Pakistan’s intelligence services are supporting the Taliban with training, cash and sanctuary on a larger scale than previously thought as they battle Nato forces in Afghanistan, according to a survey of insurgent commanders.
The study also claims that President Asif Ali Zardari made a secret visit to Taliban prisoners in a Pakistani prison to arrange their release earlier this year.
It adds fresh evidence to long standing concerns that the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency retains ties to Afghan insurgents they first backed during their battle against Soviet occupation in the 1980s. It also suggests the policy is sanctioned within the highest levels of government.
The Pakistani military dismissed the report as “rubbish”.
However, Matt Waldman, a Harvard researcher whose research is published by the London School of Economics, said there was extensive collaboration between the ISI and the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, as well as a second faction, the Haqqani network.
He drew his conclusions from interviews with nine Taliban field commanders in Afghanistan who said ISI agents were working closely with the groups.
“According to both Taliban and Haqqani commanders, it controls the most violent insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan,” he wrote.
“Insurgent commanders confirmed that the ISI are even represented, as participants or observers, on the Taliban supreme leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani command council.” […]
Mr Waldman said Pakistan’s activities were focused on building “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, part of a policy to gain influence and deny Islamabad’s rival India a foothold on its eastern flank if US forces leave.
He said the strategy had support at the highest level, and detailed a visit made by President Zardari to a secret prison where he addressed 50 high-ranking Taliban captives.
“Reportedly, he told them they were arrested because he was under a lot of pressure from the Americans and that, ‘you are our people, we are friends, and after your release we will of course support you to do your operations.’…
More damning information: “ISI ‘officially’ supporting Taliban: Report,” from Asia News International, June 13:
[…] The report, which is based on several interviews and is backed by two top western security officials, said supporting the Taliban was the ‘official’ strategy of the ISI, and that ‘Pakistan appears to be playing a double game of astonishing magnitude in Afghanistan.’
“As the provider of sanctuary and substantial financial, military and logistical support to the insurgency, the ISI appears to have strong strategic and operational influence – reinforced by coercion. There is thus a strong case that the ISI orchestrates, sustains and shapes the overall insurgent campaign,” the report said.
The ‘magnitude’ of ISI’s support can be gauged from the fact that up to seven of the 15-man war council (shura) of the Taliban are said to be Pakistani intelligence agents.
Even the former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, Amrullah Saleh, who resigned last week after President Hamid Karzai questioned his loyalty, put a stamp on this nefarious strategy of Pakistan.
“The ISI is part of the landscape of destruction in this country, no doubt, so it will be a waste of time to provide evidence of ISI involvement. They are a part of it,” The Times Online quoted Saleh, as saying.
The report prepared by Matt Waldman, a Harvard analyst, also claimed that even President Asif Ali Zardari was hand in gloves in the crime.
It said that Zardari had held a meeting with some of captured Taliban leaders and assured them that the insurgents have the full support of his ‘democratic’ government.
A senior Taliban source, who is in constant touch with the Taliban’s Quetta shura, also confirmed that in early April Zardari and a senior ISI official met about 50 high-ranking Taliban members at a prison in Pakistan.
Sources revealed that the Taliban commanders were treated like state guests in Pakistani jails.
“Prison guards wearing dark glasses served the Taliban captives traditional Afghan meals three times a day. They wanted to make the prisoners feel like they were important and respected,” sources said….