Afghanistan war could have been averted in 2001: Former Pakistan spy chief

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (L), US President George W. Bush (C), and Pakistan President Pervez Musharaf (R) share a light moment with reporters 21 September 2004 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. (File/AFP)
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (L), US President George W. Bush (C), and Pakistan President Pervez Musharaf (R) share a light moment with reporters 21 September 2004 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 September 2021

Afghanistan war could have been averted in 2001: Former Pakistan spy chief

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (L), US President George W. Bush (C), and Pakistan President Pervez Musharaf (R) share a light moment with reporters 21 September 2004 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. (File/AFP)
  • Gen. Ehsan ul Haq says a joint Saudi-Pakistani initiative was a missed opportunity for the US to avoid conflict
  • Osama bin Laden’s ability to evade capture on Pakistani soil for so many years was “a huge intelligence failure”

ISLAMABAD: The US could have averted a long and costly war in Afghanistan had it heeded the advice of Pakistani and Saudi officials after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

General Ehsan ul Haq became director-general of the ISI, Pakistan’s main spy agency, in October 2001, just weeks after the attacks against the US, and retired six years later, having served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Both positions placed him at the very heart of post-9/11 decision-making in Pakistan and its role in the US war in Afghanistan.

In early November 2001, soon after NATO forces entered Afghanistan, Pakistan mounted a little-known diplomatic effort, with the assistance of Saudi Arabia, to rescue the region from chaos and the Taliban government from self-destruction.




General Ehsan ul Haq, Pakistan's former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and former DG of ISI speaks to Arab News in Islamabad, August 31, 2021. (AN)

Haq secretly flew to Washington carrying a four-page letter from Pakistan’s military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, addressed to US President George W. Bush.

The letter proposed launching a fresh initiative to resolve the Afghan conflict through negotiations with those Taliban leaders willing to cooperate in the fight against Al-Qaeda — the group held responsible for plotting the 9/11 attacks from its Afghan hideout.

“That was a Pakistan-Saudi Arabia joint initiative,” said Haq, who was interviewed at his home in Islamabad.

“I traveled with the late Prince Saud Al-Faisal and we proposed to the US administration at the highest level — the President, the Secretary of State, the director of the CIA and other US leaders — that there should be a UN intervention in Afghanistan.”




Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf visits the tomb of the unknown soldier in Warsaw 23 April 2007. (File/AFP)

Tony Blair, the then British prime minister, reportedly encouraged the initiative and volunteered to raise Musharraf’s concerns privately with Bush. In his 2018 book “Directorate S: The CIA and America’s secret wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” American journalist Steve Coll said the delegation was given short shrift.

“Blair arrived in Washington on November 7,” wrote Coll. “But when Haq and his Saudi escorts landed soon after, Blair relayed bad news: There was no hope for negotiation, so far as the Bush administration was concerned. The war would go on until the Taliban surrendered unconditionally or were annihilated.”

Twenty years on, Haq says the initiative was a missed opportunity for the Americans that could have spared them and the Afghan people much loss of blood and treasure and preserved regional stability.




General Ehsan ul Haq, Pakistan's former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and former DG of ISI speaks to Arab News in Islamabad, August 31, 2021. (AN)

“The war could have been averted in the first place,” Haq said. “The conflict would have been much shorter if the US had heeded the recommendations presented by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia after 9/11.”

Haq said Pakistan and Saudi Arabia “very sincerely” advised the Americans there was no military solution to the situation in Afghanistan and that a political solution backed by the UN was the best option available.

“We said a broad-based consensus government should be brought in under the UN in Afghanistan so that the conflict would not drag on and intensify. But unfortunately, our sincere and best efforts were not heeded and the consequence was that the conflict continued for 20 long years.”

There was much debate surrounding Musharraf’s claim in an interview with CBS television in 2006 that the Bush administration threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” after the attacks if the country did not cooperate with America’s war in Afghanistan. In response, Richard Armitage, the Assistant Secretary of State, did not deny that Pakistan had been put on notice, but disputed the language used.

However, Haq said that it did not take a phone call to persuade the country: “The US approached Pakistan about 24 to 36 hours (after 9/11). Pakistan had already condemned what had happened and we had already decided that we would stand with the international community and that our response would be in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.”

Ten years on, relations between Islamabad and Washington hit rock bottom when US special forces launched a cross-border raid, without Pakistan’s prior knowledge, to locate 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, who was hiding out in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.




Afghan security forces arrive at the site of a car bombing near the largest US military in Afghanistan, north of Kabul in Parwan province, on December 11, 2019. (File/AFP)

Haq said Bin Laden’s ability to evade capture on Pakistani soil for so many years represented “a huge intelligence failure” on Pakistan’s part and was a source of great personal embarrassment.

“I am ashamed as a Pakistani, embarrassed as a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and totally embarrassed as a former DG of ISI of what happened in Abbottabad, as we could not discover Osama bin Laden before the Americans did,” he said.

Looking to the future, Haq says Pakistan will gain “strategically” from the Taliban’s return to power because the change of rulers in Kabul will stop India from using Afghan soil to “destabilize” Pakistan.

“We see an end to Afghan elements inimical to Pakistan,” he said.




Command of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller speaks during the NATO 70th anniversary at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on April 3, 2019. (File/AFP)

As for the US-Pakistan relationship, Haq believes there is a greater need than ever for its improvement, “because we need the US to help clear the mess and stabilize Afghanistan.”

He also urged the Biden administration to recognize and work with the incoming Taliban administration for the sake of the Afghan people.

“If you keep the Taliban government or any other government in Afghanistan on a terrorist and sanctions list of the UN, Afghanistan will not be supported by international organizations,” he said.

“And this will affect the behavior of the Taliban government, which will itself create problems.”


EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia

EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia
Updated 7 sec ago

EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia

EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia
BRUSSELS: The European Union on Thursday announced that it was ordering its non-essential staff to leave war-torn Ethiopia.
EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said security would be stepped up for EU and local staff remaining at its missions to Ethiopia and to the African Union.

Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries

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Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries

Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries
  • The group includes 68 women, six children and the body of a baby who did not survive the voyage
  • Spain is one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants seeking a better life in Europe

MADRID: A baby was found dead in one of five migrant boats intercepted off Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic with nearly 300 people on board, officials said Thursday.
Migrant arrivals on the Canaries have surged since late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced crossings to the continent via the Mediterranean.
In the latest incident, the Spanish coast guard rescued 282 sub-Saharan African migrants from five inflatable dinghies off the coast of Fuerteventura, one of the seven islands that make up the Canary islands, local emergency services said in a tweet.
The group includes 68 women, six children and the body of a baby who did not survive the voyage, an emergency services spokeswoman said.
They are all in good health except for one woman who needed medical attention, she added.
Spain is one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
Between January 1 and November 30 a total of 36,379 migrants arrived in Spain by sea, 511 more than during the same time last year, according to interior ministry figures.
More than half, 54 percent, arrived on Spain’s Canary Islands off the North African coast.
The shortest route to the archipelago is more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Moroccan coast, but it is notoriously dangerous due to strong currents.
Over 900 migrants have died trying to reach the Canaries so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.


India says it detects two cases of Omicron variant

India says it detects two cases of Omicron variant
Updated 38 min 37 sec ago

India says it detects two cases of Omicron variant

India says it detects two cases of Omicron variant
  • All primary contacts and secondary contacts of both the cases have been traced and are being tested

BENGALURU: India has detected two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in the southern state of Karnataka, a health ministry official said on Thursday.
“All primary contacts and secondary contacts of both the cases have been traced and are being tested,” the health ministry’s joint secretary Lav Agarwal told a news briefing.


Biden launching winter COVID-19 booster, testing campaign

Biden launching winter COVID-19 booster, testing campaign
Updated 58 min 32 sec ago

Biden launching winter COVID-19 booster, testing campaign

Biden launching winter COVID-19 booster, testing campaign
  • The plan includes a requirement for private insurers to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests and a tightening of testing requirements for people entering the US regardless of their vaccination status
  • Biden is also extending his directive requiring masks on airplanes and other public transit, which had been set to expire in January

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden is set to kick off a more urgent campaign for Americans to get COVID-19 booster shots Thursday as he unveils his winter plans for combating the coronavirus and its omicron variant with enhanced availability of shots and vaccines but without major new restrictions.
The plan includes a requirement for private insurers to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests and a tightening of testing requirements for people entering the US regardless of their vaccination status. But as some other nations close their borders or reimpose lockdowns, officials said Biden was not moving to impose additional restrictions beyond his recommendation that Americans wear masks indoors in public settings.
Biden said Wednesday that the forthcoming strategy, to be unveiled during a speech at the National Institutes of Health, would fight the virus “not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.”
The White House released details of Biden’s plan early Thursday, in advance of the speech.
The Biden administration has come to view widespread adoption of booster shots as its most effective tool for combating COVID-19 this winter. Medical experts say boosters provide enhanced and more enduring protection against COVID-19, including new variants.
About 100 million Americans are eligible for boosters under current US policy, with more becoming eligible every day. Convincing those who have already been vaccinated to get another dose, officials believe, will be far easier than vaccinating the roughly 43 million adult Americans who haven’t gotten a shot despite widespread public pressure campaigns to roll up their sleeves.
And while Biden’s vaccination-or-testing requirement for workers at larger employers has been held up by legal challenges, the president on Thursday will renew his call for businesses to move ahead and impose their own mandates on workers so they can stay open without outbreaks.
In a effort to encourage more people to take the booster doses, the Biden administration is stepping up direct outreach to seniors — the population most vulnerable to the virus. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will send a notice to all 63 million Medicare beneficiaries encouraging them to get booster doses, the White House said. The AARP will work with the administration on education campaigns for seniors.
So far about 42 million Americans, about half of them seniors, have received a booster dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week broadened its booster dose recommendation to cover all Americans aged at least 18 starting six months after their second dose of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna.
The White House said the CDC was also developing new guidance for schools in an effort to reduce or eliminate current quarantine requirements for those are not fully vaccinated and exposed to the virus. The new policies, which the White House said will be released in the coming weeks, could include so-called “test-to-stay” policies, in which those who are considered close contacts can continue to go to school but wear masks and undergo serial testing, in a bid to minimize learning loss and disruption.
The administration’s upcoming rule to require private insurers to cover at-home testing is still being drafted, and many details remain to be worked out, including under what criteria they will be reimbursable, officials said. Those insured by Medicare and Medicaid would not be eligible, but the White House said as many as 150 million people with private insurance would see easier and cheaper access to the at-home tests.
Beginning next week, the White House said, all travelers to the US, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their flights. That’s down from three days right now for those who have been vaccinated, in an added precaution against the omicron variant. But the White House has shelved tougher options, like requiring post-arrival testing or requiring quarantines upon arrival in the US
Biden is also extending his directive requiring masks on airplanes and other public transit, which had been set to expire in January, through at least the middle of March, the White House said.
The administration is also informing states that it has more than 60 teams available to help them or their municipalities address surges in cases and public health shortages heading into the winter, with half aimed at bolstering hospital services and 20 targeted at supporting life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments.


Philippines activists push new petition seeking Marcos election ban

Philippines activists push new petition seeking Marcos election ban
Updated 02 December 2021

Philippines activists push new petition seeking Marcos election ban

Philippines activists push new petition seeking Marcos election ban
  • Outside the poll body, more than a dozen people chanted “Disqualify, BBM! Disqualify! Disqualify!” while carrying posters bearing the same message

MANILA: Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the early frontrunner for the Philippines presidency, was hit by another formal complaint on Thursday, as longtime opponents of his powerful family pile pressure on authorities to disqualify him from elections next year.
The activists’ petition is part of a flurry of complaints designed to sideline Marcos, a career politician and son and namesake of the notorious dictator who was driven from power by a 1986 people’s uprising.
It was among at least six lodged with election authorities and is centered on his 1995 conviction for failing to pay income tax or file tax returns while in public office from 1982 to 1985, which carries a lifetime election ban.
“He was the son of the ruling dictator, the same dictator who imposed the penalty of perpetual disqualification,” the 13-page petition said.
The group was referring to a 1985 amendment to the internal revenue code permanently barring a public officer convicted of a tax crime from voting and running in any election.
“Perhaps he thought he was an exception to his father’s decrees,” the petition said.
The Marcos family is arguably the most famous and divisive in the Philippines.
Despite its fall from grace, it has retained vast wealth and far-reaching and powerful connections, but its prominence has been a cause of anger to thousands who suffered during the harsh 1970s martial law under the elder Marcos.
Outside the poll body, more than a dozen people chanted “Disqualify, BBM! Disqualify! Disqualify!” while carrying posters bearing the same message.
BBM refers to “Bongbong” Marcos, his nickname. His media group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since his conviction, Marcos, 64, has been elected governor, congressman and senator and ran unsuccessfully for the vice presidency.
“He may have been allowed to run in 2016 but we will not allow him to run again,” said petitioner and Akbayan youth chairperson Rj Naguit.