Musharraf: I was right to talk to Taliban

By Alex Stevenson

Pakistan’s former president Pervez Musharraf has attacked western leaders for failing to back his preference for “political deals” with the Taliban.

Mr Musharraf, who served as president from 2001 until early 2008, welcomed last month’s decision at the London conference of global leaders that the international community would reach out to non-ideological elements of the Taliban.

He told an audience at the Chatham House thinktank in London that the historic Pashtun dominance of Afghan governments justified his approach to them.

Mr Musharraf continued the Pakistani government’s policy of cultivating and supporting the emerging Taliban in Afghanistan, before decisively switching to support US policy after September 11th.

“All Taliban are Pashtuns, but all Pashtuns are not Taliban. Therefore let’s reach out,” he said, explaining his attitude.

Mr Musharraf said he had called on new US president George Bush to give the Taliban greater respect in early 2000.

“We should recognise the Taliban and you should open your mission there so we can influence them from within,” he said he told Mr Bush, adding that the failure to do so was a “major blunder”.

“We must have political deals,” he pressed. “Now they are doing exactly what I was doing in 2003 – deal with the Pashtun elements. That is what has to be done. We have to go for deals, while the military pressure is on.”

Mr Musharraf identified two other “blunders” by the west which had caused the present problems in Afghanistan: the failure to rehabilitate the 25,000 mujahedeen after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal and the alienation of Pashtuns after the Taliban were ousted from Kabul in November 2001.

He pressed the need to avoid discussions of withdrawal as a potential fourth blunder, saying that “failure, quitting, is not an option”.

“When we are talking of running away… it’s very easy for the Taliban,” Mr Musharraf added.

The former president and head of the army resigned in 2008 after an attempt to secure his disintegrating power base by quitting the military failed.

When asked whether he had any further ambitions to political life in Pakistan, he said anyone who was capable of uniting the army, bureaucracy and political forces would be beneficial.

“However it is for the people of Pakistan to decide,” he added.

“I am a civilian, I am not a military man. I cannot take over or anything – even if I think something is wrong in Pakistan,” he said to laughter.