After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US soil, Pakistan had proposed the United Nations intervention in the conflict-hit Afghanistan instead of a military intervention in order to save the region from chaos, General (retd) Ehsan ul Haq, a former ISI chief, has said in an interview.
General (retd) Ehsan became the director general of the country’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, in October 2001— a few weeks after hijacked planes smashed the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington on September 11.
“We proposed to the US administration at the highest level — the president, the secretary of state, the director of the CIA and other US leaders — that there should be a UN intervention in Afghanistan,” Ehsan said in the interview with Arab News, which was published on its website on Thursday.
“That was a Pakistan-Saudi Arabia joint initiative,” he said, mentioning about his visit along with the late Prince Saud Al-Faisal to Washington as part of efforts to avert any war in Afghanistan. He carried a four-page letter from Pakistan’s then president Pervez Musharraf to then US President George W Bush.
The letter proposed launching a fresh initiative “to resolve the Afghan conflict through negotiations with those Taliban leaders” willing to cooperate in the fight against Al-Qaeda — the group held responsible for plotting the 9/11 attacks from its Afghan hideout.
“The US could have averted a long and costly war in Afghanistan, had it heeded the advice of Pakistani and Saudi officials,” Ehsan said. Twenty years on, he added, the initiative was a missed opportunity for the Americans that could have spared them and the Afghan people “much loss of blood and treasure”.
The former top Pakistani spy believed that the war could have been averted in the first place. “The conflict would have been much shorter if the US had heeded recommendations presented by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia after 9/11.”
General (retd) Ehsan said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia “very sincerely” advised the Americans that there was no military solution to the situation in Afghanistan and that a political solution backed by the UN was the best option available.
“We said a broad-based consensus government should be brought in under the UN in Afghanistan so that the conflict would not stretch on and strengthen. But unfortunately, our sincere and best efforts were not heeded and the consequence was that the conflict continued for 20 long years,” he said.
“The US approached Pakistan about 24 to 36 hours [after 9/11]. Pakistan had already condemned what had happened and we had already decided that we would stand with the international community and that our response would be in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.”
Looking to the future, Ehsan said that Pakistan would gain “strategically” from the Taliban’s return to power because the change of rulers in Kabul would stop India from using the Afghan soil to “destabilise” Pakistan. “We see an end to Afghan elements inimical to Pakistan,” he added.
As for the US-Pakistan relationship, Ehsan believed that there was a greater need than ever for its improvement, “because we need the US to help clear the mess and stabilise Afghanistan.” He urged the Biden administration to recognise and work with the Taliban for the sake of the Afghan people.
“If you keep the Taliban government or any other government in Afghanistan on a terrorist and sanctions list of the UN, Afghanistan will not be supported by international organisations,” he said. “And this will affect the behaviour of the Taliban government, which will itself create problems.”