The late Taliban leader Mullah Omar asked the Musharraf government to bring in weapons and bomb Kandahar if it did not like Taliban policies, reveals a secret US cable released by the State Department.
Pervez Musharraf, who was then the country’s chief executive, conveyed this message to then US Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering at a meeting in Islamabad on March 26, 2000.
In the meeting, “the chief executive referred to the recent visit of DG ISI Gen Mahmud to Kandahar as evidence of what it was like to deal with the Taliban”.
“Mullah Omar told Mahmud he was sorry that Taliban policies were causing Pakistan problems and suggested that if (Islamabad) did not like (those policies), it might want to bring in its weapons and begin shelling Kandahar,” Gen Musharraf told Mr Pickering.
When Mr Musharraf urged the US to engage with the Taliban directly, Mr Pickering said the US had been engaging with the Taliban “at multiple venues on repeated occasions, in Washington, New York and Islamabad”.
Mr Pickering said “the fact that Pakistan was the strongest supporter of the Taliban, was of particular concern” to the US.
“This presented us with the anomaly of a good friend being the best friend of our worst enemy. This was an abscess on our relationship that would only get worse and worse.”
Mr Pickering said the US understood why Gen Musharraf did not want to go to Kandahar without being able to bring back concrete results. “But it was important that he recognise that the Bin Laden issue was eating away at our relationship.”
Mr Musharraf replied that he was well aware of US concerns and was personally engaged in dealing with the Taliban on three major issues. The first was terrorist training camps and the sanctuary being given by the Taliban to Pakistani terrorists and criminals. The second was the peace issue. And the third was Osama Bin Laden.
The former chief executive said that Osama Bin Laden was the one area where progress was not being made. He noted he had recently met the visiting Taliban interior minister, who had exhibited a “little bit” of flexibility on the issue. The minister had indicated the possibility of constituting an Ulema council, bringing together religious scholars from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and perhaps the OIC, to consider the evidence against Bin Laden.
Mr Musharraf said that the Taliban continued to want to see proof of Bin Laden’s guilt. Mr Pickering pointed out that the US had recently given Pakistan a full presentation of the evidence against Bin Laden.
Mr Pickering reiterated that the US did not believe it could solve the Bin Laden issue without help from Pakistan. If the Taliban did not believe that Pakistan took the matter seriously, they would be reluctant to take anything we said seriously.
A separate, secret message that the US Embassy sent to Washington before a meeting between Gen Mahmud and US security officials includes a brief assessment of Pakistan’s Afghan policy.
“Pakistan’s rationale for supporting the Taliban is also unchanged: It is committed to establishing a friendly regime in Afghanistan beholden to Islamabad, hostile to Iran and India, dominated by Pashtuns, and uninterested in pursuing territorial claims against Pakistan,” says the message.
The message also shows that there has been little change in US response to Pakistan’s Afghan policy.
The cable urges US officials to ask Gen Mahmud “whether Pakistan can conceive of an alternative to the Taliban that meets both Washington’s and Islamabad’s interests”.
It also asks them to let Mr Mahmud know that “perhaps a change of leadership within the Taliban would be sufficient” to satisfy the US. “Second, we should hint that if Pakistan cannot help us – as they steadfastly maintain — we will look elsewhere for assistance. No need to mention the obvious candidates: India, Russia, and Uzbekistan,” says the secret message.