General (retd) Pervez Musharraf in an article entitled 9/11 - Could we have decided otherwise? carried by TheNation on June 6 has justified his decision to bring about a U-turn in Pakistans pro-Taliban policy after receiving an ultimatum from Washington, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Much of that article consists of excerpts from his book, In the line of fire, and, therefore, does not provide any substantive additional information. However, this self-serving piece, besides being selective in the presentation of facts and the historical background of our pro-Taliban policy of 1990s, conveniently fails to assign responsibility for the policy which led us to the verge of disaster after 9/11 and from whose adverse consequences our country and the society continue to suffer till today. Pervez Musharraf owes the nation the responsibility to enlighten it why he as the Chief of the Army Staff and later as the Chief Executive/President continued the policy which brought our country to the precipice in the first place. Let us have a quick look at the pro-Taliban policy that we pursued with such misplaced vigour from 1994 till 9/11. It is true that the Taliban in their early stages provided the Afghan people the much-needed respite from the internal fighting and excesses of the Afghan warlords. The Taliban owed most of their initial victories and successes to this factor. Pakistans support to the Taliban in their early stages was extremely limited. But as the Taliban grew in strength and extended their control over most of Afghanistan, its support to them grew correspondingly. Pakistani authorities hoped that the Taliban, mostly Pashtuns, would help in opening the trade routes to Central Asia by establishing peace in Afghanistan and would defeat the Northern Alliance, which was mostly composed of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras and which was mistakenly viewed by many Pakistani officials as being anti-Pakistan. Although Pakistani civilian governments went along with this policy of support to the Taliban, it was primarily a military-driven policy. This was not surprising if one takes into account the historical fact that since the days of Ziaul Haq, Pakistans operational policies concerning Kashmir and Afghanistan, as well as its nuclear programme, have been the exclusive preserve of the Pakistan army generals. This explains the curious reality that despite the changes of the civilian governments in Pakistan in the 1990s, there was no substantive change in our Afghanistan policy since 1994. (This also explains why Nawaz Sharifs conciliatory policy towards India in his second term as the Prime Minister was sabotaged by Musharraf through the Kargil operation leading ultimately to the overthrow of his government.) This again explains why Musharraf, who otherwise took pride in being an enlightened moderate after 9/11, continued the pro-Taliban policy for three years after he took over as COAS in 1998. Pakistans pro-Taliban policy was based on flawed assumptions and analysis. It relied on the assumption that the Pashtuns alone under the leadership of the Taliban could establish durable peace in Afghanistan. Considering the fact that the Pashtuns formed hardly 50 percent of the Afghan population, this assumption was not tenable. Durable peace in Afghanistan necessitated a broad-based government, which enjoyed widespread support among its various ethnic communities, rather than one relying on the support of one ethnic community alone. Earlier, from 1993 to 1996 the Northern Alliance under President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud had been guilty of the same mistake when it tried to establish its exclusive rule in Afghanistan in violation of the Peshawar and Islamabad Accords by disenfranchising the Pashtuns. Unfortunately, Iran supported this misguided attempt by the Northern Alliance and rejected pleas by Pakistan for the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. After the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, it was the turn of Iran to make a case for a broad-based government in Afghanistan only to be ignored in operational terms by the Taliban and Pakistan. It was against this background that, despite the commencement of shuttle diplomacy by Pakistan and Iran in pursuance of an agreement signed in Islamabad in June 1998 to bring about reconciliation between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, the Taliban launched a military offensive against the Northern Alliance in July 1998, according to Ahmad Rashid, with the support of ISI and Saudi Arabia (Page 72, Ahmad Rashids book, Taliban). The military offensive brought most of Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban, but also wrecked the chances of durable peace in that country as the subsequent events showed. It was again the same tendency to search for solutions of political problems through military means which led Pakistan to reject overtures from Iran in the beginning of 2001 for national reconciliation and the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. Musharraf must accept the ultimate blame for Pakistans negative response to the Iranian initiative although the leadership of the Pakistan Foreign Office at that time cannot be totally absolved of its responsibility. Pakistans pro-Taliban policy of the 1990s also had the undesirable effect of isolating it regionally and pushing Iran into the embrace of India and Russia. It isolated us internationally as only two other countries, that is, Saudi Arabia and UAE, recognised the Taliban government. The political vacuum created by the armed conflict in Afghanistan enabled Al-Qaeda to establish its foothold leading to 9/11 and its disastrous consequences for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of the region. Our pro-Taliban policy tarnished Pakistans image internationally because of the obscurantist character of the Talibans interpretation of Islam. Even China expressed apprehensions about the Talibans alleged support to the activities of separatists in its Xinjiang province. Our support to the Taliban and Al-Qaedas ingress into Afghanistan also had the deleterious effect of fomenting extremism in our society, encouraging the klashnikov culture and paving the way for the tidal wave of terrorist attacks currently sweeping the country. Unfortunately, none of these considerations deterred Musharraf or the coterie of generals around him from pursuing headlong their ill-conceived pro-Taliban policy until the ultimatum from Washington after 9/11 shook them out of their complacency. The predicament in which Pakistan finds itself now is largely the result of the flawed Afghanistan policy that our military establishment, including Pervez Musharraf and the generals around him, pursued till it brought the nation to the precipice of disaster after 9/11. Musharraf wants to claim credit for having saved the country from a greater disaster by accepting most of the demands the Americans made on him after 9/11, while conveniently glossing over his responsibility for the disastrous Afghanistan policy pursued by him earlier. This is, however, pathetic since many of the demands that he accepted amounted to the compromise of our national sovereignty. The acceptance of some of them proved indirectly that our military establishment had been secretly providing support to the Taliban. Further, the loss of the national prestige, the compromise of our sovereignty, the reverses suffered by us in Afghanistan and internationally, the terrorist attacks that have become a daily occurrence, the prevailing sense of insecurity in the country, and the enormous damage to our economy are the direct result of the military establishments ill-conceived pro-Taliban policy of the 1990s and Musharrafs abject surrender before the Americans. The nation, therefore, has every right to know why our military establishment pursued policies which brought us to the verge of disaster in the first place and why, instead of learning from its past mistakes (e.g. Kargil), it keeps on repeating them at the cost of the nations sovereignty, security and economic well being. n The writer is a former Ambassador to Iran. Email: