Secret Afghanistan Ceasefire Bid Deadlocks
Pakistani President Pervez Musharref had hoped that the brief visit US Secretary of State Colin Powell paid to Islamabad on October 15-16 would end in a joint announcement of a ceasefire in Afghanistan. This did not come about and the Pakistani leader had to content himself with a declaration of Pakistani intelligence and logistic cooperation with the American war offensive. Musharref’s hopes rested, debkafile‘s Gulf and Islamabad sources report, on an initiative he launched late last week as American bombs fell on Afghan towns in advance of a ground attack. He sent his intelligence chiefs to Taliban leaders to ask them to assign their foreign minister, the relatively moderate Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, who was always less than enamored of the tight Taliban relationship with Osama Bin Laden, to enter into secret and indirect ceasefire negotiations with the Americans. The objectives of these talks would be a short ceasefire ending in Bin Laden being handed over.
Musharref suggested the talks take place in complete secrecy in Dubai with the participation of Pakistan, the Taliban, the UAR and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi and Pakistani representatives were to speak to the Americans for the Taliban and return with answers.
The Pakistani ruler acted in his own multiple interests, one of which is to keep the Afghanistan war short in view of the violent Anti-American protest rocking his regime day after day. But he is also basking in the unaccustomed flow of promised aid and attention showered on him from Washington, and believes the Americans can be prevailed upon to side with Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute with India. On the other hand, Afghanistan is regarded in Islamad as Pakistan’s back door and, contrary to the White House conception of the post-war regime, the Pakistanis prefer to preserve the Taliban in power.
As a practical politician, Musharref decided to further Powell’s aspirations to round up an Arab coalition behind the US war on terror, by putting a number of elements together. Bringing the Saudis into the picture served Powell’s purpose. But the Saudis also share the Pakistani president wish to save the Taliban from being swept aside.
Mullah Mustafa Omar consented to go along with the Pakistani initiative after Musharref vouched personally for the Taliban foreign minister’s safe return to Kabul, under the protection of Pakistani intelligence – even if the talks foundered.
On October 10 or 11, Mullah Muttawakil was duly dispatched aboard a Pakistani military plane to Dubai to meet Pakistani and Saudi representatives, incidentally sparking rumors of his defection
According to debkafile‘s Gulf sources, the meeting ran aground at the outset when Muttawakil demanded that, before any discussion of Bin Laden’s fate, the Americans must halt their attacks on Afghanistan and keep the Northern Alliance from advancing beyond their present lines. The Pakistani and Saudi representatives tried to save the day by advising the Americans to agree to a short ceasefire of a week to ten days to get negotiations moving with the Taliban.
But it turned out that Muttawakil was not authorized to discuss Bin Laden’s handover at all. Another obstacle was the absence of a direct line for the Taliban minister to consult with his principals in Kabul. The link through Pakistan military intelligence lines offered by Musharref was stiffly turned down for fear it would be used by the Americans to pinpoint the Taliban leaders’ whereabouts.
Sunday, October 14, the Taliban foreign minister set out from Dubai for home. But the Pakistani military plane carrying him stopped over in Islamabad in the hope that the Afghan rulers would reconsider their refusal to surrender the Saudi-born terrorist.
Instead, Mullah Omar issued orders to his field commanders, directing each one to make his own decisions on the battlefield without consulting higher authority. If worsted in battle, they were given permission to surrender.
debkafile‘s military experts interpret these orders as an indicators that the Taliban is expecting a US ground action to begin imminently and that their communications have been knocked out by the American air blitz.