This document is a US State Department cable, dated December 22, 1995, from the State Department in Washington to the US Embassy in Islamabad, in which the US Secretary of State is outlining US policy with regards to Afghanistan, addressing what is known about Pakistani involvement, and establishing talking points so US diplomats could communicate the US position to their Pakistani counterparts.
SUBJECT: DISCUSSING AFGHAN POLICY WITH THE PAKISTANIS
1. (U) CLASSIFIED BY LEE O. COLDREN, SA/PAB DIRECTOR, REASON: 1.5(D).
2. (C) SUMMARY AND ACTION REQUEST. THE PAST YEAR HAS SEEN SEVERAL DRAMATIC REVERSALS OF FORTUNE FOR THE ARMED FACTIONS IN AFGHANISTAN AS WELL AS CONCURRENT CHANGES OR HARDENING OF THE AFGHAN POLICIES OF RUSSIA, IRAN, INDIA AND, NOT LEAST, PAKISTAN. THE EFFECTS TO DATE OF THESE CHANGES HAVE BEEN TO LESSEN THE PROSPECTS FOR SUCCESS OF THE UN MEDIATION PROCESS, INJECT GREATER ELEMENTS OF PROXY BATTLES INTO THE AFGHAN CONFLICT, AND CONTINUE THE AGONY OF THE AFGHAN PEOPLE. PAKISTAN HAS FOLLOWED A POLICY OF SUPPORTING THE TALIBAN AND ATTEMPTING TO FORGE A MILITARY AND POLITICAL ALLIANCE AMONG THE KABUL REGIME'S OPPONENTS. THE GOP APPEARS AMBIVALENT, AT BEST, ABOUT WHETHER RABBANI AND MASOOD SHOULD HAVE ANY PLACE IN TRANSITIONAL ARRANGEMENTS AIMED AT CREATING A STABLE AND LEGITIMATE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT.
There it was, in a nutshell - Afghanistan had been an arena for a multiparty free-for-all via proxies, with each Afghan faction having a foreign sponsor.
Pakistan got behind a new horse in the race, the Taliban, with an eye to finishing the chaos with its client on top.
3. (C) PAKISTAN HAS BEEN NO MORE INTERVENTIONIST THAN OTHER PLAYERS. WE SHARE PAKISTAN'S GOAL OF A STABLE, LEGITIMATE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT NOT BEHOLDEN TO FOREIGN COUNTRIES, ALTHOUGH WE ARE UNCERTAIN WHETHER OTHER INTERVENING POWERS HAVE THAT SAME OBJECTIVE. HOWEVER, WE QUEESTION WHETHER PAKISTAN'S CURRENT POLICIES ARE SERVING THAT GOAL. CURRENTLY IT SEEMS EVEN LESS LIKELY THAN SEVERAL MONTHS AGO THAT PAKISTAN CAN BROKER AN ALLIANCE BETWEEN THE TALIBAN AND OTHER RABBANI OPPONENTS. THE TALIBANS ABILITY TO OUST RABBANI AND MASOOD FROM KABUL ALSO SEEMS PROBLEMATIC. [redacted]
"Pakistan has been no more interventionist than the other players."
However, with a significant Pashtun presence along their common border, a brand of Islam - Deobandi - that was palatable to Pakistan's ally in Riyadh, and religious schools along the border where Islamic extremism could be propagated and religious students trained and organized, the basic recipe was right for Pakistan to be the most effective of the players.
Pakistan's use of mujahideen to subvert its neighbors - as in the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir - and the close ties between officialdom, especially the military, and jihadists, just ensured Islamabad would be an excellent cook of the brew that would be served up in Afghanistan.
(Notice below the expression "TALL BAN" - we saw this in previous cable traffic.)
4. (C) GIVEN BELOW IS THE VIEW OF THE AFGHAN DEVELOPMENTS AS SEEN FROM WASHINGTON AS WELL AS SOME SUMMARY TALKING POINTS. EMBASSY ISLAMABAD IS REQUESTED TO DRAW ON THESE MATERIALS IN DISCUSSIONS WITH GOP AFGHAN POLICIY MAKERS. END SUMMARY AND ACTION REQUEST.
MAJOR REVERSALS IN 1995: TALIBAN REDUX
5. (C) THERE WERE TWO DRAMATIC REVERSALS OF THE MILITARY SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN IN 1995, BOTH INVOLVING THE TALIBAN. IN MARCH, THE TALIBAN WERE THROWN BACK FROM KABUL AS WAS THE IRANIAN SUPPORTED WAHDAT PARTY. WITH KABUL ITSELF FREE OF FIGHTING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THREE YEARS, THE NOMINAL RABBANI GOVERNMENT MOUNTED AN AGGRESSIVE INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO BE RECOGNIZED AS THE DE JURE GOVERNMENT OF AFGHANISTAN, A CLAIM WHICH HAD EXPIRED IN 1994. AFTER PROLONGED FIGHTING IN THE WEST THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER, BY LATE AUGUST THE TALIBAN'S CAMPAIGN APPEARED DESTINED FOR FAILURE AS THE FORCES OF RABBANI ALLY ISMAEL KHAN PUSHED THE TALIBAN TO GIRISHK NEAR THEIR HOME BASE AT KANDAHAR. BY THIS POINT MOST OBSERVERS HAD CONCLUDED THAT THE TALL BAN WERE A REGIONAL PHENOMENON LIMITED TO THE PASHTUN MAJORITY AREAS OF SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN. THEN IN A STUNNING REVERSAL, THE TALIBAN ROLLED UP ISMAEL KHAN'S TROOPS, TOOK SHINDAND AIRBASE, AND ENTERED HERAT WITHOUT A BATTLE HAVING COVERED SOME 450 KILOMETERS IN 5 DAYS.
That the Taliban were ethnic Pashtuns, coming to dominate a multi-ethnic Afghanistan, was noticed right from the beginning. Without outside help, they arguably would have been just one of many groups battling in Afghanistan.
However, as we saw in our previous post in this series, they were getting assistance from Pakistan - help operating crew-served weapons and aircraft. We had also seen previously how they showed a remarkable degree of sophistication in Herat, a knack for public affairs that ensured at least short-term success - success long enough to gain a dominant position over opponents.
IRAN SWITCHES SIDES
6. (C) THESE SHIFTS IN THE FORTUNES OF WAR BROUGHT ABOUT CHANGES IN POLICY BY COUNTRIES WHICH BACK FACTIONS IN AFGHANISTAN TO FORWARD THEIR OWN NATIONAL INTERESTS. ONE OF THE MOST STRIKING CHANGES WAS IN IRANIAN POLICY. UNTIL MARCH, TEHERAN SUPPORTED WAHDAT, THE SHIA CONGLOMERATE IT HAD CREATED, IN ITS FIGHT AGAINST THE RABBANI/MASOOD REGIME. HOWEVER, APPARENTLY THE MINISTRY OF INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY (MOIS) SUPPLANTED THE MFA ON AFGHAN POLICY AND BEGAN TO SUPPORT RATHER THAN ATTACK RABBANI. THE MOTIVATION WAS FEAR OF THE TALIBAN WHICH WAS VIEWED AS SUNNI FUNDAMENTALISTS, ANTI-IRANIAN, AND PASHTUN CHAUVINIST. MOREOVER, TEHRAN, IN A MIXTURE OF PROPAGANDA AND CONVICTION, IS CLAIMING THAT THE TALIBAN ARE THE CREATION AND TOOL NOT ONLY OF PAKISTAN, BUT OF ITS ARCH ENEMY, THE UNITED STATES. AFTER THE FALL OF HERAT AND THE FLIGHT OF ISMAEL KHAN TO IRAN, TEHERAN'S FEAR OF THE TALIBAN INTENSIFIED AND TEHERAN BEGAN PROVIDING SIGNIFICANT MATERIAL AND MILITARY SUPPORT TO KABUL, ACCORDING TO VARIOUS REPORTS.
Iran's decision to back instead of subvert what was generally recognized as the legitimate government in Kabul was mentioned in a previous post; we saw it was a function of Tehran's concern for the Taliban's ethnic composition and especially for the Taliban's religious views, whereunder Shia Muslims could reasonably be expected to suffer.
Notice in this next image what I have highlighted in blue:
RUSSIAN SUPPORT FOR RABBANI HARDENS
7. (C) RUSSIA HAS MORE THAN ONE AFGHAN POLICY. IT IS INFLUENCED AT TIMES BY SEVERAL ACTORS, INCLUDING THE DUMA, THE ARMY, AND RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS, AS WELL AS THE FOREIGN MINISTRY. HOWEVER, IT WAS CLEAR DURING ASSISTANT SECRETARY RAPHEL'S NOVEMBER VISIT TO MOSCOW THAT DE FACTO RUSSIAN SUPPORT FOR RABBANI HAS HARDENED CONSIDERABLY AND THAT THE REASON WAS EXTREME DISTRUST AND DISLIKE OF THE TALIBAN. THE CONTINUED DETENTION OF THE RUSSIAN AIRCREW OF A PLANE SEIZED BY THE TALIBAN WHILE TRANSPORTING AMMUNITION TO KABUL HAS FUELED ANTI-TALIBAN SENTIMENT IN MOSCOW. [redacted] WHILE MOSCOW IS STILL PUBLICLY COMMITTED TO THE UN MEDIATION PROCESS, ITS INCREASED CLOSENESS TO THE RABBANI REGIME IS EVIDENT EVEN AT THE UN. A DRAFT STATEMENT RUSSIA RECENTLY URGED ON THE P-8 CALLS FOR CEASEFIRE NEGOTIATION, BUT DOES NOT MENTION THE UN. MOSCOW'S MATERIAL SUPPORT FOR THE RABBANI REGIME HAS INCREASED SUBSTANTIALLY IN RESPONSE TO THE FALL OF HERAT AND TALIBAN PRESSURE ON KABUL. FROM WASHINGTON'S PERSPECTIVE, MOSCOW APPEARS MORE COMMITTED TO KEEPING RABBANI IN KABUL AND, NECESSARILY, LESS COMMITTED TO A UN BROKERED TRANSFER OF POWER.
If Russia can have more than one Afghan policy, each implemented or championed by one Russian institution, why not the United States?
In particular, though there were certainly US diplomats who wanted what was best for Afghanistan, what is to preclude some faction or group from steering the situation to the best interests of the oil companies, who were seeking to build a pipeline through Afghanistan from Central Asia to the Pakistani coast?
Or, for that matter, what is to preclude some faction or group from steering the situation in a way that favored heroin traffickers?
We will conclude our review of this cable in Part 22.