The writer is former President of Pakistan
Pakistan’s decision to join the US and the Coalition in Afghanistan in their
attack on the Taliban remains a subject of intense debate. This is the
decision we took after a thorough, deliberate and realistic appraisal of the
obtaining geo-strategic realities, but it has drawn criticism and praise
alike. With the latest upsurge in terrorist activity in Pakistan, the debate
on the post-9/11 response of Pakistan has intensified. I, therefore, thought
it my duty to lay bare facts in front of the people of Pakistan, so that
with all the necessary information they could judge the situation more
accurately. The decision of my government was indeed based on, and in
conformity with, my slogan of ‘Pakistan First’.
Some people suggested that we should oppose the United States and favour the
Taliban. Was this, in any way, beneficial for Pakistan? Certainly not! Even
if the Taliban and Al-Qaeda emerged victorious, it would not be in
Pakistan’s interest to embrace obscurantist Talibanisation. That would have
meant a society where women had no rights, minorities lived in fear and
semi-literate clerics set themselves up as custodians of justice. I could
have never accepted this kind of society for Pakistan. In any case, judging
by military realities one was sure that the Taliban would be defeated. It
would have been even more detrimental for Pakistan to be standing on the
The United States, the sole superpower, was wounded and humiliated by the
9/11 Al-Qaeda terrorist attack. A strong retaliatory response against
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan was imminent.
I was angrily told, by the US, that Pakistan had to be ‘either with us or
against us’. The message was also conveyed to me that ‘if Pakistan was
against the United States then it should be prepared to be bombed back to
the Stone Age.’
This was the environment within which we had to take a critical decision for
Pakistan. My sole focus was to make a decision that would benefit Pakistan
in the long run, and also guard it against negative effects.
What options did the US have to attack Afghanistan? Not possible from the
north, through Russia and the Central Asian Republics. Not from the west,
through Iran. The only viable direction was from the east, through Pakistan.
If we did not agree, India was ever ready to afford all support. A US-India
collusion would obviously have to trample Pakistan to reach Afghanistan. Our
airspace and land would have been violated. Should we then have pitched our
forces, especially Pakistan Air Force, against the combined might of the US
and Indian forces? India would have been delighted with such a response from
us. This would surely have been a foolhardy, rash and most unwise decision.
Our strategic interests – our nuclear capability and the Kashmir cause –
would both have been irreparably compromised. We might even have put our
very territorial integrity at stake.
The economic dimension of confronting the United States and the West also
needed serious analysis. Pakistan’s major export and investment is to and
from the United States and the European Union. Our textiles, which form 60
percent of our export and earnings, go to the West. Any sanctions on these
would have crippled our industry and choked our economy. Workers would lose
their jobs. The poor masses of Pakistan would have been the greatest
China, our great friend, also has serious apprehensions about Al-Qaeda and
the Taliban. The upsurge of religious extremism emboldening the East
Turkistan Islamic Movement in China is due to events in Afghanistan and the
tribal agencies of Pakistan. China would certainly not be too happy with
Pakistan on the side of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Even the Islamic Ummah had
no sympathy for the Taliban regime; countries like Turkey and Iran were
certainly against the Taliban. The UAE and Saudi Arabia – the only two
countries other than Pakistan that had recognised the Taliban regime – had
become so disenchanted with the Taliban that they had closed their missions
Here, I would also like to clear the notion that we accepted all the demands
put forward by USA.
On September 13th 2001, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain,
brought me a set of seven demands. These demands had also been communicated
to our Foreign Office by the US State Department.
1. Stop Al-Qaeda operatives at your borders, intercept arms shipments
through Pakistan, and end all logistical support for bin Laden.
2. Provide the United States with blanket overflight and landing rights to
conduct all necessary military and intelligence operations.
3. Provide territorial access to the United States and allied military
intelligence as needed, and other personnel to conduct all necessary
operations against the perpetrators of terrorism and those that harbour
them, including the use of Pakistan’s naval ports, air bases, and strategic
locations on borders.
4. Provide the United States immediately with intelligence, immigration
information and databases, and internal security information, to help
prevent and respond to terrorist acts perpetrated against the United States,
its friends, or its allies.
5. Continue to publicly condemn the terrorist acts of September 11 and any
other terrorist acts against the United States or its friends and allies,
and curb all domestic expressions of support [for terrorism] against the
United States, its friends, or its allies.
6. Cut off all shipments of fuel to the Taliban and any other items and
recruits, including volunteers, en route to Afghanistan, who can be used in
a military offensive capacity or to abet a terrorist threat.
7. Should the evidence strongly implicate Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda
network in Afghanistan and should Afghanistan and the Taliban continue to
harbour him and his network, Pakistan will break diplomatic relations with
the Taliban government, end support for the Taliban, and assist the United
States in the afore-mentioned ways to destroy Osama bin Laden and his Al
Some of these demands were ludicrous, such as “curb all domestic expressions
of support [for terrorism] against the United States, its friends, and its
allies.” How could my government suppress public debate, when I had been
trying to encourage freedom of expression?
I also thought that asking us to break off diplomatic relations with
Afghanistan if it continued to harbour Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda was not
realistic, because not only would the United States need us to have access
to Afghanistan, at least until the Taliban fell, but such decisions are the
internal affair of a country and cannot be dictated by anyone. But we had no
problem with curbing terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We had
been itching to do so before the United States became its victim.
We just could not accept demands two and three. How could we allow the
United States “blanket overflight and landing rights” without jeopardising
our strategic assets? I offered only a narrow flight corridor that was far
from any sensitive areas. Neither could we give the United States “use of
Pakistan’s naval ports, air bases, and strategic locations on borders.” We
refused to give any naval ports or fighter aircraft bases. We allowed the
United States only two bases – Shamsi in Balochistan and Jacobabad in Sindh
– and only for logistics and aircraft recovery. No attack could be launched
from there. We gave no “blanket permission” for anything.
The rest of the demands we could live with. I am happy that the US
government accepted our counterproposal without any fuss. I am shocked at
the aspersion being cast on me: that I readily accepted all preconditions of
the United States during the telephone call from Colin Powell. He did not
give any conditions to me. These were brought by the US ambassador on the
Having made my decision, I took it to the Cabinet. Then I began meeting with
a cross section of society. Between September 18 and October 3, I met with
intellectuals, top editors, leading columnists, academics, tribal chiefs,
students, and the leaders of labour unions. On October 18, I also met a
delegation from China and discussed the decision with them. Then I went to
army garrisons all over the country and talked to the soldiers. I thus
developed a broad consensus on my decision.
This was an analysis of all the losses/harms we would have suffered. if we
had taken an anti-US stand. At the same time, I obviously analysed the
socio-economic and military gains that would accrue from an alliance with
the West. I have laid down the rationale for my decision in all its details.
Even with hindsight, now, I do not repent it. It was correct in the larger
interest of Pakistan. I am confident that the majority of Pakistanis agree