The Taliban will never surrender - TFT
Hamid Mir argues that Washington is anti-Taliban because the Taliban have refused to do its bidding
Six years ago, Nusrat Javeed of The News and I were invited to dinner in a Chinese restaurant by the then Interior Minister Maj Gen (Retd) Naseerullah Khan Babar. "Why are you writing against the Taliban?" he asked us. "Because the Americans are supporting them," I replied.
Babar gave us a long lecture about the Taliban but we were not ready to buy his theory. Finally, he picked up his famous stick in his right hand and said, "OK, you go to Kandahar independently, talk to them, come back and then see me."
A few weeks later, I was in Kandhar and had a meeting with Mullah Muhammad Umar Majahid. I asked him: "Why is Robin Raphael (then the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia) supporting you?" In response, Umar inquired "who is he?"
The Taliban were clearly not aware of who was supporting them and who was opposed to them outside Afghanistan. They knew only Pakistan. After coming back from Kandhar, I met Babar and told him that the Americans had a three-point agenda for the Taliban. One, they would like to use the Taleban against Iran. Two, they would like to pressurise them to arrange shelter and training camps to the rebels of Sinkiang in Afghanistan. And three, the Americans wanted to construct a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan. But I told Babar that the Americans will not be able to achieve even a single objective because the Taliban will not take dictation from them. This time, Babar was not ready to believe me.
In October 1995, the California-based Unocal oil company signed a protocol with the Turkmenistan government to explore the prospects of constructing an oil pipeline to Pakistan through Afghan territory. When the Taliban captured Kabul, the vice-president of Unocal, Christopher Taggart, confidently stated that "we regard it as very positive". He added that if the US followed Pakistan's example of cementing ties with the Taliban, this would open opportunities for them. Robert Oakley, former US Ambassador in Pakistan, was in due course hired by Unocal for lobbing its cause and was busy shuttling between Washington and Islamabad.
Benazir Bhutto was thrown out of power on November 6, 1996. I remember that a few days after her sacking, she told me that the American Ambassador in Islamabad, Thomas W. Simons, was not happy with her because the Taliban had refused to oblige Unocal. On November 16, 1996, the US assistant secretary of state Robin Raphel argued at a UN conference on Afghanistan in New York that the Taliban were a completely indigenous movement. Raphel said that the Taliban's policies may reflect extremism but the best way to moderate them was to engage them. She later went to Kandahar and had a meeting with top Taliban officials, but the policy of engagement failed because the Taliban signed a memorandum of understanding with Bridas, an Argentinian oil company, to develop the proposed gas pipeline.
Much later, when the US$ 8 billion pipeline project had become a non-starter, they flared up and created an issue out of Osama Bin Ladin. They now demanded his extradition but the Taliban refused. This refusal lent credence to the Taliban because common Pakistans now realised that the Taliban were an independent force.
I have met Mullah Umar many times. He is convinced that the Americans are not interested in Osama Bin Ladin, that their real objective is to install a government of their own choice in Kabul which will take control of all the road links to Central Asia. The Americans clearly want to create problems not only for Pakistan and China but also for Iran. Some time back, Osama bin Laden revealed to me that once, when he decided to leave Afghanistan, he went to see Mullah Umar and informed him about his decision. But the Taliban militia leader refused to discharge him by saying "Don't give us a bad name."
There are some people who criticise Islamabad's Afghan policy. But is it not a reality that Pakistan is Afghanistan's only regional neighbour that has continued a dialogue with all sides of the Afghan political divide? Irrespective of the Northern Alliance's public stance, its leadership has actively sought Pakistan's intervention to initiate an intra-Afghan dialogue. Nobody can deny the fact that the Islamabad accord was signed by all the Afghan parties in 1993 and remains testimony to Islamabad's commitment to a genuine home-grown peace process in Pakistan. It was under this accord that Sibghatullah Mujadidi became the President of Afghanistan in Kabul for six months. In fact, when he showed some hesitation in vacating the Presidentship for Burhanuddin Rabbani, it was Pakistan that forced him to step down. Yet, when Rabbani's term was up, in violation of the accord, he refused to step down with the encouragement of Washington and Moscow. Therefore when Pakistan's embassy in Kabul was attacked and Rabbani refused to implement the Islamabad accord, Pakistan was forced to support the Taliban.
There is pressure on Pakistan to withdraw its support for the Taliban. Some people argue that if Pakistan expects the US to support its Kashmir stance, it should not snub the US in terms of its requirements in Afghanistan. But the question is: what can the US do for Pakistan in Kashmir? Nothing. Suppose Pakistan were to withdraw its support for the Taliban, in how many weeks or months would India vacate Kashmir?
The day the Taliban are dislodged from Kabul, American, Indian and Israeli fighter planes will occupy all the bases close to Pakistan's northern and western borders. They will start their covert operations not only against Pakistan but also against China and Iran. The Americans tried their best to convince the Taliban to start a Jihad in Sinkiang through a Saudi NGO called Rabta Alm-e-Islami, but the Taliban refused. Indeed, if today the Taliban were to agree to be used against China, all of their problems would be solved. But they are not opportunists. They have many faults and follies but they have become a defence line for Pakistan and China.
The claim is also wrong that Pakistan is suffering because of the Taliban. Pakistan faced sanctions in 1990 from the US but there were no Taliban at that time. Now the US is forcing Pakistan to implement the UN's one-sded sanctions against Afghanistan, just to create misunderstandings between the Taliban and Pakistan. The UN wants to send monitors to implement its sanctions. And it wants Pakistan to facilitate the monitors and arrange security for them. But the UN should go and see the Pak-Afghan border which cannot be sealed. The monitors must go to the tribal areas and see that people from both sides don't accept the Durand line demarcated by the British government. They must listen to ordinary Pakistanis who support the Taliban because they think that the real crime of the Taliban is that they have refused to become puppets like Ahmed Shah Masood and Burhanuddin Rabbani. Both are responsible for bomb blasts in Afghanistan. Now Masood says that there has been a murder attempt on him in Northern Afghanistan by suicide bombers. This is a message for all the countries supporting the terrorism of the Northern Alliance to come to Masood's rescue.
The Taliban have proved that they are not weak, that they can get anywhere they want. They have brought peace to 95% of Afghanistan after 15 years but so-called civil society is not ready to recognize their contribution. There is women's police in Kabul, girls' schools are opening up in Kandahar, even a nursing school is working in Heart but western funded NGOs are not ready to speak the truth.
No matter what the pressure, the Afghans, a proud nation, are not ready to compromise. If the Americans want Osama to try and convict him then it is through negotiations with Kabul that a satisfactory solution can be reached. Otherwise, they may try again to browbeat the Taleban. But the Taliban will never surrender.
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