LAHORE: As the US prepared to invade Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wanted America to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban, but the Bush administration “bluntly” told former president Pervez Musharraf that it had no inclination to do so.
According to classified documents released by the National Security Archive of the George Washington University, two days after al Qaeda unleashed terror on the US, its envoy to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, “bluntly” told Musharraf on September 13, 2001 that there was “absolutely no inclination in Washington to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan at that time”. “The time for dialogue was finished as of September 11,” she told Musharraf, the documents said. However, Pakistan, as the Taliban’s primary sponsor, disagreed.
The documents also said Musharraf, who was facing heat from the US because of his support for the Taliban regime, accepted “unconditionally” in 24 hours all seven demands made by the US such as stopping al Qaeda at the border, providing the US with blanket landing rights to conduct operations and territorial and naval access and help in “destroying Osama Bin Laden”.
However, events thereafter showed that such an acceptance was just a “tactical move” by Musharraf as for all practical purposes, there was not much change in the policies of his government, the documents said.
The then ISI chief Mahmoud Ahmad also told Wendy Chamberlin “not to act in anger”. “Real victory will come in negotiations… if the Taliban are eliminated… Afghanistan will revert to warlordism,” the documents quoted Ahmad as saying.
The then ISI chief wanted the US to give Pakistan some time as he was headed for another trip to Afghanistan on September 25, 2001 to meet the top Taliban leadership in this regard. Mahmoud Ahmad returned to Afghanistan to make a last-minute plea to the Taliban. Ahmad told Chamberlin “his mission was taking place in parallel with US-Pakistani military planning” and that in his estimation, “a negotiated solution would be preferable to military action”.
“I implore you,” Ahmad told the ambassador, “not to act in anger. Real victory will come in negotiations. Mullah Omar himself is frightened. That much was clear in his last meeting.”
The ISI chief told the ambassador that America’s strategic objectives of getting Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda would best be accomplished by coercing the Taliban to do it themselves. “It is better for the Afghans to do it. We could avoid the fallout,” Ahmad told the ambassador. Nevertheless, he promised full Pakistani support for US activities, including military action.
“We will not flinch from a military effort. Pakistan stands behind you,” the documents said. Chamberlin insisted that while Washington “appreciated his objectives” to negotiate to get Bin Laden, Mullah Omar “had so far refused to meet even one US demand”.
The ambassador told Ahmad that his trip “could not delay military planning”.
The secret documents reveal that seven US demands were delivered to Ahmad by then deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage. Within 24 hours, Musharraf accepted “those requests without conditions”.
While Pakistan denied that it was a safe haven for anti-American forces, a State Department-issued paper for former vice president Dick Cheney claimed “some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistani cities, and may still enjoy support from the lower echelons of the ISI”.
Armitage met with Ahmad on September 13, 2001 and told him that the US was looking for full cooperation and partnership from Pakistan, indicating that the decision whether or not to fully comply with US demands would be “a difficult choice for Pakistan”.
Armitage carefully presented Ahmad with the following specific requests for immediate action and asked that he present them to Musharraf for approval.
The demands were to stop al Qaeda at the border, provide the US with blanket landing rights to conduct operations; provide territorial and naval access, provide intelligence; publicly condemn terrorist attacks, cut off recruits and supplies to the Taliban, and break diplomatic relations with the Taliban and help the US destroy Osama Bin Ladin.
In another paper dated September 14, 2001, the ambassador in her message to the then secretary of state, said that Musharraf had accepted all US conditions. “Gen Musharraf accepts the seven actions we are asking of the Pakistani government to support our efforts against international terrorism. His top military commander concurs. Musharraf discussed implementation details remaining to be worked out regarding the points and invited us to send an interagency team to address them,” the US ambassador wrote.
“In a 90-minute meeting on September 14, Musharraf said he had studied the points and discussed them in an all-day meeting with his corps commanders and other ranking military officers. He (Musharraf) said he accepted the points without conditions and that his military leadership concurred,” the documents said.