharaf, but Musharaf like many other Pakistani generals had support from the army and commissioned a bloodless coup d’état from his en route PIA flight at 30 thousand feet against Sharif. Kargil war was lost, Sharif was exiled and Musharaf, the biggest Jihadi of them all became Pakistan’s de facto dictator.
According to Mr. Riedel, President Clinton and his team had one more shot to convince Pakistan, that it was not in Pakistan’s best interest to support directly or indirectly the Taliban, when Clinton visited Islamabad for a few hours after spending five days in India in 2000.
Clinton raised the Osama bin Laden problem directly in his meeting with Musharaf, pressing him to use Pakistan’s military advisers working shoulder to shoulder with the Taliban to persuade them to stop supporting terrorism and to arrest bin Laden and bring him to justice.
Mr. Riedel who was part of President Clinton’s delegation remembers: “I was with the president and was struck by the forcefulness of his message. Musharaf was equally direct and clear: he would do no such thing. Musharaf explained that Afghanistan was of vital interest to Pakistan. It gives Pakistan strategic depth in its struggle with India.”
Between 1998 and well into President Bush’s first year in office, there were five different United Nations Security Council resolutions, 1185, 1214, 1267, 1333, and 1363 condemning Pakistan and its surrogate the Taliban role in “sheltering and training” terrorists in their territory. Not only did Pakistan continue to ignore international demands, it deliberately violated all UNSC resolutions by increasing its military assistance to the Taliban.
According to George Tenet, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the man focused on bringing bin Laden to justice, “The Pakistani always knew more than they were telling us and were singularly uncooperative. My own belief was widely shared in the CIA.”
On September 11, 2001, Pakistan’s policy of appeasing the Taliban and international terrorism did not come to an end but only paused for a few years out of fear of retribution from the United States. One always wonders how the fifteen minute telephone conversation unfolded when Colin Powell, under the directive of President Bush, called Dictator Musharaf on September 17, 2001 to offer United States ultimatum: “either you are with freedom or with the international terrorism and the Taliban.”
Ironically, when the unfortunate events of September 11 occurred, an estimated 60, 000 Pakistani Islamic students, dozen of Pakistani military officers, along with small units of elite Special Services Group commandos (the unit Dictator Musharaf had once commanded) were in engaged in combat operations with the Taliban forces in occupied Afghanistan, according to Talibanologist Ahmed Rashid.
When the CIA elite team with the help of Afghan Mujahedeen started their operation to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban and their Pakistani and Arab terrorist allies, most Pakistani advisers, pilots, tank crews and other military personnel fled the country back to Pakistan. Some Pakistani troops had to be air-lifted out of Afghanistan after being surrounded by the advancing Afghan Mujahedeen and CIA para-military forces from Kunduz province.
Yet, the pursuit of failed policies by Pakistani leaders and its military Jihadi extremist, to portray India as its archrival in hopes of extracting sympathy from the West, while overtly supporting international terrorism has shaped U.S. policy makers understanding of the indisputable role Pakistan is playing in accommodating terrorism. Still, international humiliation; and the recent snub by the leader of the free world, Barack Obama, isn’t a sufficient effort to admonish and rehabilitate Pakistani leaders.
Today, in dealing with an unreconstructed Pakistan, President Obama finds himself at the same crossroads as once former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage did when he confronted Pakistan’s director of ISI, Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed in the wake of September 11: “Should Pakistan stand by its relationship with the Taliban & international terrorism Armitage threatened to bomb Pakistan to Stone Age.”
Only history will be able to judge, when diplomacy persistently fails, if the use of drones is the only way out.