WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The CIA identified Hamid Karzai as the man who could lead Afghanistan even before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, according to retired Gen. Tommy Franks.
The general -- who led the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq before his retirement in July 2003 -- says the United States began looking for a Pashtun alternative to the Taliban soon after the repressive religious regime established itself in Kabul in 1996.
Franks, who served in the U.S. Army for 36 years and is the former head of the U.S. Central Command, made these revelations in his book, "American Soldier," published in this month.
Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun from southwestern Afghanistan, had drawn the attention of U.S. diplomats in Islamabad in the early days of the Afghan war.
Although educated in India, Karzai was living in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta during the Taliban reign. He openly criticized the Taliban's repressive policies and also resented Pakistan's interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs.
Pakistan sheltered more than 3.5 million Afghan refugees after the Soviet invasion in 1979. The country also provided training and launching facilities to Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet army and their Afghan allies.
Pakistan's military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, was responsible for the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons that came from the United States and other Western sources for the rebels. This gave the ISI considerable influence over Afghan opposition groups battling the Soviets.
After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union a few years later, the United States and other Western nations lost their interest in Afghanistan, which allowed Pakistan to further strengthen its influence. This influence continued to grow under the Taliban who were shunned by the rest of the world and depended almost entirely on Pakistan.
In his 590-page book, Franks recalls how the CIA station in Islamabad spotted Karzai as the man who could provide a Pashtun alternative to the Taliban.
The CIA in Islamabad was looking after U.S. interests in Afghanistan during the Taliban reign when Washington did not have any embassy in Kabul.
The general says that because of Afghanistan's ethnic make up, it was important to bring in a Pashtun leader. Pashtun is the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and controls the southern, eastern and some parts of the western regions. The north is controlled by the ethnic Tajik and Uzbeks while the Hazaras are strong in central Afghanistan, where the Pashtuns also have a strong presence.
Explaining this, Franks says that before Sept. 11, 2001, when there were no U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Washington realized that allowing the Northern Alliance, which is almost entirely non-Pashtun, into Kabul could lead to a bloodbath and a prolonged fight between the Pashtun and other ethnic groups.
"I remember when Hamid Karzai became the interim president, the transitional president in Afghanistan. I used to go see him about once a month. And I was so pleased that he was named and that he was vetted by the Afghans in the loya jirga (a tribal assembly) process and now he has become the legitimate man in charge," said Franks in an interview published Tuesday in the Stars and Stripes.
The book gives an interesting insight into how the Americans won over the Northern Alliance. He said that before opening negotiations with the Afghan commander Mohammed Fahim, he rehearsed a fake meeting with one of his aides who acted as an Afghan military leader. Later, when the Afghan commander demanded $7 million for supporting the U.S. forces against the Taliban, Franks walked out of the meeting but his aide arranged a deal at $5 million.
As with Karzai, Franks also remembers Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, fondly. It was a "soldier to soldier" meeting, says the U.S. general while talking about his first meeting with Musharraf who briefed him on the regional situation, like a professional soldier.
In this meeting, Musharraf said Pakistan was forced to support the Taliban because the radical sect's forces had stopped the bloodletting in Afghanistan and also because Pakistan needed peace on its western border so that it could focus on India.
Franks says that former CIA Director George Tenet also had briefed him about Pakistan's need for a "strategic depth" in Afghanistan where Islamabad wanted to build communication centers to deal with the Indian threat.
Musharraf also indicated that Pakistan could help the United States negotiate a deal with the Taliban -- even in forcing Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders out of Afghanistan.
In return, Pakistan demanded U.S. support for strengthening its defense capabilities and its influence in the region.
Franks recalls that he made no promise, but after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, he began negotiating with Musharraf through the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. According to him, after Sept. 11, Pakistan agreed to help the United States launch an attack into Afghanistan on the condition that there would no Indian troops in the coalition forces invading Afghanistan and no Indian soldier would step into Pakistan.
The Americans accepted this condition and Pakistan joined the U.S.-led "war against terror." Franks says that not much is known about Pakistan's contribution to the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan, he says, provided 74 bases to the United States for carrying out operations inside Afghanistan.
The U.S. general observes that Musharraf kept his promise during the Afghan war and has never faltered since.
The 11th corps of the Pakistan Army captured and killed hundreds of al-Qaida supporters who were fleeing Afghanistan and even today Pakistani troops are battling al-Qaida and Taliban operatives in Waziristan, Franks says.
In his interview with Stars and Stripes, the general estimates that U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan and Iraq for the next three to five years.
"I believe that it'll take three to five years to get the bureaucracy built -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- and to get the requisite number of security people and bureaucrats trained up to be able to do the work," he said. "Three to five years. Might be a little quicker. Won't be any longer."