THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Pakistani spy agency supports Taliban, report asserts

By Sebastian Abbot
Associated Press / June 14, 2010

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s main spy agency continues to arm and train the Taliban and is even represented on the group’s leadership council despite US pressure to sever ties and billions in aid to combat the militants, said a research report released yesterday.

The findings could heighten tension between the two countries and raise further questions about US success in Afghanistan because Pakistani cooperation is seen as key to defeating the Taliban, which seized power in Kabul in the 1990s with Islamabad’s support.

US officials have suggested in the past that current or former members of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, have maintained links to the Taliban despite the government’s decision to denounce the group in 2001 under US pressure.

But the report issued yesterday by the London School of Economics offered one of the strongest cases that assistance to the group is official ISI policy, and even extends to the highest levels of the Pakistani government.

“Pakistan’s apparent involvement in a double-game of this scale could have major geopolitical implications and could even provoke US countermeasures,’’ said the report, which was based on interviews with Taliban commanders, former Taliban officials, Western diplomats, and many others.

“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,’’ said the report, written by Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Major General Athar Abbas, spokesman for the Pakistani army, which controls ISI, rejected the report, calling it “rubbish.’’

He pointed out ISI has suffered many casualties fighting militants in the country.

But the Pakistan military’s campaign has been focused on Pakistani Taliban battling the state, not Afghan Taliban waging war against NATO troops in Afghanistan. The army has resisted US pressure to wage offensives in areas of the country the Afghan Taliban use as sanctuaries, despite billions of dollars in American military and civilian aid.

Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to turn against the Afghan Taliban because the government believes the group could be a key ally in Afghanistan after NATO forces withdraw, and the best partner for countering the influence of archenemy India in the country.

One of the most surprising allegations in the report is that President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and a senior ISI official visited some 50 high-ranking Taliban fighters being held at a secret prison in the country and told them they were arrested only because of US pressure.

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