The United States has blundered through South Asia over the past quarter-century, committing three major errors that have destabilized the region and led to the rise of international terrorism.
The United States completely switched sides: While Pakistan was its strategic partner since 1948, now India was its primary regional ally. Pakistan, meanwhile, was slapped with sanctions.
The second U.S. blunder was its attempt to isolate the Taliban once they came to power. Pakistan was the only country that recognized the Taliban when they established a government in 1996. When U.S. President Bill Clinton came to Pakistan in 2000, he was almost reprimanding my country for dealing with the Taliban, and he urged Pakistan to sever diplomatic relations with them.
I suggested a different strategy: The world and the United States should recognize the Taliban and open diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. They should work with the Taliban to moderate their behavior. Clinton didn't agree, of course, and the United States continued its policy of isolation.
A U.S. policy of engagement could have prevented all the destruction that would come later. Had U.S. diplomats built ties to the Taliban at this point, maybe we could have also resolved the Osama bin Laden tangle, because we could have jointly put pressure on Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the Taliban government. Unfortunately, it was only Pakistan, and we were alone. I sent five delegations of all kinds of people, including religious leaders, to persuade Mullah Omar to abandon bin Laden. If there had also been diplomatic relations with the United States and other Western countries, we could have put even more pressure on him. And maybe the 9/11 attacks would not have taken place. It's a big thing that I'm saying, but I believe it.
Following the 9/11 attacks, the United States and its allies attacked Afghanistan and defeated the Taliban. Then the United States made its third blunder: It failed to convert its military victory in Afghanistan into a political victory. It forged a government in Kabul that could not win the support of the population, resulting in the resurgence of the Taliban in 2005 and 2006. We needed to install a government that was dominated by the Pashtuns, because Pashtuns are the largest Afghan community.
But because the United States had defeated the Taliban with the help of the Northern Alliance, which was primarily made up of ethnic minorities, it unfortunately felt compelled to install them in government. I was of the view that the United States first had to bring the Pashtuns on board and use them to defeat the Taliban. I coined a term at that time: "All Taliban are Pashtuns, but all Pashtuns are not Taliban."
But the United States didn't listen. The Americans installed a government in Kabul with the Northern Alliance, and all the Pashtuns who were initially not a part of the Taliban felt alienated. They gradually started to gravitate toward the Taliban, resulting in the group's resurgence in 2005 and 2006. This was the United States' biggest blunder, but it persisted on going down this path and continues doing so even now. This is a grave mistake, and unless it is corrected, we will not be able to make progress, he concluded.