The Pakistani Godfather: The Inter-Services Intelligence and the Afghan Taliban 1994-2010 (3/4)

by Dr. Adrian Hänni and Lukas Hegi.

The aim of the present study is to gather facts and disclose links that demonstrate the kind of game the Pakistani government is playing with the West, with its intelligence service “Inter-Services Intelligence” (ISI) supporting the Taliban on a grand scale. After a historical summary highlighting the close connection between the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI with the Taliban since their emergence in the mid-90s (in part one, two and three), the arrest of an influential Taliban leader is used as an example to demonstrate the effrontery with which the Pakistanis are playing their game (in part four).

A Taliban fighter looks through binoculars in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan on July 14, 2009.

A Taliban fighter looks through binoculars in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan on July 14, 2009.

The Taliban Insurgency (2002-2010)
Although Pakistan officially became a coalition partner of the United States in the Global War on Terror after the overthrow of the Taliban regime by the Northern Alliance and the American Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001, it simultaneously continued supporting and directing the Taliban as a proxy in Afghanistan. As opposed to how it is usually being represented in the Western media, the uprising against the US- and NATO-backed Afghan government of Hamid Karzai is not a monolithic, centrally run movement, but highly fragmented (for example Thomas Ruttig, “The Other Side: Dimensions of the Afghan Insurgency: Causes, Actors and Approaches to Talks“, Afghanistan Analysts Network, July 2009; Antonio Giustozzi (Ed.), “Decoding the New Taliban Insights from the Afghan Field“, London, 2009). The three main groups are the Taliban of Mullah Omar, the Hizb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network. These three militant groups have all been protected by the ISI since their expulsion from Afghanistan (Ahmed Rashid, “Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia“, New York:Penguin Books, 2008, 221, 223 & 244). In Balochistan, the Taliban were left undisturbed and allowed to settle. Just as they did with the Taliban leaders, the ISI granted refuge to Hekmatyar who, after secret talks with the ISI in Dubai, moved from his exile in Iran to Peshawar in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), and was able to operate freely under the protection of the ISI. Thus, the ISI let Hekmatyar set up a base in a refugee camp outside Peshawar, where many of his former combatants were living. Jalaluddin Haqqani was eventually granted refuge in North Waziristan, where he rebuilt his network on both sides of the border. Thereby, the Pakistani military and the ISI played a central and active role, which included urging the Haqqani group to take up the fight again and promising them money, weapons and other kinds of support (Matt Waldman, “The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship Between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents“, Crisis State Research Centre Discussion Papers, No. 18, June 2010, 17). The ISI did not only apply pressure to Haqqani fighters, but also warned Taliban families from returning to Afghanistan. Otherwise, the ISI would extradite them to the Americans (Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 242). In order to pull off the balancing act as a U.S. ally and supporter of the Taliban, the ISI developed a dual policy. While Pakistan was extraditing al-Qaeda fighters to the U.S., the Taliban were protected (Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 221, 241). In the first five years after their flight from Kabul not a single Taliban commander was extradited to the Americans. A year after 9/11, as Ahmed Rashid concludes, it was therefore clear that Musharraf’s support for the war fought by the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan did not mean the promised strategic U-turn (which would end the traditional support of the army for Islamic extremists) but only a short-term tactical move to appease the United States and to prevent an Indian hegemony in the region (Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 219). For Pakistan, the Taliban remained a proxy, through whom it believed to be able to regain control in Afghanistan in the future. According to a prominent former commander of various militant groups, who, as a fighter, leader and trainer of insurgents in Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan, has been in the pay of the ISI since the nineties, it had been as early as the end of 2001, shortly after the fall of the Taliban government, that in the NWFP a meeting between Taliban leaders and several former ISI agents had been held, during which strategies for opposition against the U.S. military were being planned and Afghanistan was divided into individual areas of operation (Carlotta Gall, “Pakistani Military Still Cultivates Militant Groups, a Former Fighter Says“, New York Times, 4 July 2011, 7 August 2011). Among the approximately 60 attendees were the Ambassador of the Taliban government in Pakistan, Abdul Salam Saif, Mohammed Haqqani, one of the sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the former ISI agent Colonel Imam (who in the course of his illustrious career had been officer in the Special Service Group (SSG) of the Pakistany Army, Consul General in Herat, Afghanistan, as well as trainer and mentor of militant groups like for example the Taliban), as well as Major General Zahirul Islam Abbasi, also a former ISI officer (who as commander of the Pakistani army in Kashmir had planned and executed attacks on positions of the Indian army, and who had been convicted of involvement in an attempted coup against the government of Benazir Bhutto in 1995). Abbasi was said to have been one of the most active supporters of the insurgents in Afghanistan in the years after September the 11th.

Supporters of the hardline Islamist group Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Nazaryati (JUI-N), a pro-Taliban party, shout slogans during a protest in Quetta on May 26, 2009, against the military operation against Taliban militants in Swat and Buner Valleys. Pakistani troops fought street battles struggling for control of Swat valley's capital as fears grew of a looming catastrophe for people trapped by the anti-Taliban offensive. Nearly 2.4 million people have fled as Islamabad struggled to wrest back Swat and nearby districts from the Taliban, whose two-year insurgency had torn apart an area once popular with tourists for its peaks and pristine ski slopes (Photo: Banaras Khan / AFP / Getty Images).

Supporters of the hardline Islamist group Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Nazaryati (JUI-N), a pro-Taliban party, shout slogans during a protest in Quetta on May 26, 2009, against the military operation against Taliban militants in Swat and Buner Valleys. Pakistani troops fought street battles struggling for control of Swat valley’s capital as fears grew of a looming catastrophe for people trapped by the anti-Taliban offensive. Nearly 2.4 million people have fled as Islamabad struggled to wrest back Swat and nearby districts from the Taliban, whose two-year insurgency had torn apart an area once popular with tourists for its peaks and pristine ski slopes (Photo: Banaras Khan / AFP / Getty Images).

The involvement of the ISI in the early stages of the revolt against the Karzai government and international troops (2003-2005) has been widely documented (Waldman, “The Sun in the Sky”, 13). After the Taliban attacks in Afghanistan had increased in 2003, the ISI provided support again (For the following statements, cf: Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 222f. Rashid’s analysis is based on confirmed U.S. and NATO intelligence reports, which are, amongst other sources, based on observations of American soldiers from bases along the eastern Afghan border, as well as recordings by U.S. drones and SIGINT from the U.S. base at Bagram). U.S. and NATO intelligence shows a systematic and pervasive system of ISI collusion. The ISI held training camps for Taliban recruits north of Quetta, handed out money and weapons from the Gulf states and organized shopping tours in Quetta and Karachi, where the Taliban were able to stock up on material, buying hundreds of motorcycles, pickup trucks and satellite phones. Pakistani army trucks drove Taliban fighters to the border at night in order to infiltrate Afghanistan and were there to receive them when they returned several days later. In doing so, the Pakistani artillery provided fire protection as well as medical care for the Taliban near the border. Moreover, the Pakistani army officers upheld communications from the border with Taliban commanders in Afghanistan via mobile phone. Just like in the early days of the Mullah Omar gang, the Taliban, the ISI and the madrassas of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) were holding in place a well-organized system (see also: Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 249f. The JUI is the largest Islamic party in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan). Young militants in the madrassas first underwent “religious training” for several weeks before being recruited by Taliban recruiters – who often appeared in the company of ISI officers – and then being sent to the front. Every month, the heads of all JUI madrassas met with an ISI officer in Quetta to discuss the operational procedures and funding.

The great double game soon proved to be an institutional difficulty for the ISI (Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 221f). Under the watchful eyes of Western intelligence agencies, it was almost impossible for them to help the CIA on the one hand and on the other hand to lead the Taliban. This challenge was overcome through privatisation, specifically the construction of a new secret organization that was to operate outside the military and intelligence apparatus. Former ISI-coaches of the Taliban as well as retired Pashtun officers of the army and especially the Frontier Corps were re-hired on a contractual basis. Logistics and funding no longer went directly via the ISI but the less closely observed Frontier Corps. As already described, the participation of the Frontier Corps had already been a feature of Pakistan’s support of the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001. Diplomatic representatives of the USA in Pakistan often complained about the inefficiency and poor provisioning of the Frontier Corps. However, the source material at hand rather invites the conclusion that not (just) incompetence and corruption, but in fact Pakistan’s double game strategy is at the bottom of it. To give an example, in 2007 alone the Pakistani military had received from the U.S. $ 100 million to fund military assistance to the Frontier Corps, which by the end of the year had not even received basic medical assistance (cf: “Pakistan: Fixing Coalition Support Funding“, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL, U.S. Department of State, 15 December 2007). It is very possible that the extensive medical assistance, which the U.S. had agreed to make available to the Frontier Corps, but which never got there, instead arrived in the medical supply station for the Taliban, which was built by the Pakistani military at the border with Afghanistan.

By the end of 2005, even retentive analysts of the U.S. State Department stated in a report to Vice President Cheney: “Some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistani cities, and may still enjoy support from the lower echelons of Pakistan’s ISI.” (“Counterterrorism Activities (Neo-Taliban)“, Issue Paper for Vice President of the United States (VPOTUS), U.S. Department of State, 9 December 2005, 1). In 2006, the Taliban intensified their offensives in the south and east of Afghanistan. The battles in Helmand provided clear evidence to the NATO of Pakistan’s support of the Taliban (Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 360). A joint intelligence report of the U.S., NATO and the Afghan government of June 2006 describes the role of Pakistan unequivocally:

ISI operatives reportedly pay a significant number of Taliban living/operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight. […] A large number of those fighting are doing so under duress as a result of pressure from ISI […] The insurgency cannot survive without its sanctuary in Pakistan, which provides freedom of movement, safe havens, logistic and training facilities, a base for recruitment, communications for command and control, and a secure environment for collaboration with foreign extremist groups. The sanctuary of Pakistan provides a seemingly endless supply of potential new recruits for the insurgency […]. — “Insurgency and Terrorism in Afghanistan: Who Is Fighting and Why?” (June 2006), in: Special Security Initiative of the Policy Action Group, Papers Presented to President Karzai at the Meeting of the Policy Action Group, Kabul, 9 July 2006, offline.

The interface between the ISI and the Taliban was in Quetta – the lair of the Rabari-Shura – in whose vicinity the ISI had training camps and where the Pakistani gave logistical assistance to the Taliban (Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 364). There are clear indications that in the capital of Balochistan the ISI went as far as to give direct help to organise Taliban offensives. For example, according to a report published by WikiLeaks from the “Afghan War Diary“, ISI agents met with the Taliban leaders in Quetta in June 2006. At this meeting they are supposed to have urged the Taliban to attack Maruf, a district of Kandahar (Mark Mazzetti, Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt, Andrew W. Lehren, “Pakistan Aids Insurgency in Afghanistan, Reports Assert“, New York Times, 25 July 2010). In fact, the Taliban soon after launched an offensive to regain control of Maruf. Apart from the two sources cited here, there is further evidence that the ISI continued putting fighters and commanders of the Taliban under pressure. An example is the case of the local commander Lal Din, who was killed in an attack of the coalition forces in January 2007. Shortly afterwards, members of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in eastern Afghanistan gave evidence of what Lal Din’s younger brother, Fakir, had told them: namely, that Lal Din had confided to Fakir that he had been urged by the ISI to continue his fight in Afghanistan (MTG, field report from the Afghan War Diary, Regional Command East, Tracking Number 2007-045-142245-0241, 12 February 2007). If we cast our minds back to the fact that as early as 2002 the ISI had put pressure on the Haqqani group to resume the armed fight and had threatened fugitive Taliban families with extradition to the U.S. unless they remained in the Pakistani cities to which they had fled, it becomes evident that Pakistani intelligence plays the role not only of supporting the Taliban, but rather as the driving force behind the insurgency in Afghanistan.

An Afghan policeman stands guard at the site of a suicide car bomb explosion near the Indian Embassy in Kabul on October 8, 2009. The Indian embassy was the target of a massive bomb blast in central Kabul on July 7, 2008 (Photo: Shah Marai / AFP / Getty Images).

An Afghan policeman stands guard at the site of a suicide car bomb explosion near the Indian Embassy in Kabul on October 8, 2009. The Indian embassy was the target of a massive bomb blast in central Kabul on July 7, 2008 (Photo: Shah Marai / AFP / Getty Images).

The drafted support of the ISI for the insurgents in Afghanistan continued over the following years and reached a bloody climax with the suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008. This attack, in which 40 people, including the Indian military attache, were killed, was most likely the act of the Haqqani network and the ISI (See for example: Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 406; Mazzetti et al., “Pakistan Aids Insurgency”). Five days after the attack, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, and the Deputy Director of the CIA, Stephen Kappes, travelled to Islamabad and showed General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the political leaders their evidence of the complicity of the ISI and the fighters of Haqqani. Pervez Musharraf and Kayani confirmed “that elements of ISI may be out of control” and the Pakistani government responded to the visit – during which Mullen and Kappes had put them under pressure by making concrete demands – by arresting several members of the Taliban Shura in Quetta (“Scenesetter for PM Gilani’s Visit to Washington“, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 25.07.2008). However, the Haqqani network was never addressed – although army and intelligence service would have been in a position to do so. The U.S. diplomats in Pakistan recognised: “The Army/ISI can do the job, but they cling to ‘old think‘ […]” (Ibid). Another reaction of the Pakistani government was the proposal that the United States and the ISAF expand their border patrols to curb the drug trade in Afghanistan, with which the insurgents bought themselves weapons and funded military operations. However, it is likely that Pakistan continued its brazen duplicity in this case too. On the one hand, they could appease the U.S. after the attack in Kabul with this initiative, on the other hand they could increase their control over the Taliban by letting the international troops dry up alternative funding sources of the insurgents and thereby increase the former’s dependence on their Pakistani supporters.

A variety of different and independent sources indicate that the extensive, comprehensive and systematic support for the Taliban by the ISI has been maintained after 2008. The U.S. State Department clearly stated in a secret background analysis of 30 December 2009:

Pakistan‘s intermittent support to terrorist groups and militant organizations threatens to undermine regional security and endanger U.S. national security objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar e-Taiba] and other extremist organizations. These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas. This network of social service institutions readily provides extremist organizations with recruits, funding and infrastructure for planning new attacks. — “Terrorist Finance: Action Request for Senior Level Engagement on Terrorism Finance“, Cable from Secretary of State to RUEHIL/U.S. Embassy Islamabad, U.S. Department of State, 30.12.2009.

Even the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), which has traditionally played an important role in the region, considers the Afghan Taliban to be largely under the control of Pakistan (“Special Advisor to SRAP with Saudi Intel: What To Do about the Taliban?“, Cable from U.S. Embassy Riyadh to RUEHC/Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 23.01.2010). Some Taliban were indeed said to be against such a strong influence of Pakistan and would have preferred to pursue their own goals without outside interference, General Massoudi, Director General of Internal Affairs of the GIP, told Barnett R. Rubin, the Special Advisor to the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan of the U.S. government during a meeting in January 2010. However, this was but a weak group. The vast majority of the Taliban, he continued, were exploited by foreign powers, and only used as “fuel for the fight”. These powers like Iran and Pakistan made the uneducated Afghans believe that the U.S. was working against the Afghan people. The Saudi intelligence service identified two reasons for Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy. Firstly, Pakistan was very concerned about losing influence in Afghanistan to India and Iran. “The Pakistanis felt that they deserved to have a big part in Afghanistan […]. They wanted to be ‘the closest friend’ and were offended when they thought Iran or India were taking this role.” Secondly, the Pakistani-Afghan border was an important factor, “even if the Pakistanis didn’t say it. This single issue was a very important factor in the 1980’s when Pakistan was deciding which mujahidin groups to support. […] Pakistan would support only those leaders who promised to recognize the Durand Line as an international border. This was why Pakistan did not support Ahmad Shah Massoud“. Incidentally, at that time Masudi was working for GIP chief Prince Turki al-Faisal with Afghanistan as his area of ​​responsibility.

A young Afghan boy, who was in a car stopped at a joined NATO, Afghan National Army and police checkpoint, listens to the Foreign Legion officer near the Rocco combat outpost in the Surobi disctrict, some 50 kms north-east of Kabul, Afghanistan, in November 2009.

A young Afghan boy, who was in a car stopped at a joined NATO, Afghan National Army and police checkpoint, listens to the Foreign Legion officer near the Rocco combat outpost in the Surobi disctrict, some 50 kms north-east of Kabul, Afghanistan, in November 2009.

Interviews with several commanders of the Taliban and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, carried out by Matt Waldman of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, illustrate the kinds of assistance that the ISI provided the insurgents with and the considerable influence of Pakistan on the resistance in Afghanistan (Waldman, “The Sun in the Sky”). Even if, with a critical analysis of the source, these statements have to be taken with some caution, they seem to be credible in their central points. On the one hand through the corresponding testimony of the commanders of various resistance groups and n the other hand by the fact that they are confirmed by documents from the U.S. State Department, countless front reports of the American military in Afghanistan, testimony of former Pakistani generals as well as statements of Afghan government officials. For example, in 2010, Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and one of the leading experts of the Pakistani military, claimed that the ISI has maintained its traditional links to the Taliban (Tobias Matern, “Pakistan erwartet Gegenleistung für Festnahme hoher Taliban“, Tagesanzeiger, 22.03.2010). And according to Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser, Rangin Spanta, Pakistani influence on Afghanistan was still huge. When for example his government wanted to talk with the Haqqani group, it was only possible to do so via the ISI, which operated as the true power factor behind the insurgency (Tobias Matern, “Pakistan entdeckt den neuen Feind“, Tagesanzeiger, 20.08.2010. The statement of Spanta is of course to be taken with a grain of salt, since at least parts of the Afghan government consider Pakistan to be the enemy). Furthermore, the relationship with the ISI outlined by the commanders of the Taliban to Waldman essentially corresponds to the status quo since the emergence of the Taliban in the mid-nineties: The Pakistani intelligence provided shelter to the Taliban and supported them with supplies, ammunition and money on a grand scale. In addition, the ISI provided the Taliban with tactical, operational and strategic intelligence (This conclusion is also reached in a study by Seth Jones. Cf: Seth Jones, “In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan“, New York, 2009, 266). The interviews even suggest the conclusion that the ISI supported the most violent and brutal commanders and units within the movement (Waldman, “The Sun in the Sky”, 12. These statements are of course to be interpreted with extreme care, because the interviewed Taliban commanders perhaps wanted to give the responsibility for particularly unscrupulous attacks, such as extremely unpopular attacks on Afghan civilians, to Pakistan as a foreign scapegoat). The ISI continued to tolerate and support military training camps for insurgents and participated in their recruitment in a large number of madrassas that encouraged their students to actively fight in Afghanistan (Waldman, “The Sun in the Sky”, 15f).

The interviews, however, strongly suggest that the ISI not only supported the Taliban, but also exerted a strong influence on the group around Mullah Omar – both at the strategic and the operational-tactical level. This influence appears to have happened both directly – through several ISI agents in the Quetta Shura – as well as indirectly, through the arrests of unpopular commanders. More will have to be said on the subject of the arrest of Taliban commanders. The presence of several ISI agents in the Quetta Shura means that the Pakistani intelligence service was involved at the highest management levels of the Taliban. A vice minister of the former Taliban regime, who was still collaborating frequently with the Taliban, said that the ISI takes responsibility for the meetings of the Quetta Shura and exerts pressure on the participants prior to the meetings, especially when important decisions are to be taken (Interview of March 2010. Cf: Waldman, “The Sun in the Sky”, 6). The testimony of another expert Taliban commander is representative of many others: “Every commander knows about the involvement of the ISI in the leadership but we do not discuss it because we do not trust each other, and they are much stronger than us. They are afraid that if they say anything against the Taliban or ISI it would be reported to the higher ranks – and they may be removed or assassinated … Everyone sees the sun in the sky but cannot say it is the sun.” And the commander added: “The leadership of the Quetta Shura is in the hands of the ISI” (Interview of May 2010. Cf: Ibid.). In the face of the powerful internal forces of the movement one political leader went as far as to say, probably exaggerating a bit: “Everything is controlled by the ISI. Without the agreement of the ISI, then the insurgency would be impossible […]” (Interview of March 2010. Cf: Ibid., 10). These statements by the Taliban leaders are confirmed by a comprehensive study of the history and structure of the Quetta Shura, which comes to the conclusion that the ISI “maintains a hand in controlling its operations.”(Tribal Analysis Center, “The Quetta Shura: A Tribal Analysis“, Williamsburg, 2009, 6). However, in accordance with the brazen duplicity of his country, the Pakistani Brigadier General Sejaad in autumn 2009 told representatives of the American and Canadian troops and Afghan border police that the existence of the Quetta Shura was pure fabrication and that the Americans had been taken in by rumours (“Pakistanis at Kandahar Border Flag Meeting – The Quetta Shura Is a Fabrication“, Cable from U.S. Embassy Kabul to RUEHC/Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 7.10.2009. The Pakistani delegation, led by Brigadier General Sejaad, also included three ISI agents). The results of Waldman about the Haqqani network correspond largely with those about the Taliban: Even the commanders of Haqqani reported that their group was funded by the ISI, which was also taking care of training and recruitment, and was represented in the group of leaders of the network (Waldman, “The Sun in the Sky”, 16-20).

Hamid Karzai, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and Asif Ali Zardari after the Afghanistan-U.S.-Pakistan trilateral meeting in May 2009.

Hamid Karzai, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and Asif Ali Zardari after the Afghanistan-U.S.-Pakistan trilateral meeting in May 2009.

Based on his interviews, Waldman answered three more crucial questions that are controversial among observers: Firstly, the support of the Afghan resistance was official ISI policy, secondly it was offered by both active and former ISI officers, and thirdly it was approved at the highest level of Pakistan’s civilian government under President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani (Waldman, “The Sun in the Sky”, 5, 8f). There is sufficient evidence in the source material presented here to prove that the support of the Taliban continued to be official policy of the ISI (meaning that active ISI officers were involved in it too). The same conclusion is reached in a study by Seth Jones, who notes that the United States in mid-2008 had collected solid evidence of the complicity of the leaders of the ISI (Jones, “In the Graveyard of Empires”. However, Jones could not as yet base his study on the comprehensive source material analysed in this study).

While it is beyond doubt that the assistance of the Taliban was sanctioned by the upper echelons of the ISI, the involvement of Pakistan’s civilian government that took office in 2008, can probably not yet be conclusively evaluated. Still, the thesis of Waldman is supported by the study of Christine Fair, which also comes to the conclusion that the Army did not operate alone (Christine Fair, “The Time for Sober Realism: Renegotiating US Relations with Pakistan“, The Washington Quarterly 32, 2 (2009), 161-163. Furthermore, the two American analysts Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason recognize the involvement of Pakistan’s civilian government in supporting the Afghan resistance. Cf: homas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason, “No Sign Until the Burst of Fire: Understanding the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier“, International Security 32, 4, 2008). In sharp contrast, the leaders of the Pakistani government presented themselves to their American colleagues as a reliable ally in the war on terror and underlined their determination to fight the Taliban (For example Prime Minister Gilani during a visit to Washington in the summer of 2008. Cf: “Scenesetter for PM Gilani’s Visit to Washington”). The United States seemed at first to buy into these affirmations. Thus, the embassy in Islamabad in February 2009 stated that Zardari and Gilani had turned against the Taliban. According to them, the military and the ISI had not yet taken this step and would continue to support the insurgents in Afghanistan as an instrument of foreign policy (“Scenesetter for General Kayani’s Visit to Washington“, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to RUEHC/Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 19.02.2009). An assessment of security by the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar in February 2009 also stated that “[…] there is a divided loyalty within ISI ranks which may cause inaction, or assistance to Taliban and anti-US groups.” The consulate staff, however, already mentioned that – contrary to official pronouncements – there were probably Taliban sympathizers “within the ranks of the Pakistani government” (English translation by the authors; Cf: “Security Environment Profile Questionnaire (SEPQ) – Peshawar“, Cable from U.S. Consul Peshawar to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 28.02.2009). But apparently the U.S. changed their assessment. For, in September 2009 an assessment of the Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy in the State Department repeatedly stated that “the Pakistani establishment” was supporting the Taliban as a key part of its National Security Strategy, directed at India as the perceived primary threat (“Reviewing Our Afghanistan – Pakistan Strategy“, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 23.09.2009). The somewhat vague term “Pakistani establishment” probably includes the civilian government of Pakistan and has been coined in order to avoid having to explicitly name the latter.

Hamid Gul, a retired general who served as head of the ISI, chants anti-Musharraf slogans during a protest near the residence of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary in Islamabad in late January 2008. Thousands of Pakistani lawyers shouted slogans against President Pervez Musharraf during nationwide protests to press for the release of the country's deposed chief justice (Photo: Mian Khursheed / Reuters).

Hamid Gul, a retired general who served as head of the ISI, chants anti-Musharraf slogans during a protest near the residence of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary in Islamabad in late January 2008. Thousands of Pakistani lawyers shouted slogans against President Pervez Musharraf during nationwide protests to press for the release of the country’s deposed chief justice (Photo: Mian Khursheed / Reuters).

The documents published on the Internet platform WikiLeaks as the “Afghan War Diary” in the summer of 2010, which portray the ISI as the main foreign supporter of the Taliban, seem to illustrate three other characteristics of the relationship between Pakistan and the insurgents in Afghanistan: The key role of the former ISI Director General Hamid Gul, conspiracies to kill Afghan leaders like Hamid Karzai as well as the orchestration of suicide bombings by the ISI. The sources are problematic, since the documents are mostly front reports from soldiers and employees of the intelligence services of the international forces and don’t amount to intelligence analyses, or even “finished intelligence”. In addition, the sources of the reports are often connected to the Afghan secret service (who would consider Pakistan an enemy) or are paid informants. Though plausible, these characteristics therefore still need verification by independent sources. However, neither the Afghan government nor the government of a NATO state doubted the key points of the documents. Their representatives, such as U.S. President Barack Obama, emphasized on the contrary, that they contained “nothing new” (See for example: “Datenleck: Obama spielt Bedeutung der Afghanistan-Dokumente herunter“, Spiegel Online, 27.07.2010; for the ISI’s relationship with the Taliban, see in particular: Mazzetti et al., “Pakistan Aids Insurgency”; Matthias Gebauer, John Goetz, Hans Hoyng, Susanne Koelbl, Marcel Rosenbach und Gregor Peter Schmitz, “Enthüllung brisanter Kriegsdokumente: Die Afghanistan-Protokolle” Spiegel Online, 25.07.2010; Nick Davies and David Leigh, “Afghanistan war logs“, The Guardian, 25.07.2010). In addition, numerous reports are based on sources classified as reliable by the U.S. military, and current as well as former members of the U.S. executive branch consider the image of the collaboration of the ISI with the Taliban to be largely consistent with classified intelligence analyses (Mazzetti et al., “Pakistan Aids Insurgency”). Despite the questionable quality of the sources the main findings of the Afghan War Diary regarding Pakistan’s support for the Taliban should therefore be briefly summed up.

According to numerous documents, Gul, who had led the ISI in the final stages of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1987 to 1989, remained a driving force and organizing hand among the Taliban, as well as the groups of Hekmatyar and Haqqani, whom he had already supported as ISI director (To see today’s role of Gul in the Afghan resistance: Mazzetti et al., “Pakistan Aids Insurgency”). The front reports describe Gul as a major arms supplier of the Taliban and as a mastermind of suicide bombings. Gul is also said to have urged the Taliban commanders to put their operational focus on Afghanistan, so that Pakistan in return accepts their presence in Pakistan’s tribal areas. These reports are given additional weight by the pressure of the U.S. on the UN to put Gul on a list of international terrorists, and by testimony from senior members of the Obama administration, who described the general as a critical link between active Pakistani officers and the insurgents. According to the documents, ISI agents have even hatched plans to assassinate Afghan leaders. President Karzai is said to have been among the persons targeted: in a warning in August 2008, an ISI colonel is identified who is said to have told a Talib to bring about the assassination of Karzai. Finally, the Afghan War Diary also recorded the attempts by ISI agents to manage the network of suicide bombers in Afghanistan, who since 2006 have been plying their deadly trade (Mazzetti et al., “Pakistan Aids Insurgency”). Various documents describe how current and former ISI agents, among whom the apparently omnipresent General Gul, recruited candidates for suicide attacks in madrassas in Peshawar, who were then trained in Pakistan. American intelligence agencies realised that the Haqqani network unleashed suicide bombers to attack the representative of the Indian government in Afghanistan, aid workers and engineers on behalf of the ISI. This evidence for the involvement of the ISI in suicide attacks corresponds to the already discussed complicity of Pakistan’s secret service in the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and is supported by the study of Matt Waldman (Waldman, “The Sun in the Sky”, 10ff).

Part 4 continues with the The Baradar Case and a conclusion – online in a few weeks.

This entry was posted in Adrian Hänni, Afghanistan, English, Lukas Hegi, Pakistan, Security Policy, Terrorism.

5 Responses to The Pakistani Godfather: The Inter-Services Intelligence and the Afghan Taliban 1994-2010 (3/4)

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  3. Lukas Hegi says:

    Das ist eine wirklich interessante Aussage aus einem Editorial der pakistanischen Zeitung Dawn von vorgestern und bestätigt einmal mehr die Haupttriebfedern für das pakistanische Gebahren: Indien und die Angst vor einem unabhängigen Pashtunistan!

    Whatever the realities of Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate an Afghan dialogue or reconciliation process, what is missing in all of this is any answers to the Pakistani public. Nawaz Sharif’s government has continued the rather dispiriting approach of spouting banalities on key foreign relationships and keeping the substance hidden from the public. Consider that when Mr Karzai was in Islamabad, Prime Minister Sharif seemed to suggest that trade was the real key to better relations with Afghanistan — an assessment so far removed from reality as to be risible. If the era of behind-the-scenes deals and cloak-and-dagger diplomacy is ever to be left behind, the government must lead from the front with transparency. Better to talk of Indian influence and the space for Pakhtuns in Afghanistan — the real drivers of policy towards Afghanistan — than to mislead, a game which fools no one, here or in Afghanistan.
    Quelle: http://www.dawn.com/news/1041608/hardly-a-game-changer-afghan-talibans-release

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