Friday, January 11, 2008

Genesis, Part 5

In this post, we continue reviewing declassified State Department cables addressing the rise to power of the Taliban.

This is a memo from December 5, 1994. The name of the author has been redacted.

Keep in mind that GOP here refers to the Government of Pakistan, and ISI refers to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.

To: Ron McMullen (Afghanistan Desk)
Fm: [redacted]

Subject: Developments in Afghanistan

I hope you will pardon the presumption of my involving myself in this matter, but over the weekend the Afghan network has been lighting up with concerns over developments in southern and western Afghanistan. I wanted to pass this along to you -- and to Lee if you think anything below warrants his attention.

[redacted] told me this AM that he is concerned that the GOP (ISI) is deeply involved in the Taleban take over in Kandahar and Qalat. He is worried that the GOP may be seeking to "pacify" Afghanistan, [illegible] to open commerce from Central Asia to Karachi via the Herat-Kandahar-Chamman road. He suspects that the Mesteri plan will either be sabotaged or substantially altered by this undertaking.

The Mesteri Plan was a proposal for President Rabbani (see below) to step aside, and for the warring factions to cooperate in establishing a council of prominent Afghanis who were not linked to militias. The Taliban had not been invited to the party, and no one expected the plan to work, especially as the Taliban gained power.

Recall that in the first post in this series, we pointed out that about a year before the Taliban appeared on the scene, that is in 1993, Pakistan was planning upgrades and improvements to the port facilities in Gwadar. Consequently, we postulated that the appearance of the Taliban in 1994 may have been intended to secure the roads leading from Pakistan up through Afghanistan to Central Asia.

Here, the author of this memo is suggesting something similar. The difference is that I made a specific connection to Gwadar, where improvements are ongoing today, with China's help.

In any case, both the GOP and the ISI are implicated in this memo as being behind the Taliban.

I would like to point out that it may have been a situation where only certain factions in the GOP and the ISI were involved in this. In other words, this may not have been policy of the Government of Pakistan per se, but rather only of certain elements in the GOP, and perhaps only the ISI contacts of those elements.

An Afghan contact in Dushanbe told me this AM that there is a Rabbani-ISI deal according to which Rabbani has agreed to an ISI move into southern and western Afghanistan so long as it does not extend to a challenge of Ismail Khan in Herat. The thinking of this source is that Rabbani is exploiting the widening gulf between Gulbuddin and ISI -- growing out of ISI's impression that Gulbuddin will be unable to move beyond the Kabul stalemate as it (and HG) had expected. (A US journalist in Tashkent this AM called to say that he has heard the Taleban might be moving toward Gardez -- with involvement in Kabul intended.)

Burhanuddin Rabbani's mujahideen were the first to enter Kabul upon defeat of the communists in 1992. He was President of Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996, when he was forced to leave Kabul because of the Taliban takeover.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is the leader of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG, which is now classifed as an Islamist terrorist group. During the war against the Soviets, the HIG had a particularly bad record, being more dangerous to fellow mujahideen than it was to the Red Army. It is unclear to what extent the organization currently exists; Hekmatyar has called upon them to fight alongside Al Qaeda.

Afghans here in the U.S. who claim to be in phone contact with Afghans in Quetta allege that Pak Air Force officials are readying Kandahar airport for support of still larger military operations to include heavier fighting in Helmand and Farah. One Afghan asserts as fact involvement of Pak military with the Taleban and that old Khalqis are serving as enforcers in Kandahar. While many/most Afghan commanders would be constrained in condemning this alleged GOP intervention by virtue of their own dependence on Pakistan, there appears to be significant sentiment within the diaspora against the GOP move.

It is worth recalling that in previous posts on The Islamic Bomb, we learned that Pakistani Air Force aircraft helped A. Q. Khan's network move nuclear technology and components around, as Khan's network was selling nuclear weapons technology to various nations, including Iran and North Korea.

Were the nuclear blackmarket and the intervention in Afghanistan both official policy of the GOP? Or, were these the operations of rogue elements within the Pakistani military? If the latter, might it have been the same rogue element in both cases?

Bottom line: to what extent is the GOP involved with the nuclear black market and the Taliban?

For what they are worth my own views are as follows: while action to end the chaos in Afghanistan, and to direct Central Asian commerce south rather than west, appears positive, my sense is that foreign intervention, especially by Paks who are not liked, notably in the South), ultimately will generate resistance. While the absence of any source of foreign support for such resistance may limit its intensity, it will mean at least long term instability. Continued GOP interference in Afghanistan could lead to Afghan-Pak conflict. Moreover, I fear the implications for Mesteris's efforts entailed in these developments. If the Mesteri plan is somehow linked to this intervention, it will undermine the plan. Alternatively, it could be aimed at sabotaging the plan.

It was suggested in previous messages that Rabbani might have been behind the Taliban, perhaps working with Pakistan's ISI. This might make sense, in that the Mesteri Plan called for Rabbani to step aside, so he had motive to work with a new force that might sabotage the plan.

Were Rabbani and the ISI cooperating to help the Taliban seize power, perhaps hoping the Taliban would leave Rabbani in power, or at least in some position of authority in a new government? Were they hoping that this could then stabilize Afghanistan enough to enable trade along Afghanistan's highways?

"Continued GOP interference in Afghanistan could lead to Afghan-Pak conflict."

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