An abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will bring the same fallout as its 1989 departure after a proxy war with the Soviet Union: instability with ripples of violent extremism around the globe, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said during his keynote address Thursday before the ASIS International 56th Annual Seminar and Exhibits in Dallas.
“We are at the threshold of making a decision of whether to quit or not to quit in Afghanistan,” Musharraf told a packed hall at the Dallas Convention Center. “I have told you about the blunder of the past. I pray to God that we do not make another blunder.”
Musharraf, a former general in the Pakistani army, led his nation from 2001 through 2008, serving as a key ally in the post-9-11 U.S. led war on terrorism. He currently lives in self-imposed exile in England, but earlier this month announced the formation of a new political party, and plans to run again for the presidency at home.
Despite billions in U.S. humanitarian aid to Pakistan in the wake of the July floods that affected an estimated 21 million, recent polling indicates that 59 percent of Pakistanis view the United States as their enemy. Musharraf traced the sentiment back to the departure at the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, in which Pakistan supported Mujahideen rebels along with the United States.
“People in the streets of Pakistan thought we had been used and betrayed,” he said, emphasizing that animosity toward the U.S. does not imply sympathy for Islamic extremists.
The poll, however, conducted by the Pew Research Center and released in July, found that more than half of Pakistanis have a favorable view of al Qaeda, and 65 percent a favorable view of the Taliban.
In Afghanistan, Musharraf traces the persistent political instability and violence to the coalition’s installment in 2001 of Northern Alliance members—tribal Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras—in government, to the exclusion of Pashtuns, in part because the Taliban consisted exclusively of Pashtuns. Musharraf said he repeats again and again: “All Taliban are Pashtuns. But not all Pashtuns are Taliban.”
Key to success in Afghanistan is engagement of Pashtuns and their democratic inclusion in government as a majority. That requires bargaining from a position of strength, which the U.S.-led coalition currently lacks.
After his speech Musharraf told Security Management that achieving that position requires direct engagement of Pashtun tribal maliks, or chieftains. With their allegiance, armed Pashtun tribes may be enlisted in the fight.
Addressing counterterrorism, Musharraf—who vehemently opposes the current U.S. military and intelligence operations just inside his country—compared the capture or killing of single terrorists as plucking leaves from a tree, and the elimination of entire terrorist groups to sawing off branches. Elimination of terrorism, he said, requires a holistic approach that incorporates a military element, but focuses on three root issues: existing national political grudges, sub-national conflicts, and the persistent lack of education and economic opportunity.
Top priorities should Musharraf return to power include jump starting the Pakistani economy and fighting terror, which he said are interrelated.
“We have to turn around the economy. The backbone of any socioeconomic development is the economy…The economy means drawing investment from abroad, and investment doesn’t come when there’s turmoil in the country. We won’t be able to succeed in any direction if we don’t defeat terrorism and extremism,” Musharraf said.
In introducing Musharraf, ASIS President Joseph R. Granger, CPP, security director of the United Space Alliance, noted TIME magazine’s assessment that as president of Pakistan Musharraf held the most dangerous job in the world. While two attempts on Musharraf’s life have been publicly reported, Musharraf told Security Management that there have been more. Should he return to Pakistan, he does so a marked man. This week rival Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) President Talal Bugti, alleging crimes against humanity, placed a bounty on Musharraf’s head worth $1 billion and 100 acres of farmland.
Asked about the danger, Musharraf remarked lightheartedly that he could use the protection of ASIS’s membership. Taking a more serious tone, he told Security Management that he has accepted the constant threat of a violent death.
“Maybe I’ve got thick skin, but I can face dangers. And for the sake of the country we love so much—everyone loves his own country—dangers and risks have to be taken,” Musharraf said. “Where there is no risk there is no gain, as they say. I believe in that.”
♦ Photo by ASIS International/Flickr