The Pakistanis and the Taliban.....
Pakistan's ISI is deeply involved....
THE Taliban commander waited at the ramshackle border crossing while Pakistani police wielding assault rifles stopped and searched the line of cars and trucks travelling into Afghanistan.
Some of the trucks carried smuggled goods — DVD players, car stereos, television sets, generators, children’s toys. But the load smuggled by Taliban fighter Qari Rasoul, a thickset Pashtun from Afghanistan’s Wardak province, was altogether more sinister.
Rasoul’s boot was full of remote-control triggers used to detonate the home-made bombs responsible for the vast majority of Nato casualties in Afghanistan. The three passengers sitting in his white Toyota estate were suicide bombers.
The policemen flagged down Rasoul’s car and began to search it. They soon found the triggers, hidden beneath a bundle of clothes in the back of the estate. They asked him who he was and who the triggers belonged to. “I’m a Taliban commander. They belong to me,” he told them.
Two policemen took Rasoul into their office in Chaman, a small town that borders Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, and sat him down on a wooden chair.
Instead of arresting him, the elder policeman rubbed his thumb and index finger together and, smiling, said: “Try to understand.”
Rasoul phoned a Pakistani friend. Two hours later he was released, having paid the policemen 5,000 Pakistani rupees, the equivalent of about £40, each.
“That was the only time I ever faced problems crossing the border with Pakistan,” said Rasoul, who is responsible for delivering suicide bombers trained in Pakistani camps to targets in Afghanistan.
Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan runs far deeper than a few corrupt police officers, however. The Sunday Times can reveal that it is officially sanctioned at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government.
Pakistan’s own intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), is said to be represented on the Taliban’s war council — the Quetta shura. Up to seven of the 15-man shura are believed to be ISI agents.
The former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, Amrullah Saleh, who resigned last week, said: “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.”
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 source 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.