Musharraf’s decision to join the US in the war on terrorism was made out of necessity
With the falling of the twin towers, followed by a war in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and consequently its host, the Taliban, Pakistan was forced to reverse its Afghan policy by distancing itself from the Taliban. Apparently Pakistan did step back but it never stopped from making a case for the Taliban as the original and important stakeholders in any new governmental arrangement that the United States and its allies had envisioned for Afghanistan in the future. Twenty years on, time has proved it to be a right and accurate assessment.
Pakistan tried to convince the Americans to keep Pashtun interests in mind and to desist from giving Kabul to the Northern Alliance — Pakistan’s nemesis because of its closeness with India, Russia, and Iran and because of their anti-Pashtun approach. Musharraf tried to have the Americans understand the necessity of including “acceptable Taliban elements”, in the interim government in Kabul and to exercise restraint in hurting their Pashtun sentiments. Every argument fell on deaf ears. The Pashtuns were attacked in the north, particularly in Qundus and Takhar, making them flee either to the south or over to Pakistan. When the story of Pashtun killing reached Pakistan, particularly Peshawar, anger against the US and the Karzai government mounted to a new level. Karzai was labelled as a US puppet.
Musharraf’s decision to join the US in the war on terrorism was made out of necessity. Musharraf explained this necessity in his September 19, 2001 speech. He said that he had two options: either side with the US or get into a confrontation with it. The latter option he remarked was out of question. He sought the support of the theory of a lesser evil and announced siding with the US. The theory holds that when caught in the bind of choosing between two evils one could accept the lesser evil. He created a parallel between the situation fallen on Pakistan with the one the believers of Medinah had to face on the eve of brokering a ceasefire agreement with the non-believers. The truce, he said, gave the believers more time, space, and opportunity to expand their influence. He concluded his speech by saying that, at the end of the day, the agreement with the US will likewise protect the interests of Pakistan.
According to experts, Musharraf’s support to the US was void of any long-term strategic commitments. In fact, they argued, he was proposing only a tactical accord with the US whose interest and values varied considerably from those of Pakistan’s. The Afghan Taliban were not Pakistan’s enemies. In one of his interviews with MSNBC Television, then US vice-president Joe Biden said, “The US and Pakistan were at odds over the Haqqani network, while the Americans believed the network was responsible for attacking US forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan saw this group as a ‘Strategic Asset’.”
Pakistani military had wanted the US-led regional strategy to facilitate Pakistan’s dialogue with India on Kashmir and to negotiate a reduction in Indian influence in Kabul, which Pakistan perceived to be the major cause of all its troubles in Afghanistan. It was not to be. History has witnessed that the India-Pakistan relationship has never factored in the US regional strategy. The least the US has been doing was playing the role of a pacifier whenever both nations crossed the red line.
Though Musharraf collaborated with the US and helped it capture Al Qaeda militants, he resisted any major military operation in the tribal territories of Pakistan. Musharraf was not Bush’s ally as he favourably called him. According to Vali Nasr, former senior adviser to the US and a special representative for Afghanistan: “It was the US’ failure not to see the Taliban through the ‘lens’ of Pakistan and though Pakistan was willing to go against Al Qaeda, it resisted going against the Taliban.”
Pakistan’s divergent objectives in the war on terrorism had been obvious from the beginning, if not to its allies, to those who could read the writing on the wall. The inability of the US to assuage Pakistan’s ‘fear’ of the Northern Alliance’s dominance in Afghanistan and the former’s decision to completely rout the Taliban left Pakistan with little option than to exercise ‘duplicity’ to protect its regional interests. The influx of Indians in Kabul further enhanced Pakistan’s trepidation, giving it more reasons to protect its turf.
After invading Afghanistan to annihilate Al Qaeda and by extension the Taliban, there was no need for the US to lump the Taliban and Al Qaeda together on the list of terrorists. It was a serious mistake. It also retarded US faculty to understand the regional interests of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan. Al Qaeda did have a base in Afghanistan but their agenda was international. The Taliban on the other hand were an integral part of Afghan society. Before the US invasion, the Taliban had ruled a large part of Afghanistan with a considerable grassroots legitimacy and support. By clamping down on the Taliban through sanctions the UN also diminished the opportunity of sitting down with likable elements from the Taliban for reconciliation. Leaders such as Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil and Abdus Salem Zaeef could have been reached out. Pakistan even persuaded the US to get Jalaluddin Haqqani’s support for the new administration in Kabul. Again, it was not to be. The US had no appetite to accommodate either the Taliban or pro-Taliban elements. Eventually, the UN and US officials’ political insensitivity and the Northern Alliance’s hostility for the Taliban made them grow stronger. No military power could eliminate their influence.
Today after 20 years of war and wasting billions in the process, the US is not only negotiating with the Taliban but has also engaged Pakistan, as a major player, in the truce.