Former ISI Chief On US in Afghanistan, and US-Iran Confrontation
Former ISI chief says Afghan peace process needs to be protected from vested interests
PKONWEB — Gen. Ehsan ul Haq was chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) between October 2001 and 2004, the crucial period that saw American intervention in Afghanistan.
He is also one of the key persons to have negotiated the ceasefire enforced in 2003 along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border which divides the Himalayan state of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, with his Indian counterparts. Speaking exclusively with Anadolu Agency in Tashkent recently, Haq weighed in on most recent developments in the region.
On Afghanistan and Pakistan-US relations, the former IST chief highlighted that from beginning Pakistan stood for a political not military solution to the war-ravaged country bordering it in the west and southwest. As the US and Afghan Taliban are hold talks– Pakistan is backing the move, the retired General elucidated on some key issues:
Q: As an expert on Afghanistan, since you have held an important position in the Pakistani Army along those borders and soon after 9/11, you became head of the ISI what in your view is the endgame in Afghanistan?
Haq: Right from 2001, Pakistan was very clear and very categorical. We repeatedly told our American friends, there is no military solution in Afghanistan. We used to impress upon them to transit from military operations to devising a political strategy to the interest of everybody. Unfortunately, it took them too long. Many years were wasted. There were many beneficiaries of this war as well. The war economy in Afghanistan had developed vested interests, who were getting benefited from the situation. They wanted to continue with a military strategy. Now when the political process has started my strong recommendation would be that it should be protected from its detractors in Washington, its detractors in Kabul and its detractors within the Taliban as well, and from those in the region who oppose it. What we had been telling Americans, they are realizing now. After all, the Taliban are also Afghans. They are not al-Qaeda. They could not have been denied a role in the future of Afghanistan. Our stated position stands vindicated. I am happy now that most of stakeholders are now engaged and desirous of the political solution.
Q: Several U.S. government leaders and members of Congress and Senate have said that Pakistan was playing a double game in Afghanistan. There is this perception that you don’t allow a proper democratic government in Kabul to work in an atmosphere that is free from violence and terror.
Haq: First of all, it is very unfortunate to hear that we are playing a double game. You see, Pakistan certainly has very good relations with the United States. We have made enormous sacrifices in support of their war on terror. But to expect that Pakistan will act against its own interests to extend U.S. agenda is an unfair expectation. There are always disagreements on strategies and operationalizing them even among the best of friends, but to call these things a double game is most unfair in any relationship.
The fact is that the U.S. and its strategies in Afghanistan have failed and that they have not been able to achieve the success they were hoping with the application of military power and enormous investment in terms of resources. We have supported peace and stability in Afghanistan. We have supported Afghan governments and Afghan-led and Afghan-based peace processes.
The retired ISI chief also touched upon US efforts to influence its allies on defense purchases, such as the most recent Turkey and India wanting to purchase Russian missile defense system S-400.
Since Pakistan is also a non-NATO military ally of the U.S. and off late, it is also purchasing Russian equipment, there are apprehensions that the Americans may try to block Russian arms supplies to Pakistan also. As Islamabad’s decades old relations with its cold war ally have hit the cul-de-sac, the former General weighed in on sovereignty and national interests as non-negotiable items:
“My view is that this U.S. policy is counterproductive and not sustainable. The U.S. has a strong strategic interest in the region. But to enforce its own America first policy and to dictate foreign policies of countries in the region that are sovereign and allies, is not going to be to the advantage of the U.S. itself.
“The fact is that the U.S. and its strategies in Afghanistan have failed and that they have not been able to achieve the success they were hoping with the application of military power and enormous investment in terms of resources. We have supported peace and stability in Afghanistan. We have supported Afghan governments and Afghan-led and Afghan-based peace processes.
He added: “My view is Turkey and India both will very jealously protect autonomy in strategic decision making. And they may find it very difficult to align with the U.S. dictate on this S-400 issue. They must find a diplomatic solution.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, the non-NATO military ally status has not given any benefit to Pakistan. It has been tormented. The U.S.- Pakistan military relationship has gradually lost its momentum. And there are hardly any military transfers to Pakistan. Even military training arrangements have been at standstill. Consequently, the U.S. ability to do anything about Pakistan procurement from Russia is minimal.
The former intelligence chief also gave his take on US-Iran rising tensions.
On being asked how the U.S.-Iran confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz is affecting the region, particularly Pakistan as almost the whole of South Asia is on the borders of Iran, the former intelligence chief said:
“It is already having a very serious impact, because of disruption of Iranian oil supply to the region. The tensions have also undermined the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, which was once touted as peace pipeline, as it was supposed to go to India as well. Its construction has been undermined and obstructed. As the tensions grow, they are now disrupting shipping lines, that is going to increase the price of oil, and uncertainty. That will not only affect the energy situation but an overall economic situation in South Asia, that includes India and Pakistan. My assessment is that energy prices will skyrocket which will seriously undermine economies in the region particularly, Pakistan whose economy is struggling. India’s economy is also not in good shape. The growth has been stagnant.”