More confirmation about the Kunduz airlift

Giving ISI officers a safe passage out of Afghanistan in 2001 was a bad idea

When it happened, it didn’t get much coverage in the international media. But five years on, the truth about the Kunduz airlift is being laid out in the open.

The rushed negotiations between the United States and Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 changed Pakistan’s behavior but not its interests. Supporting the Taliban was so important to Pakistan that Musharraf even considered going to war with the United States rather than abandon his allies in Afghanistan. Instead, he tried to persuade Washington to allow him to install a “moderate Taliban” government or, failing that, at least to prevent the Northern Alliance, which Pakistanis see as allied with India, from entering Kabul and forming a government. The agreement by Washington to dilute Northern Alliance control with remnants of Afghanistan’s royal regime did little to mollify the generals in Islamabad, to say nothing of the majors and colonels who had spent years supporting the Taliban in the border areas. Nonetheless, in order to prevent the United States from allying with India, Islamabad acquiesced in reining in its use of asymmetrical warfare, in return for the safe evacuation of hundreds of Pakistani officers and intelligence agents from Afghanistan, where they had overseen the Taliban’s military operations. [Barnett R Rubin/Foreign Affairs, emphasis added]

Rubin’s article argues that indulging the Pakistani army was a mistake, and if the United States wants to ‘save the international effort in Afghanistan’ it must ‘and rethink its strategy — especially its approach to Pakistan, which continues to give sanctuary to insurgents on its tribal frontier’.

9 thoughts on “More confirmation about the Kunduz airlift”

  1. Nitin, it was talked about, at least in the western media – but when pak turned its tail all was forgiven and down played by US military and its media (which supplies stories to the rest of world).

    I am currently reading Fredrick Forsyth’s The Afghan. Although it’s a novel he gives broad summaries as to what happened in Afghanistan since Soviet invasion until now, with his fictional characters involved and watching. He talks about the siege of Kunduz by North Alliance and how after tens of thousands of Taliban/al Qaida surrendered, the Paks, the Uzbeks, and the Hazaras took thousands of taliban/al qaida people they wanted out of Kunduz (most never to be seen) before North Alliance took control of the town. Paks took about two thousand pak talibans and ISI out, for deniability, by plane loads for three nights and simply let them go once they were in Pak. That’s why one doesn’t find too many paks in Gitmo. And I am sure they are all working for taliban now.

  2. “He talks about the siege of Kunduz by North Alliance and how after tens of thousands of Taliban/al Qaida surrendered, the Paks, the Uzbeks, and the Hazaras took thousands of taliban/al qaida people they wanted out of Kunduz (most never to be seen) before North Alliance took control of the town.”

    Hazaras and Uzbeks were part of the Northern Alliance, so I don’t know what is Forsyth talking about. In addition, if anyone wants to settle a score with the Taliban (and their backers Pakistani or Arab) it is the Hazaras (they bore the brunt of the Taliban juggernaut: 8000 massacred over a space of three days in Mazar in 1998), so I am inclined to think that they are not the ones to be counted on for saving the Taliban or their foreign collaborators. That a large number of Pakistanis and others managed to slip out of Kunduz is rather well-known.

  3. dreamdragonfly, uzbeks and hazaras took the people they wanted to finish off before the “offical” Norther Alliance (lead by Mausood which incl. uzbeks and hazaras) took the rest as war prisoners to Mazar-i-Sharif. Of the 20K taliban/al Qaida that surrendered at Kunduz, only about 12K (I think) were transferred to Mazar. The rest, including 2K Paks, were taken away “unofficially” by various parties.

  4. Chandra;

    That would be entirely plausible. And I was told of some that were running the racket of selling back the bodies of dead fighters to their families (mostly Pakistanis). But I am curious about the source of the numbers that you cite. Could you indicate me in that direction?

  5. Dream.dragonfly,

    Pak’s Dawn gives an estimate of 20-25K – estimated by Northern Alliance, which is probably the best estimate early on in the fight. But by the time Taliban/al Qaida negotiated surrender, the numbers get down quite a bit – BBC reports 8K surrendered. I don’t think the media really knows. A few hundreds were killed in attacks on Kunduz before surrender. But the rest were taken away by various groups, before UN & the media arrived, post-surrender. Like I said Forsyth summarized most Afghan action and he uses 20K fighters at Kunduz at the start with 10K surrendering with UN present – I think he was relying on UK military documents.

    Here is an excellent report by Seymour Hersh of New Yorker early in 2002 – read especially the RAW estimates of pak airlifts and the India reactions to pak airlifts and why they didn’t complain to US & the world at large. Every thing was hush, hush because Pak got the media on its side (humanitarian concerns for surrendered taliban as reported by wire) and US support to Pak airlift. Pak, as usually, got the best use of the confusion got away with what it wanted to do.

  6. Chandra,

    Thanks for the link. After watching Kabul Express, was really interested in knowing more abt Taliban and Northern Alliance. I had some idea abt what happened during that time but now I get the better picture.

  7. Chandra;

    Thanks for the information. I need to confirm the numbers with the people on the ground, though I think the number of Taliban soldiers may be inflated. And you are right; the Taliban numbers (and their fate) was used as a leverage against Bush administration for various ends.

    Pakistan did get away with a lot in that episode (and continues to). Though India really needs to get a bit more active in counteracting Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.

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