• Matt Waldman’s report – 06/12/2010. 


The London School of Economics – LSE study, published on Saturday 06/12/2010, based on interviews with nine Taliban senior field commanders  in Afghanistan between 02/2010 and 05/2010, claimed the relationship between the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence, and the militants goes far beyond current estimates. It comes a few days after Amrullah Saleh, who resigned as head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service last week, following the Taliban attack on the Peace Jirga near Kabul on 06/02/2010 (see – Kabul 06.02.10), described the ISI as “part of the landscape of destruction in this country”.

“Although the Taliban has a strong endogenous impetus, according to Taliban commanders, the ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement,” wrote author Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University who worked in Afghanistan previously for the humanitarian organization Oxfam. Matt Waldman interviewed three operating commanders in the south of Afghanistan, three in the centre and three in the south-east, as well as one high-level Taliban intermediary. He also talked with 10 former senior Taliban officials, a number of Afghan elders, politicians and analysts, as well as foreign diplomats and security officials. A research assistant interviewed six further insurgents.

“They say it (ISI) gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani groups (see – Sirajuddin Haqqani), and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies”. In their words, this is “as clear as the sun in the sky”. Matt Waldman’s report goes further, arguing that support for the Afghan Taliban is “official ISI policy” and is backed at the highest levels of Pakistan’s civilian administration. “Pakistan appears to be playing a double game of astonishing magnitude,” the report said (see also – Afpak-War).

Matt Waldman said the ISI appears to exert “significant influence” on strategic decision-making and field operations of the Taliban and controls the most violent insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan. Insurgent commanders claimed the ISI was even officially represented, as participants or observers, on the Taliban supreme leadership council (known as the Quetta Shura). Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan, in Pakistan, located east to Kandahar in Afghanistan and is the logistical and operational base of the Taliban (see also – Quetta-Violence).

The report quotes from interviews with nine insurgent field commanders, who say that ISI operatives sit in on meetings of the Taliban leadership council, which consists of a dozen or so members and meets several times a year in and around Quetta (see also – I.S.I Provocation).

The ISI also exerts pressure on Taliban commanders, arresting those who step out of line, or threatening arrest if they do not follow established parameters of Taliban strategy, the report says. That allegation matches statements by Afghan and NATO officials, who have been working in recent months on ways to persuade Taliban insurgents to reconcile with the Afghan government. They have said that the threat of arrest or detention of family members by Pakistani intelligence is a major obstacle for insurgents considering defecting (see the case of Mullah Baradar).

The report alleges that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari himself had assured captive senior Taliban leaders that they were “our people” and had his backing. He had apparently authorized some to be released from prison (see – Deal With Militancy).

Most interviewees explained the ISI’s involvement in terms of Pakistan’s rivalry with India (see -PK Two Heads), as the regional powers vie for influence ahead of the start of the USA withdrawal from Afghanistan, scheduled to begin in summer 2011 (see – Obama’s Surge)

The study drew an angry reaction from the Pakistani military that dismissed the report as “malicious and baseless”. “It is a part of a malicious campaign against the Pakistan army and the ISI,” Pakistan army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP. “It is baseless. The sacrifices by Pakistan’s army and the ISI and the casualties in the War on terror speak for themselves,” he said. “We have a series of questions on the credibility of the report.”

Waldman’s report argues that resolving this is a key to bring Islamabad onside efforts to defeat the insurgency.

“Without a change in Pakistani behavior it will be difficult if not impossible for international forces and the Afghan government to make progress against the insurgency,” he concluded.

There have long been suspicions about ISI’s role in neighboring Afghanistan, despite it helping to capture and kill hundreds of Al Qaeda militants since Pakistan joined the US-led “war on terror” (see also – Khalid Khawaja)..

Last year, top USA commander Admiral Mike Mullen said there were “indications” that elements of Pakistan’s intelligence service lend support to Al Qaeda and Taliban militants – sparking furious denials in Pakistan (see – iSi report).
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