Recently I stumbled across these two US diplomatic cables from the 1990s that discuss meetings between diplomatic personnel in Pakistan and Taliban representatives. In its current attempts to negotiate with the Taliban to resolve the Afghan conflict, the US should remember that the Taliban have always been duplicitous about their relationship with al Qaeda.
In the first cable [excerpted below], from 1996, US officials described talks with Mullah Abdul Jalil, the Taliban’s deputy foreign affairs advisor. During the meeting, Jalil claimed that his government was not aware of Osama bin Laden’s location, vowed to ensure that al Qaeda camps would be shut, and promised that no safe haven would be given to the terror group. “Jalil made all the right sounds concerning terrorism,” the cable ends optimistically.
In the second cable [also excerpted below], from 1997, US officials met with Maulavi Abdullah Hamad, the Taliban’s Consular General in Karachi, and Hafizullah Safi. During the conversation, the latter described bin Laden as a “good mujahid” and said “he remained in Afghanistan on the understanding that he avoid any involvement in terrorism directed against the West or Saudi Arabia.” The US officials also urged the Taliban to not destroy the Buddhist monuments in Bamiyan.
So, to be clear here, in 1996, Taliban officials told US officials that bin Laden was not sheltering in their areas and that he would not be given safe haven to attack the West or Saudi Arabia. One year later, the Taliban admitted they were sheltering bin Laden, the “good mujahid.” We all know the rest of the story. Bin Laden held press conferences vowing to attack the West. And Afghanistan was used as a base by al Qaeda to attack the West and Saudi Arabia multiple times, culminating in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
4. (C) JALIL CLAIMED THAT ALL OF THE “ARABS” BEING TRAINED IN THESE CAMPS HAVE FLED TO AREAS CONTROLLED BY THE KABUL REGIME. ASKED ABOUT THE WHEREABOUTS OF SAUDI FINANCIER OSAMA BIN LADEN, HE RESPONDED THAT HE DID NOT KNOW, BUT HE WAS NOT IN AREAS CONTROLLED BY THE TALIBAN.
5. (C) POLOFF AND AARMA URGED JALIL TO ENSURE THAT THE TALIBAN TAKES MEASURES TO ENSURE THAT THESE CAMPS ARE NOT REACTIVATED AND THAT NO FORM OF “SAFE HAVEN” IS EXTENDED TO TERRORISTS. IN ADDITION, POLOFF AND AARMA EMPHASIZED THAT IT IS IMPORTANT THAT THE TALIBAN PUT OUT THE WORD THAT OSAMA BIN LADEN’S PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN IS NOT WANTED. JALIL REPLIED THAT THE TALIBAN DID NOT SUPPORT TERRORISM IN ANY FORM AND WOULD NOT PROVIDE REFUGE TO OSAMA BIN LADEN.
6. (C) SEPTEMBER 19 PAKISTANI PRESS REPORTS STATE THAT “AS MANY AS 107 PAKISTANIS WHO WERE RECEIVING MILITARY TRAINING AT TWO CAMPS IN AFGHANISTAN’S KHOST PROVINCE WERE CAUGHT ON THE PAKISTAN-AFGHAN BORDER WHILE RETURNING HOME AFTER THE SEIZURE OF THEIR CAMPS BY THE TALIBAN.” ACCORDING TO THE ARTICLES, THE GOP BORDER FORCES TOOK THOSE ARRESTED TO DERA ISMAIL KHAN PRISON IN NORTH WAZIRSTAN AGENCY.
7. (C) COMMENT: JALIL MADE ALL THE RIGHT SOUNDS CONCERNING TERRORISM, AND WE WILL CONTINUE TO DRIVE COUNTERTERRORISM POINTS HOME IN DISCUSSIONS WITH THE TALIBAN. WE HAVE NO INDEPENDENT CONFIRMATION OF THE PAKISTANI PRESS REPORTS CITED IN PARA FIVE, BUT INTERIOR MINISTER BABAR TOLD THE DCM ON SEPTEMBER 12 THAT HE HAD ISSUED AN ORDER TO GOP BORDER FORCES TO ARREST TERRORISTS IF THEY TRIED TO ENTER PAKISTAN (REFTEL).
4. (C) CONSUL GENERAL ALSO ASKED ABOUT “THAT SAUDI PRINCE,” WHO WAS IMMEDIATELY IDENTIFIED AS OSAMA BIN LADEN. SAFI LAUNCHED INTO AN EXPLANATION OF BIN LADEN’S PRESENCE IN TALIBAN TERRITORY WHICH TOOK THE STANDARD LINE: BIN LADEN HAD BEEN A GOOD MUJAHID FOR A DOZEN OR MORE YEARS. HE REMAINED IN AFGHANISTAN ON THE UNDERSTANDING THAT HE AVOID ANY INVOLVEMENT IN TERRORISM DIRECTED AGAINST THE WEST OR SAUDI ARABIA.
5. (C) WE ASKED IF HE HAD VIEWED THE PETER ARNETT CNN INTERVIEW WITH BIN LADEN. HE CLAIMED NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE INTERVIEW AND ASKED FOR A SUMMARY. CONSUL GENERAL EXPLAINED THAT BIN LADEN HAD VOWED ACTION AGAINST AMERICAN SOLDIERS IN SAUDI ARABIA. HE INVITED SAFI TO COME TO TEA AT JOHNSON HOUSE TO VIEW THE TAPE. SAFI UNDERTOOK TO DO SO, WE THINK.
6. (C) COMMENT: NOT ALL THAT MUCH SUBSTANCE THERE, OR PERHAPS MUCH REALITY BUT WHAT SEEMS CLEAR IS THAT THE TALIBAN ARE GETTING OUR MESSAGES. WE SUSPECT THAT THEIR COMMUNICATIONS WITH KANDAHAR ARE NOT THAT PERFECT BUT THEY APPEAR TO BE TELLING ONE ANOTHER WHAT U.S. CONCERNS ARE. WE ARE IN THE CULTIVATING MODE WITH THESE PEOPLE, WHOM WE MEET ONLY FLEETINGLY. WE HAD LUCK IN GETTING SAFI OVER TO HEAR OUR PITCH ON PRESERVING THE BUDDHIST MONUMENTS AT BAMIYAN. WE’LL TRY TO GET HIM TO FOLLOW THROUGH ON THE ARNETT TAPE.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.