The west has embarrassed itself by refusing to listen to Pakistan about the lack of popular support for Afghanistan’s ousted government led by Ashraf Ghani, and needs to help Afghans by engaging with the Taliban to ensure an inclusive government is formed, Pakistan’s national security adviser has said.
Islamabad is on a major diplomatic offensive to persuade the west not to turn its back on the Taliban government, with which Afghanistan’s eastern neighbour has close and controversial links, but instead to use its economic leverage to provide support.
Moeed Yusuf said that if the west repeated the major mistake of the 1990s and abandoned the country, it would set up a security vacuum that would lead to a revival of militancy first in Pakistan and then in the west.
Pakistan feels it has been vindicated by the collapse of the Ghani administration and has insisted it cannot bear the brunt of more refugees spilling over its border. It argues that an internationally recognised and stable Afghanistan would preclude that.
Yusuf called for an internationally coordinated effort, backed with an economic plan, to persuade the Taliban government that there “should be an inclusive government, rights protected, a moderate governance model”.
In a speech to the Conservative thinktank Policy Exchange, however, Yusuf came under pressure from Tory MPs who pointed out that retired US military figures had claimed the Taliban had for many years been an arm of Pakistan’s security forces, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. The chair of the defence select committee, Tobias Ellwood, said US forces had found Osama bin Laden, the late al-Qaida leader, inside Pakistan just miles down the road from the country’s equivalent of Sandhurst.
Yusuf retorted that in its fight against Tehrik-i-Taliban, Pakistan’s Taliban, his country had suffered 80,000 casualties and an estimated $150bn in losses.
He also hit back at claims that Islamabad had allowed a porous border to give Taliban militants refuge in Pakistan away from US forces. He said his country had made repeated offers to Afghanistan, including in 2011 to police the border jointly, and in the end had constructed a border fence that was now 97% complete.
“Pakistan has been the victim of the war in terror over the past two decades and has been the only country that was speaking the truth,” he said. He added that Pakistan had told Nato and the US not to try to achieve a military victory, but that the allied forces had aimed for a total triumph. “We said they live in a bubble and don’t have the pulse of the people and it was corrupt.
“We cannot signal to the Afghans that the only ones that matter are those that are fortunate enough to be associated with western and international organisations.
“If the world repeats the mistakes of the 90s, the results will not be better than last time. If we again find the easy path and say ‘we are done and out of here,’ the international legitimacy of the western world will disappear in one second,” he said.
“We will have a humanitarian crisis, we will have instability and we will have a security vacuum that terrorists may fill, again targeting Pakistan first and the western world second.”
Yusuf complained that Pakistan had been excluded from talks in Doha between the Taliban and the US. “We were never asked when the deadlines for troop withdrawal were agreed. We were talking about a ‘responsible withdrawal’, which means political settlement before the withdrawal,” said.
He accused the west of turning Pakistan into a scapegoat “when the real problems on the ground – a lack of trust, corruption, an army not able to stand up – were completely ignored”.
“The result is an embarrassment for everyone, a capitulation, an army with no will to fight, and President Ghani fleeing away,” he said.
“The world should stand up now and say we will learn lessons, something has gone horribly wrong and we will not look for scapegoats”.