SUBJECT: A/S RAPHEL DISCUSSES AFGHANISTAN
1. (U) CLASSIFIED BY THOMAS W. SIMONS, JR, AMBASSADOR. REASON: 1.5 (D).
2. (C) SUMMARY: DISCUSSIONS WITH GOP, KABUL GOVERNMENT AND TALIBAN OFFICIALS SUGGEST THE DOOR IS NOT YET CLOSED FOR AN AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS -- BUT IT WILL TAKE HARD WORK TO KEEP IT OPEN, LET ALONE GO THROUGH IT. THE GOP HAS RECOGNIZED THAT ITS SUPPORT FOR THE TALIBAN HAS BACK-FIRED AND IS LOOKING FOR ALTERNATIVES, AND NEITHER THE TALIBAN NOR THE KABUL GOVERNMENT CAN BE SUFFICIENTLY SURE THAT THEY WILL WIN THE EXPECTED NEXT ROUND OF FIGHTING TO RULE OUT COMPLETELY NEGOTIATIONS. NONETHELESS, IT WILL TAKE SKILLFUL MANAGEMENT -- AND A BIT OF LUCK -- TO BREAK THROUGH THE RIGID POSITIONS ESPOUSED BY KABUL AND THE TALIBAN. AN ARMS EMBARGO (PERHAPS TO BE DISCUSSED VIA AN INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE) AND SUPPORT FOR AN ALL-PARTY AFGHAN CONFERENCE COULD BE USEFUL TOOLS TO BREAK THE CURRENT DEAD-LOCK. END SUMMARY.
3. (U) SOUTH ASIA A/S RAPHEL'S APRIL 19-20 VISIT TO AFGHANISTAN, AND HER MEETINGS IN ISLAMABAD WITH TOP GOP AND U.N. OFFICIALS, PROVIDED AN OPPORTUNITY TO ASSESS THE CURRENT STATE OF PLAY ON THE AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS. IN AFGHANISTAN SHE MET WITH KABUL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS INCLUDING PRESIDENT RABBANI, DE FACTO DEFENSE MINISTER AHMED SHAH MASOOD, MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS NAJIBULLAH LAFRAIE AND ACTING DEFENSE MINISTER YUNIS QANUNI AS WELL AS TALIBAN LEADERS MAULAVI AMIR KHAN MOTTAQI (TALIBAN CHIEF FOR INFORMATION) AND FIVE OTHER MEMEBERS OF THE TALIBAN INNER SHURA. IN PAKISTAN SHE CALLED ON, AMONG OTHERS, PM BHUTTO, COAS KARAMAT, INTERIOR MINISTER BABAR, FOREIGN MINISTER ASSEF ALI AND NAJMUDDING SHAIKH.
PAKISTAN: LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT
4. (C) A CONSENSUS HAS EMERGED AMONG THE TOP LEADERSHIP OF THE GOP THAT PAKISTAN NEEDS TO BROADEN ITS AFGHAN POLICY. PM BHUTTO TOLD A/S RAPHEL THAT THE GOP IS PURSUING AN ENHANCED DIALOGUE WITH THE KABUL GOVERNMENT; FM ASSEF ALI SAID ISLAMABAD WOULD WELCOME A VISIT BY A RABBANI/MASOOD DELEGATION, WHICH WOULD BE RECIPROCATED, AND ALSO OFFERED TO MEET WITH KABUL REGIME MINSTATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS LAFRAIE ON THE MARGINS OF THE UPCOMING ASHGABAT ECO CONFERENCE. THE MOVE TO REPAIR RELATIONS IN KABUL IN LARGE PART DERIVES FROM GOP DISSATISFACTION WITH THE DIRECTION IN WHICH THE TALIBAN ARE MOVING; COAS KARAMAT WENT SO FAR AS TO REFER TO THE TALIBAN AS "A MILLSTONE AROUND OUR NECKS." FONSEC SHAIKH OUTLINED PAKISTAN'S REPEATED EFFORTS TO GET THE TALIBAN TO AGREE TO NEGOTIATIONS AND EXPRESSED DISAPPOINTMENT THAT THE RECENT KANDAHAR ULEMA MAJLIS OPTED FOR HARD-LINE REJECTIONISM; FM ASSEF ALI SAID THE ONLY GOOD RESULT OF THAT GATHERING WAS THE POSSIBILITY THAT MAULAVI MOHAMMED OMAR'S ELEVATION TO "LEADER OF THE FAITHFUL" WOULD GIVE HIM MORE POWER TO MAKE DECISIONS. PM BHUTTO EMPHASIZED THAT PAKISTAN WAS NOT PROVIDING MILITARY SUPPORT TO THE TALIBAN AND INSISTED THAT ONLY MINIMAL, NON-LETHAL AID WAS BEING DELIVERED.
Of course, we by now know that wasn't true.
Was PM Bhutto telling a lie, or did she not know the extent of the involvement of her government in supporting the Taliban?
(It seems fairly obvious to me that any country that can have as many coups and as many years under military rule as Pakistan does, must have a military willing to act upon its own agenda -- including in the arena of foreign affairs -- as opposed to the agenda of the elected rulers.)
This support for Islamic militants, dating back to the founding of Pakistan, has long been a tiger that any civilian (or even military) leadership in Islamabad has by the tail.
5. (C) HOW TO MOVE FORWARD FOR PAKISTAN, HOWEVER, IS STILL A MATTER OF SOME DEBATE WITHIN THE GOP'S TOP CIRCLES, BUT ISLAMABAD IS OPEN TO SUGGESTIONS. FEARING REGIONAL ISOLATION ON AFGHANISTAN POLICY, THE GOP IS REACHING OUT, AND WANTS TO ENGAGE WITH THE U.S. ON NEXT STEPS, FM ASSEF ALI OBSERVED. ENGAGING THE 'RIM STATES' ON AFGHANISTAN ALSO IS IMPORTANT, TOP GOP OFFICIALS AGREE, AND ISLAMABAD IS INCREASINGLY WILLING TO COOPERATE WITH TEHRAN,PERHAPS EVEN TO THE POINT OF HOSTING (AT IRANIAN URGING) AN AFGHAN CONFERENCE IN ISLAMABAD, AND TO ENGAGE THE ECO. IN ADDITION TO BEING LUCRATIVE FOR PAKISTAN, THE TRANS-AFGHAN PIPELINE IDEA IS STRONGLY SUPPORTED BECAUSE IT IS SEEN AS A WAY TO BRING POTENTIALLY HELPFUL ACTORS ONTO THE AFGHAN STAGE. THE PM MADE CLEAR PAKISTAN'S SUPPORT FOR THE U.N. MISSION'S PRIMACY AS THE LEAD ACTOR IN BROKERING A PEACE DEAL, BUT OTHERS OUTLINED ISLAMABAD'S DISSATISFACTION AND DISAPPOINTMENT OVER WHAT IS SEEN AS THE LACK OF ENERGY AND DIRECTION OF THE MESTIRI MISSION.
And herein lies the dilemma: Islamabad had been, and still was, dissatisfied and disappointed with the peace process, and that was why the decision was made to back the Taliban -- they might be able to succeed, by force not just of arms but of Islamic arms, where the warring parties had failed.
What do I mean with the expression "by force of... Islamic arms"?
Well, just as Pakistan in the 1940's painted anything other than unity in the face of the infidel enemy (India) as un-Islamic, so perhaps was it hoped that Mullah Omar, the "Leader of the Faithful", could win not necessarily a military victory, but some kind of religious-political one. Indeed, during the Taliban's rise to power, the forces of the "Leader of the Faithful" bribed enemies into submission more often than they won militarily.
6. (C) AT HEART, PAKISTAN'S NEED TO PURSUE A PRO-PASHTUN POLICY FOR THE SAKE OF ITS OWN DOMESTIC POLITICAL AND SECURITY AGENDA REPRESENTS A HURDLE WHICH THE GOP ACKNOWLEDGES, BUT FEELS THE TAJIK-DOMINATED KABUL GOVERNMENT IS DOING LITTLE TO HELP OUT ON. EFFORTS TO RESUSCITATE RELATIONS WITH KABUL ARE HAMPERED, SHAIKH AND ASSEF ALI REMARKED, BY RABBANI AND MASOOD'S BICKERING OVER MODALITIES AND THEIR UNWILLINGNESS TO ENGAGE IN GOOD FAITH NEGOTIATIONS AIMED AT CREATING A BROAD-BASED GOVERNMENT. PAKISTAN APPEARS TO FOCUS MORE ON WAYS TO GET THE AFGHAN FACTIONS THEMSELVES TO PUT THEIR HOUSE IN ORDER, AND IS LESS FIXATED ON THE ISSUE OF CURBING OUTSIDE INTERFERENCE, THE LATTER BEING SEEN MORE AS A CONTRIBUTING -- RATHER THAN CAUSAL -- FACTOR. WHILE ACCEPTING THE NEED TO WORK BOTH INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL TRACKS, THE GOP WOULD PREFER AN AFGHAN ALL-PARTY CONFERENCE IN JALALABAD TO AN INTERNATIONAL GATHERING, SENIOR OFFICIALS NOTED, SINCE ISLAMABAD BELIEVES THE KEY TO (AND THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR) A SOLUTION MUST LIE WITH THE AFGHAN FACTIONS THEMSELVES. THEY BELIEVE EITHER GATHERING WOULD REQUIRE CAREFUL PREPARATION AND A PRE-AGREED AGENDA.
And that's exactly right -- the Afghan factions themselves need to come to an agreement; military victory was, and is, elusive.
The U.S. might do well even today to keep the door open to negotiations with the Taliban. The Taliban has its differences with Al Qaeda; in fact, the Taliban is internally divided. Once they realize that they cannot win militarily, but stand a chance to gain some real concessions at the conference table, their differences with Al Qaeda will likely prove stronger than we may now realize.
Continued in Part 30.