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'Wrong Enemy': Pakistan Plays A Double Game In Afghanistan


Days after 9-11, the United States issued a famous challenge to Pakistan: you're either with us or against us. Pakistan would be expected to help in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf did help, but the relationship with Pakistan resists clarity. One security analyst summed up the country by saying Pakistan is an ally, but not a friend. A new book but New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall portrays Pakistan playing a double game, and Renee Montagne sat down with her in Kabul.

RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: It is an article of faith in Afghanistan that many of the spectacular attacks here are supported and even directed by Pakistan's military and intelligence services. Hard evidence is scarce, but Carlotta Gall writes a one direct link involving a logistics man working for Pakistan.

CARLOTTA GALL: It was the bombing in Kabul City of the Indian embassy. It was a car bomb, which rammed the gate. As the military attache was driving in, he was killed. You know, it broke open the embassy and it killed a lot of Afghans in the streets. So, it was a terrible attack. So then they found, in the wreckage of the bomber's car, a cell phone. And the Afghans investigated and traced the calls that that phone had be making, and they found it connected to the Afghan logistics man in Kabul, who helped the bomber get set up and get his car and his explosives and drive in the right place. And so they tracked him, and then they found his phone had had several calls to numbers in Pakistan. And when they established who those numbers were, they discovered it was high-level Pakistani intelligence in Peshawar. And I was told by Afghan officials, security officials, that the owner of that phone was high enough level in the Pakistani intelligence to be directly reporting to the headquarters of the intelligence in the Pakistani capital. So it meant that the Pakistani intelligence was directing the operation.

MONTAGNE: Pakistan vigorously denies all claims that it's involved in the Afghanistan insurgency. Still, Gall describes the Taliban leadership comfortably settled in Quetta, Pakistan, plus one early meeting in the city of Peshawar, attended by top Taliban commanders and Pakistan intelligence agents.

GALL: So, even when the Taliban were defeated and came into Pakistan, they then micro-managed them. And I show there was a meeting in December 2001 already to discuss what next.

MONTAGNE: I does seem like, in the very earliest days, there were moments when there could have been a different outcome. The Taliban and some in its leadership were willing to negotiate. Is there a moment that sticks out to you where things could have gone differently, if only an opportunity had been seized?

GALL: Definitely. In those few early years, I always remember them as a golden time. You were here, too. We were driving all over the country. Taliban was gone. People had such excitement and enthusiasm for a future that they thought was going to be prosperous. And that's when I went across the border to Quetta and saw the Taliban in exile, who were sitting it out. And that's where you started to see something was not right, because they were starting to get resentful. The reaction of the people who took over was to chase them out. And so that was, I think, a real missed opportunity, because really, what should have happened was there should have been a reconciliation process. And, of course, I think the Bush administration was also still - it was post-9-11. It was a very aggressive attitude towards Taliban and al-Qaida, which was merited for the ones who led it and so on, but it was used far too broadly for all the camp followers who really should have been brought back and reintegrated.

MONTAGNE: How much did both the U.S. military, intelligence services from the U.S. and the diplomatic arm of the U.S., how much did they not credit these accusations against Pakistan?

GALL: That's a good way to put the question, because I think the military, early on, knew what was going on. They had troops on the ground. They were picking up what was happening. I think the diplomats, for a long time, didn't see it, and still sometimes don't believe it. But I think what happened with America was also - there was a decision that this was something to be lived with or just sort of controlled, but Pakistan could cooperate on the bigger things. It's a nuclear power, don't forget. And if it can get the big al-Qaida leaders, then we can manage with the rest. By 2006, I think, the Bush administration understood that there was a much bigger level of Pakistani cooperation and support of the Taliban. But then we saw a different policy kick in, where the top officials know, but they decide not to act on it. And the reasoning there, I think, is that Pakistan is too important. But there's also, I think, quite a lot of putting their heads in the sand.

MONTAGNE: I think a lot of people new to this information would say: I don't get it. Why wouldn't Pakistan want a stable neighbor? Wouldn't a chaotic or unstable neighbor be worse?

GALL: Yeah. And this is actually what they'll say to you. I mean, I've interviewed President Musharraf and others, and they say to you: But we want a stable Afghanistan. It's in our favor. It's in our interest. But when you look at the evidence of what they've been doing all these years, they have done the opposite. And I've had several discussions with people. One very senior America official said he came to the conclusion that they only knew how to manage it through chaos. That was how they just knew how to work it best.

MONTAGNE: That would be the military and the intelligence agencies of Pakistan.

GALL: Yes. And I think this is the key thing: It's the military and intelligence that run this. It's not the civilians. They've never had the control. So they - I think they just do what they know, and what they know best is how to manage a guerilla force. And so then they just continue with what they knew best.

MONTAGNE: This whole sense, even if Pakistan has denied it, this whole situation with Pakistan and the belief here in Afghanistan that Pakistan is running things, has political implications.

GALL: Absolutely.

MONTAGNE: Certainly, President Hamid Karzai, you know, as you write, has spoken about it constantly for years and said, quite directly: Why are you bombing our villages, when the enemy is over in Pakistan?

GALL: Well, I think it's done great damage to Karzai, personally. I think it's actually one of the reasons that the relationship with the United States has broken down so much. He's so disillusioned that, one, he wasn't listened to, secondly, that the United States and NATO didn't act on his warnings. And now he's facing - he's about to leave power, but he's facing an enemy that's just as vengeful and dangerous across the border. As I write, he's leaving Afghanistan after 12 years in the same position, as it was before: a weak country with predatory neighbors and an inability to manage on its own without outside aid. And I don't blame the Afghans for stating where the problem is, but it has distracted them terribly from building their own country. It's been a real tragedy.

MONTAGNE: Carlotta Gall. Thank you very much for sitting down with us and joining to talk about the book.

GALL: Pleasure.

INSKEEP: Her new book is called "The Wrong Enemy," and she sat down with our own Renee Montagne, who's reporting this week from Kabul. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.