Richard Armitage, US Under Secretary of State during the first administration of President George W. Bush, was sent to Pakistan shortly after 9/11. His job was to gain the support of Pakistan against Afghanistan, which was harboring Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
According to then Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff, Armitage told him that if he supported the US, his country would be an ally; if he declined and refused to support the United States as it attacked Afghanistan, then Pakistan would be considered and enemy and would be bombed back to the Stone Age.
Musharaff was, not surprisingly, stunned. He responded by telling Armitage, “You don’t know what you ask; you don’t know our history.” Armitage came right back with: “History began on September 11th.”
I should add that I’m writing the above from memory having read President Musharaff’s memoirs some years ago. I should also add that Mr. Armigage denies using threatening a rapid return to the Stone Age for the people of Pakistan. He does not deny the rest.
American diplomats may be unfamiliar with the history of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The locals are not.
President Musharaff’s book reminds readers that the British had problems on the “North West Frontier” for two centuries – it was the most unruly part of the empire. This is the area now inhabited by the Taliban. The tribes that live in this area have no loyalty to the country they inhabit – their loyalty is to others in the tribe. It’s not surprising that Pakistan does not have effective control of these areas. Nor does Afghanistan’s central government in Kabul.
When you know the history, President Hamid Karzai’s decision to release 65 Taliban terrorists from prison a few days ago, is understandable. Washington didn’t like the decision. The terrorists were put away by US and coalition forces but Karzai is looking beyond the US presence in his country and remembering the past.
After the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the president left in charge was Mohammad Najibullah. Out of necessity, he publicly blamed the Soviets for the mess the country was in. This was in a vain attempt to save himself and his government. In 1992 he was overthrown and imprisoned. When the Taliban came to power in 1996, he was castrated and dragged through the streets behind a truck. He was then hanged from a traffic light.
Karzai must be thinking about all this as the US and its allies withdraw from the country.
His memory likely goes back even further to when the British invaded Afghanistan back in 1839. One purpose was to restore Shah Shuja to the throne. This they succeeded in doing, but shortly afterwards he was assassinated. The British withdrawal was a disaster, only one soldier surviving. Mr. Karzai is of the same tribe as Shah Shuja.
At this point in time, President Karzai could do a deal with the US, allowing a limited number of American troops to remain in the country but it seems like he would rather not do this, realizing that at some point he has to do a deal with the Taliban.