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Pakistan ex-spy chief: US dictate on S-400 'difficult'

Musharraf-era intelligence head says Afghan peace process needs to be protected from vested interests

Iftikhar Gilani   | 27.06.2019
Pakistan ex-spy chief: US dictate on S-400 'difficult'

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan 

Gen. Ehsan ul Haq retired as chairman joint chiefs of staff committee of the Pakistan military in October 2007. He was chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the premier Pakistan intelligence agency, between October 2001 and 2004, the crucial period that saw American intervention in Afghanistan.

He is also one of the key persons to have negotiated the ceasefire enforced in 2003 along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border which divides the Himalayan state of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, with his Indian counterparts. Speaking exclusively with Anadolu Agency in Tashkent recently, Haq elucidated on some key issues.

Anadolu Agency: The U.S.-Iran confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz is attaining dangerous proportions. Since Pakistan and almost the whole of South Asia is on the borders of Iran, how is it affecting your region?

Ehsan ul Haq: It is already having a very serious impact, because of disruption of Iranian oil supply to the region. The tensions have also undermined the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, which was once touted as peace pipeline, as it was supposed to go to India as well. Its construction has been undermined and obstructed. As the tensions grow, they are now disrupting shipping lines, that is going to increase the price of oil, and uncertainty. That will not only affect the energy situation but an overall economic situation in South Asia, that includes India and Pakistan. My assessment is that energy prices will skyrocket which will seriously undermine economies in the region particularly, Pakistan whose economy is struggling. India’s economy is also not in good shape. The growth has been stagnant.

Q: Why is the Strait of Hormuz so important for the world economy?

Haq: The channel, maybe just 21 miles (around 34 kilometers) wide, linking the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, is the only way to move oil from the Persian Gulf to the world's oceans. And that's why attacks on ships in the nearby Gulf of Oman is such a concern. Roughly 80% of the crude oil passes through it to reach to the markets in Asia. Some 22.5 million barrels of oil a day passes through the Strait of Hormuz. That is roughly 24% of daily global oil production, and nearly 30% of oil moving over the world's oceans. Qatar, the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter, sends almost all of its LNG through the Strait.

Q: The U.S. has been warning Turkey and India against purchasing the Russian S-400 air defense missile system. Since Pakistan is also a non-NATO military ally of the U.S. and off late, it is also purchasing Russian equipment. Are their apprehensions that the Americans may block your arms supplies also?

Haq: My view is that this U.S. policy is counterproductive and not sustainable. The U.S. has a strong strategic interest in the region. But to enforce its own America first policy and to dictate foreign policies of countries in the region that are sovereign and allies, is not going to be to the advantage of the U.S. itself.

My view is Turkey and India both will very jealously protect autonomy in strategic decision making. And they may find it very difficult to align with the U.S. dictate on this S-400 issue. They must find a diplomatic solution.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the non-NATO military ally status has not given any benefit to Pakistan. It has been tormented. The U.S.- Pakistan military relationship has gradually lost its momentum. And there are hardly any military transfers to Pakistan. Even military training arrangements have been at standstill. Consequently, the U.S. ability to do anything about Pakistan procurement from Russia is minimal. 

Q: As an expert on Afghanistan, since you have held an important position in the Pakistani Army along those borders and soon after 9/11, you became head of the ISI what in your view is the endgame in Afghanistan?

Haq: Right from 2001, Pakistan was very clear and very categoric. We repeatedly told our American friends, there is no military solution in Afghanistan. We used to impress upon them to transit from military operations to devising a political strategy to the interest of everybody. Unfortunately, it took them too long. Many years were wasted. There were many beneficiaries of this war as well. The war economy in Afghanistan had developed vested interests, who were getting benefitted from the situation. They wanted to continue with a military strategy. Now when the political process has started my strong recommendation would be that it should be protected from its detractors in Washington, its detractors in Kabul and its detractors within the Taliban as well, and from those in the region who oppose it. What we had been telling Americans, they are realizing now. After all, the Taliban are also Afghans. They are not al-Qaeda. They could not have been denied a role in the future of Afghanistan. Our stated position stands vindicated. I am happy now that most of stakeholders are now engaged and desirous of the political solution.

Q: You were the director-general of ISI when the attack on the Indian Parliament took place. Author Adrian Levy in his book -- The Exile, has found a link between the attack and U.S. operations to flush out Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains. The U.S. had paid the Pakistan army to assist by plugging Tora Bora's back door – a plan devised by Bob Grenier, the CIA station chief in Islamabad. However, as soon as the attack on the Indian Parliament took place, you took your troops away and let bin Laden disappear.

Haq: If you can recall the incident, the attack on the Indian Parliament happened in December 2001, while I joined ISI in October. I came when the Kabul bombing had already begun. Our focus was Afghanistan. At no stage has Bob Grenier ever accused Pakistan of not supporting the U.S. wholeheartedly, even though they did not share their game plan with us.

They had not told us what they were doing in Tora Bora and when we did not know what was happening, then how they could have expected us to capture bin Laden. Also, at the very same moment, the Indian Army amassed troops on our borders in the east. We had made it clear that unless our eastern borders are secure, we will not be able to provide requisite support at our western borders.

We wanted to contain any and all cross-border incidents because President [Pervez] Musharraf and I wanted to de-escalate the situation along the eastern border and normalize relations with India to focus on the emerging crisis in Afghanistan. It was during that time that the Indian Parliament attack happened. In my view, attacks like these don’t happen so spontaneously. They need much planning.

I am sure the planning for this started much before 9/11 happened. Therefore, I don’t think there is any linkage between the Tora Bora operations, the attack on the Indian Parliament or any other incidents along the eastern border.

Q: As part of former President Musharraf’s team, you were instrumental in enforcing the cease-fire along the LoC in 2003. How did that happen? There are reports that you had met then RAW chief CD Sahay to discuss a ceasefire.

Haq: I do not and cannot comment on my activities when I was in office, but I had many meetings with interlocutors. But I cannot comment on a specific meeting. But I do confirm that many back channels evolved discussing the broader ambit of India-Pakistan relations and how to de-escalate tensions. These back channels ultimately converged into an agreement which led to the unilateral announcement of the ceasefire by Pakistan, which India responded to. There was a lot of homework. In fact, Pakistan did not make the announcement unilaterally, but India was part of it.

At that time, there was also consensus that too many civilian casualties were taking place because of rising tension at the LoC. It is happening today as well. There is a need to revisit the ceasefire agreement of 2003 again.

Q: But questions are being raised at that [cease-fire] agreement; that it didn’t evolve through a political agreement and had no mechanism to monitor it, eventually leading to its failure.

Haq: I agree. In fact, a peace process had begun immediately after the cease-fire and it was believed that it would lead to permanent de-escalation. However, we have been insisting that a mechanism is put in place since then. Pakistan believes that there is a system of the United Nations Military Observer Group which is assigned to monitor violations. But India doesn’t want to involve a third party. In my view, even today there is a need to establish who actually violates the LoC. We still have the UN option available.

Nonetheless, we are prepared to discuss any arrangement to monitor and establish who actually violates the LoC agreement. Strict observance of the ceasefire is fundamental to the rest of developments. When the ceasefire is continuously violated, you cannot expect the bus services to run peacefully. We cannot expect trade volume to remain normal or grow. It is causing a serious impact in perception and reality as well.

Q: Several U.S. government leaders and members of Congress and Senate have said that Pakistan was playing a double game in Afghanistan. There is this perception that you don’t allow a proper democratic government in Kabul to work in an atmosphere that is free from violence and terror.

Haq: First of all, it is very unfortunate to hear that we are playing a double game. You see, Pakistan certainly has very good relations with the United States. We have made enormous sacrifices in support of their war on terror. But to expect that Pakistan will act against its own interests to extend U.S. agenda is an unfair expectation. There are always disagreements on strategies and operationalizing them even among the best of friends, but to call these things a double game is most unfair in any relationship.

The fact is that the U.S. and its strategies in Afghanistan have failed and that they have not been able to achieve the success they were hoping with the application of military power and enormous investment in terms of resources. We have supported peace and stability in Afghanistan. We have supported Afghan governments and Afghan-led and Afghan-based peace processes.

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