The LSE Development Studies Institute report by Matt Waldman titled "The Sun in the Sky," released on Sunday, details the relationship between Pakistan's notorious spy agency the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Afghan Taliban. The report details the ISI's close relationship with the Taliban and its involvement with the Quetta Shura, along with claims from Taliban commanders that the ISI is heavily involved in the planning and execution of attacks on schools and other government targets in Afghanistan. In short, the ISI, an important part of the Pakistani Army, is hoodwinking the United States by still heavily supporting the Taliban movement, in order to ensure they have a permanent voice in deciding the future of Afghanistan.
While the report details how ISI trains militants, manipulates the Quetta Shura and more, one of the most astounding accusations is this:
According to a Talib who has regular contact with members of the Quetta Shura, in late March or early April this year President Zadari [sic] and a senior ISI official visited some 50 high-ranking Talibs who were held in a prison in a secret location in Pakistan. Some 30-35 had been arrested in recent months, and 10-15 were longer-term prisoners. Reportedly, he told them they were arrested because he was under a lot of pressure from the Americans and that, ‘you are our people, we are friends, and after your release we will of course support you to do your operations.'
Even though hating President Zardari might be a national pastime in Pakistan for many, this statement seems far-fetched, even to the most committed of his foes.First, it is hard to believe that the uber-secretive ISI would share such information with members of the civilian government. Secondly, even if ISI officials did take Pakistan's civilian government into confidence, why would they take a civilian president to assure the Taliban of the ISI's support? If they had to reassure the high-ranking Talibs, a more reassuring face would have been that of the ISI chief's, or even the Chief of Army Staff's.
Secondly, what is rather unbelievable is that a majority of the Taliban members who are interviewed in the Waldman report despise the ISI. You begin to feel, based on their allegations that had it not been for the ISI's pressure, they would happily give up their arms. While we have indeed seen anti-Pakistan statements from the Afghan government and from the Afghan people in recent years, it would have benefited the author to have interviewed at least a few former or current ISI members, as the report seems a rather one-sided account. And while I don't discount the expertise of Ahmed Rashid or the Washington Post, citing their articles to prove a point that is on flimsy grounds to begin with does not help the veracity of this report.
According to the report, elements within the ISI and the Pakistani Army continue to believe that neighboring India is Enemy #1. Another assertion based on interviews with Talibs is that the Pakistani Army's focus in Afghanistan's present and future ensures a role for Pakistan. The author writes, "The ISI believes that it needs a significant allied force in Afghanistan to maintain regional strength and ‘strategic depth' in their rivalry with India."
I do hope that elements within the ISI and the Pakistani Army realize that Pakistan's biggest problem right now is the Pakistani Taliban, who have carried out numerous suicide bombings in the country. Army operations in Swat and the tribal areas have led to the displacement of millions of people, and the war there doesn't seem to be ending soon. But reports like Waldman's must be read with a grain of salt. After all, there are two sides to every story, and this largely unilateral report could have benefited immensely from some more thorough investigation of the other one.
Huma Imtiaz works as a journalist in Karachi and blogs at http://humaimtiaz.wordpress.com.
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