Before retiring last week, U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen made 27 trips to Pakistan as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that convinced him he had established a close personal relationship with his opposite number, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — only to conclude in farewell interviews that he is still baffled by the world’s most complex — and dangerous –situation.
In truth, Mullen has been dealing with a Frankenstein’s monster sired in the 1990s when the United States punished Pakistan with all manner of sanctions for its secret nuclear weapons program, which then President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq kept denying.
For 10 years, Pakistani officers were barred from U.S. bases and military schools and courses. In 1985, the U.S. Congress passed the Pressler Amendment that led to a decade-long suspension of security assistance to Pakistan, including 40 F-16 multi-role fighter aircraft. These were paid for in 1982 but flown directly from the Fort Worth, Texas, plant to the “bone yard” of a U.S. Air Force base for storage.
The Pressler Amendment crippled Pakistan’s air force vis-a-vis India and the damage to the F-16 contract wasn’t made whole until last year — 25 years later. The junior officers that were banned from U.S. military schools are now Pakistan’s generals. There was no way for Mullen to assess the long-lasting psychological damage inflicted on the Pakistani military.
The Taliban guerillas the United States is fighting today in Afghanistan were the creation of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, an all-powerful amalgam of the CIA and FBI, and infinitely more powerful. Afghan Talib (student) fighters were moved into Afghanistan to put an end to the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989.
These Pakistani-trained and -supplied guerrillas conquered Kandahar and fought their way to Kabul in the early 1990s, defeating the Soviet-backed Afghan Communist Party. Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar, a thrice-wounded (including the loss of one eye) veteran of the guerrilla war against the Soviets, became president of the newly created Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996.
That same year, the hard-lining Islamist government of Sudan caved in to the joint pressure of Saudi Arabia and the United States and expelled Osama bin Laden, who had been kicked out of his native Saudi Arabia in 1992. Unfortunately, the United States didn’t specify the country bin Laden should be sent and he chose the newly minted Islamist Emirate in Kabul.
Enter al-Qaida. Bin Laden had kept a register of all the Arab Muslim volunteers who had answered the appeal to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and many of them — and newly recruited guerrilla volunteers — rallied to his new cause from Algeria to Bangladesh. He set up some 20 guerrilla training camps.
Bin Laden was convinced — as he told his Saudi friends — that he and mujahedeen fighters had collapsed the Soviet empire by defeating the Soviet army in Afghanistan.
The Soviet Union imploded nine months later but bin Laden and the Muslim fighters he recruited played only a small part in the Afghan campaign that led to the Soviet withdrawal.
On June 4, 2001, three months before al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers in New York and the Pentagon, this reporter and Dr. Ammar Turabi, a Pakistani American who was UPI’s regional consultant for South Asia, interviewed Mullah Omar in Kandahar.
It became quite clear then that Omar was losing patience with bin Laden. Omar didn’t invite bin Laden to Afghanistan; he invited himself. And Omar criticized him for issuing “too many fatwas,” which he said bin Laden wasn’t authorized to do as he hadn’t finished his religious education. He also said bin Laden “talks too much” and that he had no authority to invite foreign journalists.
If he has committed crimes, Omar suggested, he should be judged by a Shariah court in a neutral Muslim country. The Clinton administration’s State Department said it tried everything possible to get bin Laden out of Afghanistan. Not hard enough, in our judgment.
After the U.S. invasion, in the first 10 days of December 2001, bin Laden escaped into Pakistan with some 50 followers. Omar made his way to Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, where he enjoys the protection of ISI. Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs May 2 in his hiding place in Abbottabad, 30 miles from Islamabad.
What would be the downside of negotiating a peace agreement with Omar now that he clearly isn’t affiliated with the transnational al-Qaida of Osama bin Laden? The 44 nations that are allied with the United States in Afghanistan didn’t sign on to fight Taliban. They volunteered as they were led to believe they were fighting al-Qaida and its Taliban allies.
Yet this has never been the case. The war on al-Qaida metastasized rapidly into a wide variety of Taliban and Taliban-affiliated groups in Afghanistan. The Taliban fighters in Pakistan aren’t allied with the Taliban guerrillas in Pakistan that tried to topple the government and got to within 60 miles of Islamabad in 2009.
As for the Haqqani guerrilla network that Mullen says is protected by Pakistan’s ISI and attacks U.S. forces in Afghanistan from its privileged sanctuary in North Waziristan on the Afghan border, the situation is anything but clear cut.
Its chief is Jalaluddin Haqqani, in his early 50s, who was once referred to by former U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Texas, as “goodness personified” for his effectiveness in fighting the Soviet occupation.
Haqqani’s network was never integrated with Taliban but joined them in 2003 when Haqqani, concluded U.S. occupation of Afghanistan had become permanent. In 2006-07, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s emissaries offered Haqqani the post of prime minister. By then Karzai had lost most of his popularity and Haqqani declined.
The bottom line for the Obama administration is that there is no Afghan solution without Pakistan. And for Pakistan, there is no solution without Taliban and the Haqqani network.
To think there is an Indian solution, as some do in the Obama administration, is to simply guarantee a regional war– and U.S. military involvement beyond 2014.
Urgent imperative is for the United States and Pakistan to bury the hatchet.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is editor-at-large at UPI and the Washington Times. This column was syndicated by UPI.