Told Senator John McCain that West Asian leaders were worried that such a move would spread sectarian strife throughout the Gulf region

In April 2007 Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told Senator John McCain that he and many West Asian leaders were worried that a “premature pull-out” of U.S. and coalition forces from Iraq would spread sectarian strife throughout the Gulf region.

During a meeting on April 3, 2007, which was reported in a U.S. Embassy cable, Mr. Musharraf said he understood American public opinion was against prolonging U.S. presence in Iraq, but hoped U.S. leadership could communicate the importance of the mission in Iraq.

In the future, Muslim peacekeeping troops (including Pakistanis) could replace U.S. forces under a United Nations umbrella, he told the Senator. In this context, he underlined the importance of increasing the capacity of the Iraqi armed forces and police.

Iraq and Afghanistan

The cable (103788: secret/no forn) contained extensive notes on the discussion between the Senator and President on a wide range of issues, centred on Iraq and Afghanistan. “Musharraf agreed with Senator McCain that Muslim countries needed to lead efforts to help Iraq's Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds reach political consensus before a major withdrawal of coalition troops.” The Pakistan President noted there could be little improvement in the situation in Iraq without broader political participation from the Sunnis.

Conflicts outside Iraq also contributed to the unstable situation in the region, Mr. Musharraf said, and added that he was working on building consensus within the Muslim world on the Palestinian issue.

“Alluding to his own outreach to the moderate Muslim world, Musharraf noted there was space for non-Arab nations to play a role on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and that Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia had agreed to form a united voice to help promote peace in the region,” the cable said.

The Pakistan President used the opportunity to plead Syria's case with the United States, saying he believed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could play a positive role in both Iraq and Lebanon, and that Assad could be “handled” if the U.S. understood his issues. “If you want him to play ball, he needs comfort on other fronts — namely, the Golan Heights.” On Iran, Mr. Musharraf agreed it could not be allowed to create further divisions in Iraq.

Pakistan facing fallout

Asked for his views on Afghanistan, Mr. Musharraf said Pakistan was facing the fallout from security decisions made in the 1980s. His take on the situation: “People who came to fight with the mujahideen against the Soviets settled in Pakistan's tribal areas and now had families. These people — mostly Uzbeks and Arabs — developed links with al Qaeda. Recently, tribal groups in both South and North Waziristan were taking action against Uzbeks and other foreigners because of the foreigners' cruel and high-handed behavior. Pakistan's military provided covert support in the form of arms and ammunition.”

Mr. Musharraf said originally, the Taliban movement was a reaction against growing tribalism and warlord-ism in Afghanistan. “Since Russia and India supported Afghanistan's (ethnic Tajik) Northern Alliance, Pakistan's natural ally was the (ethnic Pashtun) Taliban. This all changed after 9/11, Musharraf said, and Pakistan had captured and killed hundreds of al Qaeda fighters near Tora Bora,” the cable added.

Mr. Musharraf also voiced concern over Afghan President Hamid Karzai's frequent pronouncements about Pakistan's “failure” to capture Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Balochistan's capital Quetta. “Let me tell you,” Musharraf emphasised, “Omar would be mad to be in Quetta — he has too many troops to command in southern Afghanistan to make it feasible. In fact, the only parts of Balochistan where there are Pakistani Taliban are in the province's Afghan refugee camps, which we are planning to shut down.”

Mr. Musharraf said most Pashtuns in Balochistan were traders and had no reason to join the Taliban. “They want roads to increase their trade, not to fight.” But the same could not be said for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, he said.

Talibanisation

The cable recorded in detail the Pakistan President's views on the ethnic dimension in the Afghanistan situation: “Musharraf said the Taliban were mainly in Afghanistan. Karzai's policies, Musharraf believed, alienated Afghanistan's Pashtuns by favoring (ethnic Tajik) Panshiris. After Coalition forces joined the Northern Alliance to oust the Taliban government, there was no change in the ethnic makeup of the victors when it came to planning. Panshiris were disproportionately represented in the government, even though they had never ruled before and were, Musharraf believed, the natural enemy of the country's majority Pashtuns.”

One of Pakistan's biggest concerns, Musharraf said, was the spread of talibanisation, “especially into settled and urban areas.” Countering talibanisation required a well thought out strategy to cleanse society of the Taliban culture and to encourage moderation. “Modernization and economic development were the way forward, Musharraf noted.”

In response to Senator McCain's question about whether he was worried Afghanistan would become a narco-state, Mr. Musharraf answered that he was, especially because if it did it would affect Pakistan. “Musharraf thought Afghanistan could follow the example of other countries — such as India — where narcotics were purchased legally and channeled into the international pharmaceutical industry. It was a $500-600 million annual industry, Musharraf said, and the profits made from legal poppy sales could go toward poverty alleviation instead of to the Taliban.”