|Testimony by western and Afghan security officials, Taliban commanders, former Taliban ministers and a senior Taliban emissary show the extent to which the ISI manipulates the Taliban's strategy in Afghanistan.
Pakistani support for the Taliban is prolonging a conflict that has cost the West billions of dollars and hundreds of lives. Last week 32 Nato soldiers were killed.
According to a report published today by the London School of Economics, which backs up months of research by this newspaper, "Pakistan appears to be playing a double game of astonishing magnitude" in Afghanistan.
The report's author, Matt Waldman, a Harvard analyst, argues that previous studies significantly underestimated the influence that Pakistan's ISI exerts over the Taliban. Far from being the work of rogue elements, interviews suggest this "support is official ISI policy", he says.
The LSE report, based on dozens of interviews and corroborated by two senior western security officials, states: "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 also alleges that Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, recently met captured Taliban leaders to assure them that the Taliban had his government's full support. This was vigorously denied by Zardari's spokesman. Pakistani troops have launched offensives against militants in North and South Waziristan.
However, a senior Taliban s ource in regular contact with members of the Quetta shura told The Sunday Times that in early April, Zardari and a senior ISI official met 50 high-ranking Taliban members at a prison in Pakistan.
According to a Taliban leader in the jail at the time, five days before the meeting prison officials were told to prepare for the impending presidential call. 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," the source said.
Hours before Zardari's visit, the head warder told the Taliban inmates to impress upon the president how well they had been looked after during their time in captivity.
Zardari spoke to them for half an hour. He allegedly explained that he had arrested them because his government was under increasing American pressure to end the sanctuary enjoyed by the Taliban in Pakistan and to round up their ringleaders.
"You are our people, we are friends, and after your release we will of course support you to do your operations," he said, according to the source.
He vowed to release the less well-known commanders in the near future and said that the "famous" Taliban leaders would be freed at a later date.
Five days after Zardari's visit, a handful of Taliban prisoners, including The Sunday Times's source, were driven into Quetta and set free, in line with the president's pledge.
"This report is consistent with Pakistan's political history in which civilian leaders actively backed jihadi groups that operate in Afghanistan and Kashmir," Waldman said.
According to the source, during his visit to the prison Zardari also met Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's former second in command, who was arrested by the ISI earlier this year with seven other Taliban leaders.
Baradar, who is from the same tribe as Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, had allegedly approached the Afghan government to discuss the prospect of a peace settlement between the two sides.
Baradar's arrest is seen in both diplomatic and Taliban circles as an ISI plot to manipulate the Taliban's political hierarchy and also to block negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban leadership.
Shortly after Baradar's arrest the ISI arrested two other Taliban members -- Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir and his close associate and friend Mullah Abdul Rauf. Both men were released after just two nights in custody.
Following his release, Zakir, who spent years in custody in Guantanamo Bay, assumed command of the Taliban's military wing, replacing Baradar. Rauf, also a former Guantanamo inmate, was immediately appointed chairman of the Quetta shura.
"To say the least, this is compelling evidence of significant ISI influence over the movement and it is highly likely that the release was on ISI terms or at least on the basis of a mutual understanding," the LSE report states.
The promotions of Zakir and Rauf will give Pakistan greater leverage over future peace talks, Taliban and western officials said.
To ensure that the Pakistani government retains its influence over the Taliban's leadership, the ISI has placed its own representatives on the Quetta shura, according to these officials.
Up to seven of the Afghan Taliban leaders who sit on the 15-man shura are believed to be ISI agents. However, some sources maintain that every member of the shura has ISI links.
"It is impossible to be a member of the Quetta shura without membership of the ISI," said a senior Taliban intermediary who liaises with the Afghan government and Taliban leaders.
The LSE report states: "Interviews strongly suggest that the ISI has representatives on the shura, either as participants or observers, and the agency is thus involved at the highest levels of the movement."
The two shura members who receive the strongest support from the ISI are Taib Agha, former spokesman for Mullah Omar, the Taliban sup r eme leader, and Mullah Hasan Rahmani, the former Taliban governor of Kandahar, according to the Taliban intermediary and western officials.
Strategies that the ISI encourages, according to Taliban commanders, include: cutting Nato's supply lines by bombing bridges and roads; attacking key infrastructure projects; assassinating progovernment tribal elders; murdering doctors and teachers; closing schools and attacking schoolgirls.
ISI agents hand chits to Taliban commanders who use them to buy weapons at arms dumps in North Waziristan.
The Taliban's "plastic bombs" -- the low metal content improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that kill the majority of British soldiers who die in Afghanistan -- were introduced to the Taliban by Pakistani officials, according to Taliban commanders, the Taliban intermediary and western officials. The materials allow Taliban sappers to plant bombs that can evade Nato mine detectors.
Rasoul, the Taliban commander from Wardak province, also alleged that the ISI pays 200,000 Pakistani rupees (£1,600) in compensation to the families of suicide bombers who launch attacks on targets in Afghanistan.
"They need vehicles, fuel and food. They need ammunition. They need money and guns. They need clinics and medicine. So who is providing these things to the Taliban if it's not Pakistan?" a former Kabul police chief said.
In the eastern province of Khost, one commander described how Pakistani military trucks picked his men up from training camps in Pakistan and ferried them to the Afghan border at night.
Once at the border, Pakistanis dressed in military uniform gave the commander a list of targets inside Afghanistan. Taliban fighters then ferried the weapons and ammunition into Afghanistan using cars, donkeys, horses and camels.
"We post our men along our supply routes to protect the convoys once they are on Afghan turf," said the Khost commander. "The (US) drones sometimes bomb our convoys and many times they have bombed our ammo stores."
Camps within Pakistan train Taliban fighters in three different sets of skills: suicide bombing, bomb-making and infantry tactics. Each camp focuses on a different skill.
Pakistan's support for the Taliban has sparked friction between the home-grown Taliban groups and those who are bankrolled to a greater extent by the ISI.
Many lower-level commanders in Afghanistan are angered by the degree to which the ISI dictates their operations.
"The ISI-backed Taliban are destroying the country. Their suicide bombings are the ones that kill innocent civilians. They are undoing the infrastructure with their attacks," said a Taliban commander from Kandahar province.
Most commanders said they resented their comrades who received the largest slice of ISI support. They also said they knew about the ISI's influence over their senior leadership. "There is already mistrust among the low-level fighters and commanders," the Taliban intermediary said. "But they don't really know the extent of it. They don't believe that our leaders are ISI spies."
Major-General Athar Abbas, Pakistan's senior military spokesman, called the claim that the ISI has representatives on the Quetta shura "ridiculous". He said: "The allegations are absolutely baseless."
Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the Pakistani president, said: "There's no such thing as President Zardari meeting Taliban leaders. This never happened."
To see the full London School of Economics report, go to thesundaytimes.co.uk/world
The key player
Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) became enmeshed in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979. The CIA used it to channel covert funds and weapons to Afghan mujaheddin [mujahedin] groups fighting the Soviet army during the 10-year conflict.
A decisive factor in the Soviet defeat was the CIA's decision to provide surface- to-air Stinger missiles.
Saudi Arabia, which, from the mid-1980s matched American funding for the insurgency do llar for dollar, also used the ISI to channel funds to the mujaheddin.
The American effort was promoted and supported by the late Texas congressman Charles Wilson, who fought to raise awareness and cash for the Afghan cause in the United States. His role was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the movie Charlie Wilson's War.
The ISI continued to support groups of Afghan fighters long after the Russian withdrawal in 1989, often providing backing for brutal warlords in an attempt to install a pro-Pakistani government in Kabul.
The ISI backed the Taliban during their rise to power between 1994 and 1996. Pakistan's prime minister at the time, Benazir Bhutto, believed the Taliban could stabilise Afghanistan.
View the full report entitled: "The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship Between Pakistan's ISI and Afghan Insurgents". (.pdf)
To read the LSE report in .pdf format please click here LSE
[Description of Source: London Sunday Times Online in English -- Website of best-selling center-right Sunday newspaper; in-depth coverage of national and international news and politics; owned by Rupert Murdoch's New International; website only available on Sunday; URL: http://www.timesonline.co.uk]
Pakistan Gathering Intelligence, Building Alliances For N Waziristan Offensive
SAP20100614098030 Karachi The Express Tribune Online in English 14 Jun 10
[Unattributed report: Pakistan drags feet on N Waziristan offensive]
[Text disseminated as received without OSC editorial intervention]
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is buying time in North Waziristan - gathering intelligence, building alliances and insisting any assault into the militant fortress should take place at its own time and choosing, say analysts.
Commanders are walking a tightrope, balancing US pressure for action against fears that a major push into the hornet's nest would make enemies they cannot beat and drag Pakistan into a new wave of violence. "The army is already over-stretched after carrying out offensives in other tribal regions," one security official said.
"Security forces got in touch with local tribesmen in a policy of dialogue and asked them not to harbour any insurgents, and this policy has worked," he added.
They are also men whom the security establishment believes pose no direct risk to the homeland because their activities are targeted across the border, while home-grown Taliban pose a more immediate threat.
"Security forces don't want to lose the gains made in South Waziristan and north western regions, including Swat," another security official said, warning that any hasty relocation of troops could lead to a deteriorated situation in those areas.
North Waziristan's mountains are a refuge for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who escaped an offensive in neighbouring South Waziristan last year.
Meanwhile, some officials also believe that opening a new front against the likes of Haqqani and Gul Bahadur would make enemies out of well-trained, well-financed groups that are potentially valuable allies when US troops leave Afghanistan.
Given the risks involved and strain on troops, with forces actively engaged in six of the seven tribal districts, analysts say fears of a backlash, including attacks on civilians, are holding the army back.
"Fears of a fierce reaction by Punjab-based militants, because of their links with TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, the Haqqani and Bahadur networks might be one reason holding the army back," analyst Imtiaz Gul said.
Instead of a major assault, Gul said a North Waziristan operation would be "selective"- at a time and on a scale of the military's choosing.
For example, troops may try and "shrink the space" for local facilitators of al Qaeda, such as Tehreek-i-Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
"The army and paramilitary are busy in at least four tribal regions and have not been able to withdraw fully from Swat and Malakand," said defence analyst Hasan Askari. "It seems that the army would ultimately take specifically targeted action in North Waziristan, but at a time of its choosing," he said.
Among those using bases in North Waziristan are the Haqqani network, created by Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and run by his son Sirajuddin; Afghan Taliban; Pakistani warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur and his ally Maulvi Sadiq Noor.
They are blamed by the US for fuelling the nearly nine-year insurgency in Afghanistan, for attacking the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops there and for working to destabilise the western-backed government in Kabul.
[Description of Source: Karachi The Express Tribune Online in English -- Website of a newspaper partnered with the International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times. It is part of the Lakson Group, which includes Daily Express and Express News Television in Urdu and Express 24/7 Television in English. The group's media wing has no known political affiliations and operates as a moderate, independent commercial media organization. The newspaper claims its mission is to defend "liberal values and egalitarian traditions"; URL: http://tribune.com.pk]
Pakistan Trying To Broker Deal Between Haqqani Network, Afghanistan Govt
SAP20100616098004 Karachi Dawn Online in English 16 Jun 10
[Report by Baqir Sajjad Syed: Pakistan trying to broker Afghan deal]
[Text disseminated as received without OSC editorial intervention]
ISLAMABAD, June 15: Pakistan has dived headlong into the Afghanistan reconciliation process by taking on the task of acting as a bridge between the Haqqani network and the government in Kabul, Dawn has learnt.
"Preliminary contacts have been established with Siraj Haqqani and other leaders of his group through intermediaries in a bid to engineer a rapprochement with the Karzai administration," a senior security official told Dawn.
The intermediaries, the source claims, have presented a roadmap for a political settlement between Kabul and the Haqqanis.
If the plan is accepted by the two sides, it could bring peace to the war-torn country, claim government officials. The Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani group is considered the most potent warring faction in Afghanistan and is viewed as a serious threat by the Karzai regime and also by the American troops there. "Although the future of the initiative is unclear at the moment, the initial signs are encouraging because the leadership of the militant group appears to be willing (to talk)," the security official told Dawn. However, Pakistani officials are reluctant to discuss the matter in detail and hence few details are available about the talks.
The initiative on the part of the Pakistan government has followed overtures from the Afghanistan government. Analysts agree that there has been a change in the attitude of Afghan President Hamid Karzai towards Pakistan in recent weeks.
Karzai's hostile statements against Islamabad seem to have stopped; in fact he acknowledged Pakistan's role in the reconciliation process in his visit to Islamabad in March.
In addition, resignations by Afghanistan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and interior minister Hanif Atmar are also likely to help improve relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Even though Saleh ostensibly quit because of a security failure, a rocket attack during a jirga held in Kabul in the first week of June, observers point out that his departure from the government fulfils a longstanding demand of Pakistan.
In fact, Saleh has been quite vocal in his criticism of Karzai since his resignation; he has alleged that the president is now looking towards Pakistan, instead of the United States, to bring peace to Afghanistan.
Dawn has learnt that Islamabad's efforts to mediate between the Haqqani group and Kabul were the result of intense pressure from the United States to launch an offensive in North Waziristan.
However, the military is not interested in opening another front in Fata as it is already dealing with active operations in places such as Orakzai and wants to hold off going into North Waziristan.
At the same time, it is no secret that the military's reluctance stems from a number of other reasons. For instance, army officials have on more than one occasion explained that the Haqqani group has not been involved in attacks inside Pakistan and hence it is not a direct threat to the state as are other militant groups.
But, more importantly, some analysts feel that elements within the military establishment, which still maintain contacts with the Haqqani duo, feel that the father-son team can yield results for Islamabad in future; if the group becomes a part of the future regime in Afghanistan, it can and will provide Pakistan a say in the country's affairs.
It is against this backdrop that Pakistani civilian and military officials are pushing for a deal between Karzai and the Haqqani network. The biggest challenge in working out a settlement, however, defence analysts believe, is the US reception of such an arrangement.
But officials tell Dawn that the US attitude towards the Haqqani network will become less intransigent with time. Pakistan is aware that the Americans are keen to begin withdrawal by July 2011 -- the deadline set by President Barack Obama -- and in order for this to happen, Kabul will have to start a dialogue with some Taliban groups.
American officials have, on more than one occasion, conceded that at some stage the Taliban can be engaged provided certain conditions are met, such as cutting off ties with Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups.
That this possibility does not exclude the Haqqani group is clear from the statements of officials within the US administration and military. For instance, US Central Command Director of Intelligence Major General Michael Flynn had been quoted by The Atlantic magazine as saying that Jalaluddin Haqqani was "absolutely salvageable".
Karzai has in the past tried at least twice -- in 2007 and 2009 -- to woo the Haqqani group but to no avail. It even refused to attend the recent Kabul peace jirga. But since then Pakistani officials claim that the Haqqanis have been persuaded to talk to Karzai. The Haqqani network, which is operationally headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani's son Sirajuddin, is believed to have sanctuaries in Pakistan's North Waziristan region close to the Pak-Afghan border and is viewed as one of the most potent warring groups active in Afghanistan.
Though this group operates largely in the south-eastern provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika, allied forces have accused it of carrying out attacks in Kabul and Kandahar as well, including the one on the Indian mission in Kabul.
However, while military and foreign office officials are willing to talk about this initiative in off-the-record conversations, the official line from the Foreign Office remains ambiguous: "Pakistan will continue supporting Afghanistan-led efforts towards reintegration and reconciliation."
[Description of Source: Karachi Dawn Online in English -- Website of Pakistan's first and most widely read English-language daily promoting progressive views. Generally critical of military rule; URL: http://www.dawn.com]
Pakistan Author: Afghan Jirga Secured Support for Karzai Peace Efforts
SAP20100617114007 Peshawar The Frontier Post Online in English 17 Jun 10
[Article by Bassam Javed: Afghan Jirga and US Military Offensive in Kandhar]
[Text disseminated as received without OSC editorial intervention]
The hullabaloo over holding of Afghan Jirga came to an end with successful completion of the event on 6th June. Around 1600 delegates from across the country agreed with one voice during the Jirga proceedings that reaching out to the Taliban is the best way forward to end decades of Afghan war. Present at the Jirga were Afghan heavyweights like Younus Qanooni, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, Farooq Wardak, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil and Mullah Abdul Salam. Their presence legitimized whatever reservations people had held over Mr. Karzai's re-election as president. There were, however, some conspicuous figures that boycotted the Jirga that included former presidential rival of Mr. Karzai Abdullah Abdullah and his confidante in Parliament Eshaq Gailani. Their absence, however, did not affect the Jirga's proceedings as boycott is also a form of political engagement in a way. From amongst the Taliban factions Gulbaddin Hekmatyar of Hizbe Islami was well represented through favourable delegates whereas Jalaluddin Haqqani, the most influential faction of Taliban, without whose help peace in Afghanistan will not be possible, did not find much voice as the United States views Haqqani as a bad guy and accordingly prefers his elimination rather then betting on his prowess as a peace broker. The Jirga secured domestic and international support for Karzai's efforts. During the three days of discussions 28 committees were formed that unanimously recommended talks with the Taliban, frame work and mechanism of talks and steps to forge national unity. As per the recommendations insurgents who join peace process and cut ties with foreign terrorists are to be removed from the UN black list and released from the prisons. There were other recommendations too that will collectively form the basis of developing the action plan and peace strategy. Whereas the successful holding of Jirga vis-à-vis ticking of clock on US withdrawal time frame has impacted its immediate neighbours, it also brought anxiety to distant ones. For Pakistan, it has arguably the highest stake in war-torn Afghanistan being a Muslim country and an immediate neighbour. As the insurgency in Afghanistan is primarily driven by the Taliban with major representation of Pakhtun from other side of the Durand Line, it can devastatingly influence the Pakhtuns on this side of the Durand line. Pakistan due to its natural security interests cannot afford but to ensure that it preserves them at all costs and as such diligently watches developments in Afghanistan that can affect Pakistan. For Iran, it wants to be recognised as a stake holder in Afghanistan too as it keeps the United States bogged down in US-Iran relationship gambit. For China, it also shares a small border with Afghanistan. It also has a stake therein due to concerns of Islamic extremism creeping into its province of Xinjiang and also sees Afghanistan as a conduit for its much needed mineral resources. India, a distant neighbour but a keen player to squeeze Pakistan from Afghanistan, has built close ties with the American supported Afghan regime. It also eyes the mineral and oil resources from the Central Asian countries. It also harps on the theme that the return of Taliban in the Afghan set-up would lead to attacks on its soil. It did not support the global effort of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan till the time all escape routes were shut. It has reactivated its links with Iran and Russia that too had backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in 1990s to sabotage western withdrawal plan. The recently concluded Jirga will not bring immediate peace though however, it certainly has provided a platform to Karzai to take on in what he has firmly and rightly believed that all roads to peace lead through reconciliation with all f actions of Taliban. Bringing together such a large number of delegates from across the country was a phenomenal task. Karzai did it amicably. He also managed to extract the decision from the Jirga on formation of a Shura that would coordinate its decisions with the representatives of international community based in Afghanistan. It reflects the political acumen of Mr. Karzai as by this single move he has brought the international community on board and if he fails now in his efforts equal blame will be shared by the international community. The United States had supported holding of Jirga reluctantly only when Mr. Karzai visited Washington last month. Prior to the event many discouraging statements and prospects were fed to the American media by the State machinery to lessen the importance of Jirga process. The Taliban are of the view that peace cannot be brought till the time foreign forces quit Afghanistan and only then they would take part in reconciliation. United States that always believes in using its lethal military might to subjugate people and soften the enemy, are bent upon taking on the Taliban militarily for the same to force them to join the negotiating table. For United States, the success or failure of the Jirga was always irrelevant since its very concept. The US and the coalition forces continued to prepare for launching of a massive military strike against the Taliban in Kandahar. The offensive can come any time as the Afghan president with General McChrystal on his side requested people of Kandahar to support impending US military offensive in Kandahar. This means that we are about to witness Kandahar turning into killing fields for both the sides. Being heavily populated, civilians will be the major casualties as usual in the name of collateral damage. Through the decades of war Afghans have only seen death and destruction. The two pronged US strategy of using muscles with diplomacy will be fully tested here in Kandahar. Jirga will be touted later as an effort to give Taliban a chance to talk peace and soften them up prior to launching attack on Kandahar. The massive offensive may be able to significantly eliminate Taliban and kill many Afghan civilians but it may not be able to eliminate the ideology. The international community need not enter barbarism using lethal weaponry yet again in Kandahar when they can win through strengthening of Afghan hearts and minds through human development, support of social sector, creation of job opportunities and investment in education sector.
[Description of Source: Peshawar The Frontier Post Online in English -- Website of a daily providing good coverage of the Northwest Frontier Province, Afghanistan, and narcotics issues; URL: http://www.thefrontierpost.com]