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’96 US warning to Pak uncovered

New Delhi, Nov. 19: The US had warned Pakistan way back in 1996 that its support to the terrorists in Kashmir would have “unintended consequences” contrary to Pakistan’s and the region’s larger interests.

During a meeting with the Pakistani foreign minister Assef Ali in February 1996, the then US acting secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, drew an analogy between Islamabad’s support to the Taliban in Kabul and the terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.

“While such support was undertaken to serve Pakistani interests, there were unintended consequences contrary to Pakistan’s and the region’s larger interest,” he said.

Talbott’s warning contained in a cable is part of a collection of recently declassified US intelligence documents that the National Security Archive at George Washington University posted last month.

The set of 32 documents, titled The Taliban File, covers the period from November 1994 to January 2002 .

The consequences of the support became clear on September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington.

The US was aware, at least five years before the attacks, of the close links between the Taliban and al Qaida and the fact that both were growing under Pakistan’s directive.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Defence Intelligence Assessment cables from October 2001 discuss the role of Pakistan in the rise of the Taliban and question Islamabad’s and the Inter-Services Intelligence’s connection with Osama bin Laden.

“Bin Laden’s al Qaeda network was able to expand under the safe sanctuary extended by the Taliban following Pakistan’s directives,” a cable said.

The fact that Islamabad still supports the Taliban became clear from US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad’s remarks yesterday when he urged Pakistan to deliver more help in stemming cross-border terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

“We would like Pakistan to do more.… We are willing to be helpful to them,” Khalilzad was quoted by agencies as having said in Washington ahead of his departure next week to try to accelerate reconstruction efforts.

“The level of activity has increased in recent weeks and months. It isn’t only the Taliban, there are also al Qaida,” he added.

The ambassador made it clear that the US would like Pakistan to do more to stop these activities. “We do not want Pakistan to be a sanctuary.... We look to Pakistan to do more on this. And we will work with the Pakistanis on this.”

The Taliban File observed that Pakistan saw an unstable Afghanistan as a boon for its internal security, allowing it strategic depth against India. It supported the Taliban not just to restore order on Afghan roads to make a trans-Afghan gas pipeline possible, but because it also saw the militia as a faction that they might have considerable influence over, and who might provide in Afghanistan a strategic lever against India.

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