Pakistan Spy Agency Supports Taliban

Pakistan may officially be an ally of the U.S. in the struggle to quell Taliban insurgents, but evidence indicates that Pakistani military intelligence operatives are materially supporting the Taliban’s growing influence in Southern Afghanistan. Looks like Pakistan is trying to be friends with everyone, even the enemies of their friends.

The Pakistani government has promised to cut off ties with various militant groups in Afghanistan in past, especially after the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008, which killed 54 people. Evidence showed that Pakistani operatives working for the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, had helped to plan the bombing.

Attack on Indian Embassy in Kabul

American officials say that despite these promises, Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban have not lessened.

Make no mistake, the sort of support we’re talking about here is not just a boost in morale. Apparently, Pakistani spies are providing the Taliban with money, military supplies and guidance on their military strategy. This is the same Taliban that is getting ready to combat international troops in Afghanistan – a force that will soon include American reinforcements 17,000 strong. Evidence suggests that Pakistani spies are meeting with Taliban leaders on a regular basis to decide whether to notch up or decrease the violence as Afghan elections approach.

The Taliban is not the only group Pakistan is supporting in this way. American officials say that the secretive S Wing of the ISI has provided direct support to three major groups carrying out attacks in Afghanistan: the Taliban based in Quetta, Pakistan, as well as two other militant groups run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Mumbai Under AttackPakistani spies also allegedly shared information with and protected Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group suspected of carrying out the deadly attack on Mumbai in November 2008.

The NY Times reports that at least six security officials in the U.S. and Pakistan were recently interviewed in Washington, D.C. and Islamabad, Pakistan and all confirmed that the ISI does maintain contact with the Taliban. All those interviewed asked that their identities be kept confidential given the classified and sensitive intelligence information being discussed.

The American officials interviewed said evidence of allegiance between the Taliban and Pakistani operatives comes from electronic surveillance and trusted informants. Meanwhile, the Pakistani officials say that they have primary knowledge of the ties, but that the spies’ connections with the insurgents are not actually strengthening the Taliban’s campaign in any way.

Publicly, military and civilian leaders in Pakistan deny allegations of ties to militant groups, and American officials do concede that it’s unlikely top officials in the capital have hands-on involvement with insurgent networks. In fact, the ISI is known for having a mind of its own and operating accordingly, and midlevel ISI operatives developing relationships that have not been approved by their supervisors is not unheard of.

Map of PakistanThat said, the interviewed Pakistani officials’ take on the situation is that what’s being done is necessary to protect Pakistan in the long run. They say the contacts are a lot less dangerous that the Americans make them out to be, and that Pakistan needs to maintain those relationships for the day America pulls out of Afghanistan and leaves the country free and clear for India to move in. A senior Pakistani military officer said, “In intelligence, you have to be in contact with your enemy or you are running blind.”

It does seem undeniable that the ISI – whether operating with the approval of higher authority or not – is very much in the midst of a duplicitous game.

And it seems some in the West are coming to terms with this fact and are trying to use it to their advantage. One interviewed official shared that the British government has asked operatives, in their talks with the Taliban, to encourage a scaling back of attacks before this summer’s presidential elections.

Of course from the American perspective, officials in the Obama administration are frustrated by the militant group ties that Pakistan seems unable or unwilling to sever. It’s difficult enough to combat this sort of an insurgency without worrying about your allies sneaking off to help the enemy!

Pakistan did play a significant part in building up the Taliban in the 90s, when they had hopes that the group would help to stabilize a country ravaged by civil war. Now, Afghani officials plead with Pakistan to stop its support of the violent insurgents while American officials are threatening to put conditions on the $1 billion in military aid they send to Pakistan every year.

Currently, the money going to Pakistan from the U.S. could be used, via the ISI, to support the Taliban’s attacks against American troops. The Taliban could also be getting intelligence tips from Pakistani spies that help them to stay one step ahead in the conflict.

images courtesy of Reuters (via www.spiegel.de), www.loganclub.in, and www.themoderatevoice.com


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