June 13, 2010
PAKISTAN GOV'T, ISI STILL SUPPORTING TALIBAN: REPORT
KABUL -- Pakistani military intelligence not only funds and trains Taliban fighters in Afghanistan but is officially represented on the movement's leadership council, giving i[t] significant influence over operations, a report said.
The report, published by the London School of Economics, a leading British institution, on Sunday, said research strongly suggested support for the Taliban was the "official policy" of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).
Although links between the ISI and Islamist militants have been widely suspected for a long time, the report's findings, which it said were corroborated by two senior Western security officials, could raise more concerns in the West over Pakistan's commitment to help end the war in Afghanistan.
The report also said Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was reported to have visited senior Taliban prisoners in Pakistan earlier this year, where he is believed to have promised their release and help for militant operations, suggesting support for the Taliban "is approved at the highest level of Pakistan's civilian government."
A Pakistani diplomatic source described that report as "naive," and also said any talks with the Taliban were up to the Afghan government.
"Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude," said the report, based on interviews with Taliban commanders and former senior Taliban ministers as well as Western and Afghan security officials.
In March 2009, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, said they had indications elements in the ISI supported the Taliban and al-Qaida and said the agency must end such activities.
Nevertheless, senior Western officials have been reluctant to talk publicly on the subject for fear of damaging possible cooperation from Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state Washington has propped up with billions of dollars in military and economic aid.
"The Pakistan government's apparent duplicity -- and awareness of it among the American public and political establishment -- could have enormous geo-political implications," said the report's author, Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University.
"Without a change in Pakistani behavior it will be difficult if not impossible for international forces and the Afghan government to make progress against the insurgency," Waldman said in the report.
The report comes at the end of one of the bloodiest weeks for foreign troops in Afghanistan -- more than 21 have been killed this week -- and at a time when the insurgency is at its most violent.
More than 1,800 foreign troops, including some 1,100 Americans, have died in Afghanistan since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001. The war has already cost the United States around $300 billion and now costs more than $70 billion a year, the report said, citing 2009 U.S. Congressional research figures.
The report said interviews with Taliban commanders in some of the most violent regions in Afghanistan "suggest that Pakistan continues to give extensive support to the insurgency in terms of funding, munitions, and supplies."
"These accounts were corroborated by former Taliban ministers, a Western analyst and a senior UN official based in Kabul, who said the Taliban largely depend on funding from the ISI and groups in Gulf countries," the report said.
Almost all of the Taliban commanders interviewed in the report also believed the ISI was represented on the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's supreme leadership council based in Pakistan.
"Interviews strongly suggest that the ISI has representatives on the (Quetta) Shura, either as participants or observers, and the agency is thus involved at the highest level of the movement," the report said.
The report also stated that Pakistani President Zardari, along with a senior ISI official, allegedly visited some 50 senior Taliban prisoners at a secret location in Pakistan where he told them they had been arrested only because he was under pressure from the United States.
"(This) suggests that the policy is approved at the highest level of Pakistan's civilian government," the report said.
Afghanistan has also been highly critical of Pakistan's ISI involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan. Last week, the former director of Afghanistan's intelligence service, Amrullah Saleh, resigned saying he had become an obstacle to President Hamid Karzai's plans to negotiate with the insurgents.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters at his home a day after he resigned, Saleh said the ISI was "part of the landscape of destruction in this country."
"It will be a waste of time to provide evidence of ISI involvement. They are a part of it. The Pakistani army of which ISI is a part, they know where the Taliban leaders are -- in their safe houses," he said.
PAKISTAN SPIES HAVE 'SEAT ON TALIBAN COUNCIL'
By Andrew Buncombe
June 14, 2010
Pakistan's notorious spy agency provides crucial funding and training to Taliban fighters operating inside Afghanistan and is represented on the movement's leadership council, according to a new report that says links between the two are deeper than previously believed.
Such is the importance of the relationship, says the report, that President Asif Ali Zardari recently visited Taliban prisoners, assuring them they would soon be released and telling them: "You are our people."
While links between the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and the Taliban have been known for many years, the report by the London School of Economics, based on interviews with Taliban commanders inside Afghanistan, suggests it is the "official policy" of Pakistan, which sees the fighters as providing strategic depth.
"The ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement," said its author, Matt Waldman. "[Taliban commanders] say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani [their allies in north Waziristan] and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies. In their words, this is 'as clear as the sun in the sky'."
The ISI developed relationships with various militant groups, among them the Taliban, whose fighters received funding and training from Islamabad enabling them to sweep to power in Afghanistan in the mid 1990s. Just last year, Mr. Zardari said the ISI and the CIA "created them together".
The U.S., India, and Afghanistan have accused the ISI of continuing those links. In the summer of 2008, the CIA even accused elements within the ISI of helping Taliban-linked fighters to bomb the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
But the report by Mr. Waldman suggests an ongoing relationship, approved by the highest levels of the military and political establishment. It is so important that the ISI is officially represented on the Afghan Taliban's 15-member leadership council, the Quetta Shura, which is believed to meet in the west and south of Pakistan.
It also claims that Mr. Zardari travelled with an ISI official in March to a secret jail where 50 Taliban prisoners were held. He reportedly told them they had only been arrested because of U.S. pressure and said: "After your release we will, of course, support you to do your operations."
Mr. Waldman said: "I was surprised by the [depth of the relationship]. I kept hearing it from people who were in no way connected with each other."
Since the aftermath of 11 September, when the U.S. demanded Pakistan end its support for the Taliban, Islamabad has received billions of dollars in military aid to confront militants. Yet Pakistan's military has sought to draw a distinction between militants responsible for attacks on targets inside the country, and those who mainly strike at U.S. and Western troops in Afghanistan. It is a policy that causes deep consternation in the West.
Mr. Waldman said that if what Taliban commanders had told him was true, Pakistan was pursuing a dangerous strategic game. He said he believed Islamabad remained genuinely anguished by the threat presented by India and that the Taliban were considered a counterweight to this. "It's important that we appreciate the depth of that concern," he said.
Officials in Islamabad have dismissed Mr. Waldman's report. Senator Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Mr. Zardari, said that while the government believed in dialogue with militants who had given up violence, "there was no question of the president having met with Taliban prisoners." He added: "The president, the government, and the Pakistan People's Party has always maintained the Taliban is seeking to impose its agenda on the people of Pakistan through violence."