Small Wars Journal

The Pakistani Godfather: The Inter-Services Intelligence and the Afghan Taliban 1994-2010

Tue, 04/02/2013 - 3:30am


Alongside the Americans, Pakistan plays a key role in the "war against terrorism" and against the insurgents in Afghanistan. The country receives huge financial and military aid. Nevertheless, this support could not improve the situation in Afghanistan. Quite to the contrary. nine years after the American invasion, the Taliban are stronger than ever. At any time, they can strike almost anywhere in Afghanistan. Therefore, the question is whether the money just evaporates ineffectively in a mire of corruption and inefficient administration, or whether Pakistan is playing a double game with its allies, thereby systematically aggravating the instability in its neighbouring state in order to protect its own interests.

The aim of the present study is to gather facts and disclose links that demonstrate the kind of game the Pakistani government is playing with the West, with its intelligence service supporting the Taliban on a grand scale. It also demonstrates the naivety of a superpower that allows an alleged ally to receive billions of dollars, with which Pakistan amongst other things financed groups that kill American soldiers almost on a daily basis. It also uses the money to expand its control over the insurgents in Afghanistan and undermines initiatives for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

After a historical summary highlighting the close connection between the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI with the Taliban since their emergence in the mid-90s, the arrest of an influential Taliban leader is used as an example to demonstrate the effrontery with which the Pakistanis are playing their game. The rivalry with its neighbour, India, and the consequent desire for strategic depth as well as the absolute will to control the Pashtun tribal areas emerge as constant strategic guidelines.

 The Taliban: From Their Emergence to Their Coming Into Power In Kabul (1994-1996)

When the Taliban first arrived to Southern Afghanistan in November 1994, their ideology fell on fertile soil. More than 15 years of war had left their mark on the country. The constant interference of foreign powers proved to be particularly fatal. Specifically, the unequal treatment during the resistance against the Soviet occupation (1979-1989) had increased the mistrust among the tribes and ethnic groups. The United States and Saudi Arabia, amongst others, had given around ten billion dollars of subsidies to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. These funds were distributed with the help of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)[1]. The ISI preferred the Pashtun tribes around Peshawar. They were therefore systematically given preferential treatment in the distribution of weapons and money by the Americans. Conversely, Pakistan regarded the south of Afghanistan around Kandahar as backward and the Durrani Pashtuns dominating the area at the time as untrustworthy.[2]

The clashes between various factions and warlords in late 1994 had led to the disappearance of the old and more moderate leadership, and thus left room for the Taliban extremists.[3] The whole country was divided among various warlords, forming and dissolving alliances as they pleased. In order to finance their war, the warlords exploited the population, cut down almost all forests and sold anything that wasn't nailed down. The on-going insecurity in turn called the truck mafia into action, which was operating from the Pakistani city of Quetta and from Kandahar. The fragmentation of the southern Afghan territory by many local warlords led to a serious restriction of their activities.[4]

Although the exact origin of the Taliban movement is controversial and shrouded in myth, we can be certain that the above-mentioned situation - lawlessness and lack of leadership - has paved the way for this radical movement. The Taliban still had to manage without the support of the ISI, which at that time was backing Hekmatyar's Hizb-i Islami. However, in 1994, the defeat and the loss of prestige of Hekmatyar was becoming apparent, and Pakistan began to look for a new deputy. Then there was the desire of the new Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, to open a trade route to Central Asia as quickly as possible. Because of the fighting around the capital, the northern route via Kabul to Mazar-i-Sharif and on to Uzbekistan was impassable. Therefore, the idea to open ​​the route via the southern part of the ring road from Quetta via Kandahar to Herat and on to Ashgabat established itself. The plan aroused the suspicions of the local princes, who feared Pakistan might be preparing a military invasion of the eastern neighbours.[5]

The first battle between Taliban and Hekmatyar fighters began in mid-October 1994. At Spin Baldak on the Afghan-Pakistani border, the Taliban overran a garrison of Hekmatyar. With the consent of Pakistan they then conquered a vast weapons and ammunition depot, built by the ISI.[6] Consequently, the Taliban were able to continue fighting for quite some time. In addition, the Pakistanis had the opportunity to hide their support for the Taliban.[7] This action can still be viewed as tolerated by Pakistan, but anything that happened after November 3rd must be considered active help. On this day, Taliban marched out at the request of the Pakistani to free a convoy detained by southern Afghan warlords. Shortly thereafter, they went on to take Kandahar. Already at that time, foreign diplomats were speculating that the Taliban were operating with the covert support of Pakistan.[8] At the same time, the Pakistani Interior Minister Babar boasted the success of "his boys".[9] However, the Taliban continued to try to demonstrate their independence and to resist the Pakistani influence.

While to many the origins of the Taliban still appeared mysterious, by the end of year, some sources were "concerned that the GOP [Government of Pakistan] (ISI) is deeply involved in the Taliban takeover in Kandahar and Qalat."[10] The same source also expressed concern that the influence of the unpopular Pakistanis in the south could further destabilise the country and sooner or later lead to an Afghan-Pakistani conflict. Meanwhile, the Taliban continued their conquest of Afghanistan and marched north.

Pakistan was still putting its eggs into two baskets: On the one hand there were the Taliban, who had contributed to the opening of smuggling routes in the south, and on the other hand there was Hekmatyar and his Hizb-i Islami, who were exerting pressure on the government in Kabul. Whether it was a double game of the ISI, or whether the simultaneous support of both Afghan factions rather represents a power struggle between the civilian government of Benazir Bhutto and the ISI is unclear.[11] In the second case, the support for the Taliban came firstly from the Home Office and its director Nasrullah Babar, while the ISI and the army still supported Hekmatyar, who was, however, involved in a gruelling two-front war. In mid-February the religious students coming from the south had taken over his headquarters. They opened the roads to Kabul and made possible the supply of the city after the long siege. Thus, the Taliban gained great sympathy among the population, but also satisfied a key demand of the transport mafia.[12]

After Hekmatyar and his Hizb-i-Islami had been the Crown Prince of the ISI for a long time and had enjoyed generous support, the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban in early 1995 changed radically: "[a]t around this time the weight of opinion within the upper echelons of the ISI – (…) – now began to swing towards the Taliban. While in late 1994 Babar appears to have been the leading voice in the Islamabad establishment propounding the student's cause, by January the ISI was taking a growing interest."[13] During that time, Taliban warfare also changed dramatically. This may reflect the fact that the former Afghan Defence Minister Tanai[14] was reactivating his still existing network of connections to other officers of the communist regime. "None of this could have been done without permission, if not active encouragement, from the ISI itself."[15]

After their rapid initial successes, in the first half of 1995 the Taliban suffered some heavy defeats. Ahmed Shah Massoud and his fighters drove them from the area in front of Kabul, and in the West, they had to desist from their attacks on Herat, after Ismael Khan had received support from Massoud, who had had the Taliban bombarded for several days. However, a poorly planned offensive of Khan against the weakened Taliban ended in a disastrous defeat and the final loss of Herat. The defeat, however, seems not only to have been due to poor planning. Western intelligence services suspected "infusions of well-trained re-inforcement and new weapons - now supported by a functioning logistics machine".[16] Following this, riots broke out in Kabul. A mob attacked the Pakistani embassy and killed an employee. Thus the relations between the two countries hit rock bottom. Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani accused Pakistan openly of trying to oust him with help of the Taliban.[17] The Pakistanis were not very cautious and openly admitted to supporting the Taliban in front of the Americans. The Pakistani ambassador defended himself saying  "that in the wake of last months’ sacking of the Pak embassy in Kabul, GOP Afghan policy has been increasingly driven by intense domestic opposition towards Afghanistan."[18]

In March 1996, Pashtun scholars came together for a large gathering. The discussions on the future of Afghanistan "were conducted in strictest secrecy, and all foreigners were expelled from Kandahar for this time. Pakistani officials, however, were present to monitor the Shura, including Qazi Humayun, Pakistan's ambassador in Kabul, and several ISI officials, including Colonel Imam, Pakistan's consul general in Herat."[19] The meeting had been convened as a result of the stalemate between the Afghan factions. Rabbani's position had been consolidated and his prestige abroad increased. Consequently, Pakistan tried to forge an alliance against Rabbani with Hekmatyar, the warlord Rashid Dostum and the leaders of the Jalalabad Shura, but this was categorically rejected by the Taliban.[20]The regional powers feared the consequences of Afghanistan dominated by the Islamist Taliban and gave massive support to Rabbani and Massoud. In return, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia increased their support for the Taliban.[21]

True to the motto "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", Bhutto even tried to convince the U.S., which had an interest in curbing Iran, to support the Taliban. The United States declined, but also the Taliban refused to continue cooperating with other warlords.[22] Yet the Taliban managed to convince Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to support them again. Riyadh and Islamabad had reached an agreement with them. In late September, the Taliban led a surprise attack on Jalalabad and overran it. At the same time, Pakistan let hundreds of gunmen enter unmolested across the borders into Afghanistan. The Taliban lost no time and continued their advance towards the capital from an easterly direction. A month after the attack on Jalalabad the first pickups with Taliban had already reached the streets of Kabul. The pro-government troops fled and Massoud also ordered a retreat for his troops. One of the first acts of the Taliban in Kabul was the execution of former President Najibullah, whose battered body they then put on display in the streets of Kabul.

Taking Kabul didn't mean the end of the war. The formerly warring warlords pulled together to form a new Alliance to defend Afghanistan against the Taliban. Massoud decided to make a full-scale attack on the scattered Taliban forces and advanced as far as Bagram. The success of the Taliban seemed seriously threatened. As a consequence, Pakistan again let thousands of 'volunteers' cross the border area of Pakistan into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. This enabled the militia of Mullah Omar to launch a new offensive and recover the lost territories.[23]

The way was paved for the Taliban, and the prevailing lawlessness and lack of leadership since the departure of the Soviets have certainly increased their acceptance in parts of the population. However, their success is down to more than just this. In addition to these pull factors a number of push factors have played their part. This includes logistics, enabling the Taliban to carry out their operations equipped with enough weapons and ammunition. They also had enough fighters as new religious students from the Pakistani madrassas could enter the country unimpeded at all times.[24] Furthermore, indoctrination and training played a crucial role. The Taliban broke up the deadlock with mobile warfare and relatively quickly caused large shifts in territorial ownership. Mobile warfare was made possible because the Taliban had large numbers of vehicles (mainly white Toyota pick-ups) and sufficient communication infrastructure available. This included a mobile communications network and a wireless network for the Taliban leaders, both of which had been set up by Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan had roads, the Kandahar Airfield and fighter jets for the Taliban repaired.[25] They could also benefit from the experience of former officers of the communist army. These had been reactivated through the network of former Defence Minister Tanai, who had found refuge in Pakistan after a failed coup against Najibullah, which had most likely been supported by Pakistan in the first place. But corruption and the effects of money are also not to be underestimated. Many field commanders quite simply let themselves be bought. In any case, the substantial backing from Pakistan has significantly promoted the rapid advance and the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban.

The Taliban in Power in Kabul (1996-2001)

The support of the Taliban by the Pakistani government and the ISI continued after the gang around Mullah Omar took Kabul in September 1996 and overthrew the Tajik-dominated government of Rabbani and Massoud. Abdul Salam Saif, the Taliban ambassador in Pakistan, wrote what previously was the only detailed inside account of the movement, in which he describes in detail how he was inundated with offers from the Pakistani intelligence officials.[26] The ISI continued pumping money, weapons and advisers into Afghanistan to help the Taliban win against the Northern Alliance.[27] In addition, Pakistan provided diplomatic support, organised training for Taliban fighters, some of whom it had itself recruited, planned and commanded offensives, delivered ammunition and fuel and on several occasions apparently got directly involved in combat support.[28] Undoubtedly, the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies, with the ISI at the forefront, made a vital contribution to the Taliban becoming a highly effective military force.[29] The covert support of the Taliban by the ISI came from the corps headquarters in Peshawar.[30] To give an example: a contact person deemed trustworthy by the U.S. consulate in Peshawar in October 1996 reported the border crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan of an ISI convoy, consisting of 30-35 ISI trucks and 15-20 fuel trucks, at Torkham.[31] The ISI itself in late 1996 estimated the total Pakistani aid to the Taliban to be as high as 20 million rupees.[32] A number that may well be set too low. Two years later, a Pakistani source of the U.S. State Department put the support of the Pakistani government for the Taliban at "about a million dollars every few months".[33]

According to a 2001 report by Human Rights Watch, the first direct military contacts between the Afghanistan office of the ISI and the Taliban after they seized power was established by sending a small team of Pakistani military advisers to the former stronghold of the Afghan army in Rishikor.[34] The base in Rishikor, southwest of Kabul, was subsequently used as the main training centre for Pakistani volunteers, who had been carted off to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan. No later than 1999, the accommodation of the Pakistani military and intelligence personnel were in a guarded area within the camp.[35] According to a DIA[36]-report, Pakistani religious students also received military training at Kandahar and Herat. There, a combination of members of Pakistan's Frontier Corps (FC), staff of the Najibullah era, as well as former supporters of the Wahhabi warlord, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and the long-standing ISI protégé Hekmatyar provided training.[37] This use of Pakistan's Frontier Corps was apparently not an isolated case. In addition to the training of fighters, company-size FC elements in Afghanistan were also used for command and control tasks and, if necessary, for fighting action itself. The reason for the use of the FC was that its units, as opposed to those of the Punjabi-dominated army, were completely or at least predominantly composed of Pashtuns. This represents the Taliban and the people in the South of Afghanistan.[38]

Also by supplying fuel and ammunition, the ISI was trying to consolidate its influence on the Taliban operations.[39] Here, the intelligence service based its actions on the system which it had set up during the Soviet occupation to control the military operations of its Afghan deputies. According to this system, large amounts of ammunition and fuel were made available to the Taliban commanders only when an operation has been approved by the ISI and the Pakistani military. The fact that the Taliban weren't happy with this system meant that they began looking for alternative arms suppliers, which is why soon private actors began to be involved in arms trade with the Taliban, too. A private offer was available particularly because the Bhutto government in 1994 had fired dozens of ISI officers, some of which with ties to the Taliban. Some of these officers had then founded their own import-export firms or participated in existing companies that were organising large private security and import-export-led operations. Thanks to these new business relations as well as their old Taliban connections, the ex-ISI officers now acted as weapons suppliers to Afghanistan.

After General Pervez Musharraf had come to power by an army coup in 1999, he increased the Pakistani support for the Taliban.[40] Musharraf publicly declared that Pakistan's strategic interests lie in supporting the Afghan Pashtuns, whom he associated solely with the Taliban. The new ruler then went on to say that: "This is our national interest […] the Taliban can not be alienated by Pakistan. We have a national security interest here […]”.[41] Apart from army chief Musharraf, the power within the military junta lay in particular with three hard-line generals who had made the decisive coup of 1999: Mahmoud Ahmad, Mohammed Aziz and Muzaffar Usmani.[42] All three were passionate supporters of Islamic fundamentalist parties and the Taliban. Aziz, Director of Covert Operations in the ISI in the late 1990s served as the main organiser behind the military victories of the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. Ahmad - nota bene one of the most vocal supporters of the Taliban within the regime - in his function as ISI chief practically made the foreign policy of Pakistan. Thus, the U.S. State Department concluded in September 2000: "While Pakistani support for the Taliban has been long-standing, the magnitude of recent support is unprecedented.”[43] The Clinton Administration at that time also appeared increasingly concerned that the direct participation of Pakistan in Taliban military operations had become more and more frequent in recent months, and that Pakistani military personnel had taken a more active role in the fighting.[44] Towards the end of the year 2000, Pakistani aircraft helped Taliban forces with troop rotations during combat operations and staff of the ISI as well as of the army were involved directly in the planning of major military operations of the Taliban.[45] In November 2000, UN General Secretary Kofi Annan Pakistan accused them at least implicitly of providing such support.[46] Thus, the UN Security Council in January 2001 finally imposed sanctions against the regime in Kabul, which were aimed directly at getting it to stop the Pakistani weapons deliveries to the Taliban.[47] But apparently, the sanctions missed their effect, for an intelligence dossier stating that Pakistan was circumventing the UN sanctions by continuing to deliver fuel and other goods to the Taliban was presented to the Security Council by both Russia and France.[48] In April and May 2001, a few months before September the 11th, 30 ISI trucks were still crossing the Pakistani border into Afghanistan every day - the same number that the U.S. consulate in Peshawar in October 1996 had reported immediately after the coming into power of the Taliban. Some of these convoys were equipped with artillery shells, tank ammunition and anti-tank missiles.[49]

The intentions and actions of Pakistan regarding the Taliban immediately after the terrorist attacks of September the 11th 2001 can not yet be conclusively assessed due to the few and contradictory sources. What is certain, however, is that the Pakistani military regime in accordance with its longstanding Taliban policy tried to persuade the U.S. to refrain from a military campaign against the Taliban, or at least limit it to air strikes, and to negotiate with the government in Kabul to find a solution.[50] ISI director and de facto Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ahmad tried to convince U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin that the aim of the United States of eliminating Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda could best be achieved by forcing the Taliban to do it themselves: "[…] it is better for the Afghans to do it. We could avoid the fallout. If the Taliban are eliminated […] Afghanistan will revert to warlordism.”[51] In September 2001, Ahmad not only met with many members of the Bush administration, but also twice with Mullah Omar in Kandahar. The question of whether or not at that time he made a last-minute attempt to get the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden after all, whether, as the U.S. State Department believed, this was merely a delay tactic, as claimed by Ahmed Rashid, or whether, quite to the contrary, Ahmad Mullah Omar encouraged them to brave an American attack rather than turn in Bin Laden, as is claimed by leaks to the CIA, must be left unanswered due to contradictory source material.[52] In any case, during the ensuing Operation Enduring Freedom, the attack by the US-led coalition on the Taliban government, the ISI played a great double game. On the one hand, Pakistan officially made a U-turn, presenting itself as a close U.S. ally in the "war against terrorism" and accepting the "seven points" of the U.S. government, pledging to stop supporting the Taliban and, explicitly, promising to stop all supplies of fuel as well as any other goods and to cancel the transport of weapons and fighters into Afghanistan.[53] On the other hand, and with the consent of Musharraf the ISI continued providing the Taliban with weapons, ammunition and fuel. As before, ISI trucks were rolling into Afghanistan on a daily basis. In addition, dozens of members of the Frontier Corps and ISI officers remained in Afghanistan to assist the Taliban in their defence. CIA agent Gary Berntsen realised "from the beginning of the conflict that ISI advisers were supporting the Taliban with expertise and material [...]".[54] This double game was to shape and Pakistan's Taliban policy after the expulsion of Mullah Omar's gang from Afghanistan and continues to do so to this day.

The Taliban Insurgency (2002-2010)

Although Pakistan officially became coalition partner of the United States in the Global War on Terror after the overthrow of the Taliban regime by the Northern Alliance and the American Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001, it simultaneously continued supporting and directing the Taliban as a deputy government in Afghanistan.  As opposed to how it is usually being represented in the Western media, the uprising against the US- and NATO-backed Afghan government of Hamid Karzai is not a monolithic, centrally run movement, but highly fragmented.[55] The three main groups are the Taliban of Mullah Omar, the Hizb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network. These three militant groups have all been protected by the ISI since their expulsion from Afghanistan.[56] In Balochistan, the Taliban were left undisturbed and allowed to settle. Just as they did with the Taliban leaders, the ISI granted refuge to Hekmatyar who, after secret talks with the ISI in Dubai, moved from his exile in Iran to Peshawar in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), and was able to operate freely under the protection of the ISI. Thus, the ISI let Hekmatyar set up a base in a refugee camp outside Peshawar, where many of his former combatants were living. Jalaluddin Haqqani was eventually granted refuge in North Waziristan, where he rebuilt his network on both sides of the border. Thereby, the Pakistani military and the ISI played a central and active role, which included urging the Haqqani group take up the fight again and promising them money, weapons and other kinds of support.[57] The ISI didn't only apply pressure to Haqqani fighters, but also warned Taliban families from returning to Afghanistan. Otherwise, the ISI would extradite them to the Americans.[58] In order to pull off the balancing act as a U.S. ally and supporter of the Taliban, the ISI developed a dual policy. While Pakistan was extraditing al-Qaeda fighters to the U.S., the Taliban were protected.[59] In the first five years after their flight from Kabul not a single Taliban commander was extradited to the Americans. A year after 9/11, as Ahmed Rashid concludes, it was therefore clear that Musharraf's support for the war fought by the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan did not mean the promised strategic U-turn (which would end the traditional support of the army for Islamic extremists) but only a short-term tactical move to appease the United States and to prevent an Indian hegemony in the region.[60] For Pakistan, the Taliban remained a deputy, through whom it believed to be able to regain control in Afghanistan in the future. According to a prominent former commander of various militant groups, who, as a fighter, leader and trainer of insurgents in Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan has been in the pay of the ISI since the nineties, it had been as early as the end of 2001, shortly after the fall of the Taliban government, that in the NWFP a meeting between Taliban leaders and several former ISI agents had been held, during which strategies for opposition against the U.S. military were being planned and Afghanistan was divided into individual areas of operation.[61] Among the approximately 60 attendees were the Ambassador of the Taliban government in Pakistan, Abdul Salam Saif, Mohammed Haqqani, one of the sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the former ISI agent Colonel Imam, (who, in the course of his illustrious career had been officer in the Special Service Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army, Consul General in Herat, Afghanistan, as well as trainer and mentor of militant groups like for example the Taliban), but also Major General Zahirul Islam Abbasi, also a former ISI officer, (who, as commander of the Pakistani army in Kashmir had planned and executed attacks on positions of the Indian army, and who had been convicted of involvement in an attempted coup against the government of Benazir Bhutto in 1995). Abbasi was said to have been one of the most active supporters of the insurgents in Afghanistan in the years after September the 11th.

The involvement of the ISI in the early stages of the revolt against the Karzai government and international troops (2003-2005) has been widely documented.[62] After the Taliban attacks in Afghanistan had increased in 2003, the ISI provided support again.[63] U.S. and NATO intelligence shows a systematic and pervasive system of ISI collusion. The ISI held training camp for Taliban recruits north of Quetta, handing out money and weapons from the Gulf states and organized shopping tours in Quetta and Karachi, where the Taliban were able to stock up on material, buying hundreds of motorcycles, pickup trucks and satellite phones. Pakistani army trucks drove Taliban fighters to the border at night in order to infiltrate Afghanistan and were there to receive them when they returned several days later. In doing so, the Pakistani artillery provided fire protection as well as medical care near the border to the Taliban. Moreover, the Pakistani army officers upheld communications from the border with Taliban commanders in Afghanistan via mobile phone. Just like in the early days of the Mullah Omar gang, the Taliban, the ISI and the madrassas of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) were holding in place a well-organized system.[64] Young militants in the madrassas first underwent "religious training" for several weeks before being recruited by Taliban recruiters - who often appeared in the company of ISI officers - and sent to the front. Every month, the heads of all JUI madrasas met with an ISI officer in Quetta to discuss the operational procedures and funding.

The great double game soon proved to be an institutional difficulty for the ISI.[65] Under the watchful eyes of Western intelligence agencies, it was almost impossible for them to help the CIA on the one hand and on the other hand to lead the Taliban. This challenge was overcome through privatisation, specifically the construction of a new secret organization that was to operate outside the military and intelligence apparatus. Former ISI-coaches of the Taliban as well as retired Pashtun officers of the army and especially the Frontier Corps were re-hired on a contractual basis. Logistics and funding no longer went directly via the ISI but the less closely observed Frontier Corps. As already described, the participation of a frontier corps had already been a feature of Pakistan's support of the Taliban Government from 1996-2001[66]   

By the end of 2005, even retentive analysts of the U.S. State Department stated in a report to Vice President Cheney: "Some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistani cities, and may still enjoy support from the lower echelons of Pakistan’s ISI.“[67] In 2006, the Taliban intensified their offensives in the south and east of Afghanistan. The battles in Helmand provided clear evidence to the NATO of Pakistan's support of the Taliban.[68] A joint intelligence report of the U.S., NATO and the Afghan executive of June 2006 describes the role of Pakistan unequivocally: "ISI operatives reportedly pay a significant number of Taliban living/operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight. […] A large number of those fighting are doing so under duress as a result of pressure from ISI […] The insurgency cannot survive without its sanctuary in Pakistan, which provides freedom of movement, safe havens, logistic and training facilities, a base for recruitment, communications for command and control, and a secure environment for collaboration with foreign extremist groups. The sanctuary of Pakistan provides a seemingly endless supply of potential new recruits for the insurgency […]”.[69] The interface between the ISI and the Taliban was in Quetta - the lair of the Rabari-Shura - in whose vicinity the ISI had training camps and where the Pakistani gave logistical assistance to the Taliban.[70] There are clear indications that in the capital of Balochistan the ISI went as far as to give direct help to organise Taliban offensives. For example, according to a report published by WikiLeaks from the "Afghan War Diary", ISI agents met with the Taliban leaders in Quetta  in June 2006. At this meeting they are supposed to have urged the Taliban to attack Maruf, a district of Kandahar.[71] In fact, the Taliban soon after launched an offensive to regain control of Maruf. Apart from the two sources cited here, there is further evidence that the ISI continued putting fighters and commanders of the Taliban under pressure. An example is the case of the local commander Lal Din, who was killed in an attack of the coalition forces in January 2007. Shortly afterwards, members of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in eastern Afghanistan gave evidence of what Lal Din's younger brother, Fakir, had told them: namely, that Lal Din had confided to Fakir that he had been urged by the ISI to continue his fight in Afghanistan.[72] If we cast our minds back to the fact that as early as 2002 the ISI had put pressure on the Haqqani group to resume the armed fight and had threatened fugitive Taliban families with extradition to the U.S. unless they remained in the Pakistani cities to which they had fled, it becomes evident that Pakistani intelligence plays the role not only of supporting the Taliban, but rather as the driving force behind the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The drafted support of the ISI for the insurgents in Afghanistan continued over the following years and reached a bloody climax with the suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008. This attack, in which 40 people, including the Indian military attache, were killed, was most likely the act of the Haqqani network and the ISI.[73] Five days after the attack, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen and the Deputy Director of the CIA, Stephen Kappes, travelled to Islamabad and showed General Kayani and the political leaders their evidence of the complicity of the ISI and the fighters of Haqqani. Musharraf and Kayani confirmed "that elements of ISI may be out of control" and the Pakistani government responded to the visit - during which Mullen and Kappes had put them under pressure by making concrete demands - by arresting several members of the Taliban Shura in Quetta.[74] However, the Haqqani network was never addressed - although army and intelligence service would have been in a position to do so. The U.S. diplomats in Pakistan recognised: "The Army/ISI can do the job, but they cling to ‘old think‘ […]“.[75]

A variety of different and independent sources indicate that the extensive, comprehensive and systematic support for the Taliban and the ISI has been maintained also during the last two years. The U.S. State Department clearly stated in a secret background analysis of 30 December 2009: “Pakistan‘s intermittent support to terrorist groups and militant organizations threatens to undermine regional security and endanger U.S. national security objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar e-Taiba] and other extremist organizations. These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas. This network of social service institutions readily provides extremist organizations with recruits, funding and infrastructure for planning new attacks.”[76] Even the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), which has traditionally played an important role in the region, considers the Afghan Taliban to be largely under the control of Pakistan.[77] Some Taliban were indeed said to be against such a strong influence of Pakistan and would have preferred to pursue their own goals without outside interference, General Massoudi, Director General of Internal Affairs of the GIP in January 2010 told Barnett R. Rubin, the Special Advisor to the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan of the U.S. government during a meeting. However, this was but a weak group. The vast majority of the Taliban, he continued, were exploited by foreign powers, and only used as "fuel for the fight". These powers, like Iran and Pakistan made the uneducated Afghans believe that the U.S. was working against the Afghan people. The Saudi intelligence service identified two reasons for Pakistan's Afghanistan policy. Firstly, Pakistan was very concerned about losing influence in Afghanistan to India and Iran. “The Pakistanis felt that they deserved to have a big part in Afghanistan […]. They wanted to be ‘the closest friend’ and were offended when they thought Iran or India were taking this role.” Secondly, the Pakistani-Afghan border was an important factor, “even if the Pakistanis didn’t say it. This single issue was a very important factor in the 1980’s when Pakistan was deciding which mujahidin groups to support. […] Pakistan would support only those leaders who promised to recognize the Durand Line as an international border. This was why Pakistan did not support Ahmad Shah Massoud. Incidentally, at that time Masudi was working for GIP chief Prince Turki al-Faisal with Afghanistan as an area of ​​responsibility.

Interviews with several commanders of the Taliban and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, carried out by Matt Waldman of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, illustrate the kinds of assistance that the ISI provided the insurgents with and the considerable influence of Pakistan on the resistance in Afghanistan.[78] Even if with a critical analysis of the source these statements have to be taken with some caution, they seem to be credible in their central points, on the one hand through the corresponding testimony of the commanders of various resistance groups and the other by the fact that they are confirmed by documents from the U.S. State Department, countless front reports of the American military in Afghanistan, testimony of former Pakistani generals as well as statements of Afghan government officials. For example, in 2010, Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and one of the leading experts of the Pakistani military, claimed that the ISI has maintained its traditional links to the Taliban.[79] And according to Afghanistan's national security adviser, Rangin Spanta, Pakistani influence on Afghanistan is still huge. When for example his government wanted to talk with the Haqqani group, it was only possible to do so via the ISI, which operates as the true power factor behind the insurgency.[80] Furthermore, the relationship with the ISI outlined by the commanders of the Taliban to Waldman essentially corresponds to the status quo since the emergence of the Taliban in the mid nineties: The Pakistani intelligence provided shelter to the Taliban and protects them with supplies, ammunition and money on a grand scale. In addition, the ISI provided the Taliban with tactical, operational and strategic intelligence.[81] The interviews even suggest the conclusion that the ISI supported the most violent and brutal commanders and units within the movement.[82] The ISI continues to tolerate and support military training camps for insurgents and participates in their recruitment in a large number of madrassas that encourage their students to actively fight in Afghanistan.[83]

The interviews, however, strongly suggest that the ISI not only supports the Taliban, but also exerts a strong influence on the group around Mullah Omar - both at the strategic and the operational-tactical level. This influence appears to happen both directly - through several ISI agents in the Quetta Shura - as well as indirectly, through the arrests of unpopular commanders. More will have to be said on the subject of the arrest of Taliban commanders. The presence of several ISI agents in the Quetta Shura means that the Pakistani intelligence service is involved at the highest management levels of the Taliban. A vice minister of the former Taliban regime, which is still collaborating frequently with the Taliban, said that the ISI takes responsibility for the meetings of the Quetta Shura[84] and exerts pressure on the participants prior to the meeting, especially when important decisions are to be taken.[85] The testimony of another expert Taliban commander is representative of many others: "Every commander knows about the involvement of the ISI in the leadership but we do not discuss it because we do not trust each other, and they are much stronger than us. They are afraid that if they say anything against the Taliban or ISI it would be reported to the higher ranks – and they may be removed or assassinated … Everyone sees the sun in the sky but cannot say it is the sun.” And the commander added: “The leadership of the Quetta Shura is in the hands of the ISI”.[86] In the face of the powerful internal forces of the movement one political leader went as far as to say, probably exaggerating a bit: "Everything is controlled by the ISI. Without the agreement of the ISI, then the insurgency would be impossible […]“.[87] These statements by the Taliban leader are confirmed by a comprehensive study of the history and structure of the Quetta Shura, which comes to the conclusion that the ISI "maintains a hand in controlling its operations."[88] However, in accordance with the brazen duplicity of his country, the Pakistani Brigadier Sejaad in autumn 2009 told representatives of the American and Canadian troops and Afghan border police that the existence of the Quetta Shura was pure fabrication and that the Americans had been taken in by rumours.[89] The results of Waldman about the Haqqani network correspond largely with those about the Taliban: Even the commanders of Haqqani report that their group is funded by the ISI, which is also taking care of training and recruitment, and is represented in the group of leaders of the network.[90]

Based on his interviews, Waldman answered three more crucial questions that are controversial among observers: Firstly, the support of the Afghan resistance is official ISI policy, secondly it is offered by both active and former ISI officers, and thirdly it is approved at the highest level of Pakistan's civilian government under President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani.[91] There is sufficient evidence in the source material presented here to prove that the current support of the Taliban continues to be official policy of the ISI (meaning that active ISI officers are involved in it too). The same conclusion is reached in a study by Seth Jones, who notes that the United States in mid-2008 had collected solid evidence of the complicity of the leaders of the ISI.[92]

While it is beyond doubt that the assistance of the Taliban is sanctioned by the upper echelons of the ISI, the involvement of Pakistan's civilian government, in office since 2008, can probably not yet be conclusively evaluated. Still, the thesis of Waldman is supported by the study of Christine Fair, which also comes to the conclusion that the Army does not operate alone.[93] In sharp contrast, the leaders of the Pakistani government presented themselves to their American colleagues as a reliable ally in the war on terror and underlined their determination to fight the Taliban.[94] The United States seemed at first to buy into these affirmations. Thus, the embassy in Islamabad in February 2009 stated that Zardari and Gilani had turned against the Taliban. According to them, the military and the ISI had not yet taken this step and would continue to support the insurgents in Afghanistan as an instrument of foreign policy.[95] But apparently the U.S. changed their assessment. For, already in September 2009 an assessment of the Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy in the State Department repeatedly stated that "the Pakistani establishment" was supporting the Taliban as a key part of its National Security Strategy, directed at India as the perceived primary threat.[96] The somewhat vague term, "Pakistani establishment" probably includes the civilian government of Pakistan and has been coined in order to avoid having to explicitly name the latter.

The documents published on the Internet platform WikiLeaks as the "Afghan War Diary" in the summer of 2010, which portray the ISI as the main foreign supporter of the Taliban, seem to illustrate three other characteristics of the relationship between Pakistan and the insurgents in Afghanistan:[97] The key role of the former ISI Director General Gul, conspiracies to kill Afghan leaders like Hamid Karzai as well as the orchestration of suicide bombings by the ISI. The sources are problematic, since the documents are mostly reports from the front of soldiers and employees of the intelligence services of the international forces and don't amount to intelligence service analyses, or even "finished intelligence". In addition, the sources of the reports are often connected to the Afghan secret service (who would consider Pakistan an enemy) or are paid informants. Though plausible, these characteristics therefore still need verification by independent sources. However, neither the Afghan government nor the government of a NATO state doubted the key points of the documents. Their representatives, such as U.S. President Barack Obama, emphasized on the contrary, that they contained "nothing new".[98] In addition, numerous reports are based on sources classified as reliable by the U.S. military, and current as well as former members of the U.S. executive consider the image of the collaboration of the ISI with the Taliban to be largely consistent with classified intelligence analyses.[99] Despite the questionable quality of the sources the main findings of the Afghan War Diary regarding Pakistan's support for the Taliban should therefore be briefly summed up.

According to numerous documents, General Hamid Gul, who had led the ISI in the final stages of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1987 to 1989, remains a driving force and organizing hand among the Taliban, as well as the groups of Hekmatyar and Haqqani, whom he had already supported as ISI director.[100] The front reports describe Gul as a major arms supplier of the Taliban and as a mastermind of suicide bombings. Gul is also said to have urged the Taliban commanders to put their operational focus on Afghanistan, so that Pakistan in return accept their presence in Pakistan's tribal areas. These reports are given additional weight by the pressure of the U.S. on the UN to put Gul on a list of international terrorists, and by testimony from senior members of the Obama administration, who described the general as a critical link between active Pakistani officers and the insurgents.[101]

According to the documents, ISI agents have even hatched plans to assassinate Afghan leaders.[102] President Karzai is said to have been among the persons targeted: In a warning in August 2008, an ISI colonel is identified who is said to have told a Talib to bring about the assassination of Karzai.[103] Finally, the Afghan War Diary also recorded the attempts by ISI agents to manage the network of suicide bombers in Afghanistan, who since 2006 have been plying their deadly trade.[104] Various documents describe how current and former ISI agents, among whom the apparently omnipresent General Gul, recruit candidates for suicide attacks in madrassas in Peshawar, who are then trained in Pakistan. American intelligence agencies realised that the Haqqani network unleashed suicide bombers to attack the representative of the Indian government in Afghanistan, aid workers and engineers on behalf of the ISI. This evidence for the involvement of the ISI in suicide attacks corresponds to the already discussed complicity of Pakistan's secret service in the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and is supported by the study of Matt Waldman.[105]

The Baradar Case: A Symbol of Pakistan's Double Game

In Mid-February 2010, the New York Times reported on its front page the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund, the number two of the Afghan Taliban leaders, by Pakistani security forces.[106] Baradar was arrested at an Islamic school near Karachi. In the United States, this arrest was hailed as a great success. On the one hand because this appeared to deal a serious blow to the leaders of the insurgency in Afghanistan, but on the other hand also because many experts and commentators seemed to recognise this as a long-awaited change in the strategy of the Pakistani leaders. Soon, however, critical voices were increasing, not least from Pakistan itself, which considered the operation against Baradar and other cadres of Taliban and al-Qaeda to be the pursuit of Pakistan's own interests rather than a cooperation in the "war on terror".

Baradar, probably born in 1968, is a Zirak-Durrani Pashtun and belongs to the Popalzai tribe. During the Soviet occupation, he fought with the mujahedeen against the Soviets. After the occupation, he is said to have founded and led an Islamic school in Maiwand together with Mullah Omar. In 1994 he was among the founders of the Taliban, who, according to their founding myth, created the new movement under the impression of the disgusting behaviour of some commanders.[107] Varying information is circulating about his function during the Taliban era. He is said to have served as governor of the provinces of Herat and Nimroz, have been deputy chief of staff and held the position of deputy defence minister of the Taliban government.[108] After the commencement of operations of the United States and its allies to topple the Taliban in October 2001 Baradar is said to have got his fellow combatant Mullah Omar to safety in the mountains with a motorcycle.[109] He himself was imprisoned by coalition troops, but was set free after a short time following intervention by the ISI.[110] Since then, Baradar has increasingly become the real leader of the Taliban. Mullah Omar appeared increasingly less frequently and operational decisions seem to have been increasingly made by Baradar. Meanwhile, he is considered "de-facto leader" of the Taliban.[111]

Baradar also has connections with President Karzai. When, in late 2001 he returned to Afghanistan with the help of the Americans and tried to regain control in his home region, he got into a dangerous situation during negotiations with warlords. Baradar saved him and in return got the promise that he would not be prosecuted by the government of Hamid Karzai for his time as Taliban minister. Karzai is also said to have promised him to let the Taliban participate in a new Afghan government. This deal never materialised, and after the coalition troops attacked his home, Baradar fled to Pakistan.[112] From there, he was involved in the development of resistance against the U.S. and NATO forces. Baradar became more and more of a leader figure, even though his name and prominence were probably familiar only to a few. His rise was also helped by the elimination of colleagues and rivals, such as the notorious Mullah Dadullah.[113] Since 2007, Baradar also seems to have been the strong man in the highest military body of the Taliban, the Quetta Shura.

During the whole period, the contact between Baradar and the government in Kabul seems never to have been interrupted. According to a Newsweek article by Ron Moreau, who has communicated with Baradar also by e-mail, the Taliban leader actively supported entering into discussions with the central government of Karzai on at least two occasions, 2004 and early 2009.[114] Baradar therefore had a very influential position: Firstly, as a leading member of the Quetta Shura, he had a crucial role in shaping the military strategy of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Secondly, he also had ties to Pakistan's ISI, which becomes evident, if from nothing else, from the fact that the agency released him from American captivity. And thirdly, Baradar has never let the connection to the government in Kabul be interrupted and has signalled his readiness for dialogue.

On the morning of the 8th of February 2010, Pakistani security forces stormed a madrassa in Karachi.[115] They arrested several people. The ISI had allegedly become active following a tip-off, but had been unable to locate the leader of the Taliban themselves. Therefore, he had requested the assistance of American experts. When Baradar switched on his mobile phone, the trap snapped shut. The technicians of the CIA had located his position and guided the Pakistani security forces to it. It is unclear who knew how much about the person they targeted. The ISI was said to have asked the Americans for help without informing them about the purpose, and the statement of the CIA "that the ISI initially wasn’t aware of the fact that they had arrested Baradar either caused hilarity in Islamabad".[116] While, after learning of the identity of the high-ranking prisoner, the arrest was celebrated as a huge blow to the Taliban in the United States, some questions arose in connection with the spectacular way in which it had been carried out. The mere fact that Baradar was arrested near the metropolis of Karachi should be cause for reflection, as the Pakistanis have been denying the fact that their country served as a refuge and abode of leaders of both the Taliban and the al-Qaeda for years. Three explanations are possible:

1. It was a fluke. The ISI really had no idea who they were arresting;

2. It was a change of strategy. Pakistan actually has made a U-turn on its Taliban policy and will deny the insurgents help in the future;

3. It was part of the double game. Pakistan is once again playing a double game and has, with Baradar, taken the most influential person who sought a dialogue and a solution through negotiation with the Government of Karzai, out of circulation, because Pakistan saw its strategic objectives endangered.

The first explanation can be excluded, because on the basis of the above-mentioned earlier contacts of ISI to Baradar it may be assumed that he was well known in Pakistan. A high NATO official confirmed this assessment: "Baradar is too high-profile for them not to have known who it was.“[117] Nor is it likely that individual elements of the ISI were acting independently. This leaves the question of whether the change in thinking that has long been desired by the U.S. has actually taken place in Pakistan or whether the leaders of the country have once more betrayed their allies in favour of their own goals.

Whatever the case may be, the United States responded to news of the arrest with pleasure. Experts and commentators spoke of a "sea change in Pakistani behavior",[118] a "turning point in Pakistan’s policy towards the Taliban“[119] or a "strategic recalibration"[120]. With the arrest, Pakistan seemed actually to have met a key requirement of the Americans, namely to begin cracking down on the Taliban with more energy than before. The Taliban are infiltrating Afghanistan from the Pashtun tribal areas in Pakistan and carry out attacks on NATO troops in the country. 2010 attacks on supply lines in Pakistan also became more frequent. The arrest of Baradar was neither the first nor the last. In fact, the Pakistani authorities can present us with an impressive list of arrested Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists. The names include that of the former finance minister as well as the former police chief of the Taliban. Ashley Tellis has no fewer than 17 names in his report,[121] which could actually indicate a change in the Pakistan’s attitude. Many indications, however, contradict this interpretation and once again blame the familiar double game of the Pakistani intelligence service ISI, the military and the Pakistani government.

Tellis points out that except for Baradar and Maulavi Abdul Kabir, none of those arrested belonged to the Quetta Shura and therefore none had the corresponding influence within the Taliban.[122] Doubts are also in order about the seriousness of the arrests. On several occasions, the Pakistani authorities have arrested Taliban leaders only to set them free again.[123] Maybe sometimes even with the express consent of the civilian leaders. In late March or early April 2010, according to Waldman, around 50 Taliban were released from captivity. This after President Zardari had personally assured them that they would be released: "reportedly, he told them they were arrested because he was under a lot of pressure from the Americans".[124] In addition to this, there is another important aspect: In addition to pressure from the Americans, Pakistan is at risk of a negotiated peace between the government and the insurgents in Afghanistan, without its interests being adequately considered. Precisely these fears were fuelled by secret negotiations that Baradar and other Taliban leaders arrested in February 2010 had undertaken with the Karzai government.[125] Baradar and the other high-ranking detainees like Mullah Abdul Rauf Aliza and Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhundzada belonged to the moderate forces within the Taliban who were ready to engage in peace negotiations.[126] And Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason have come to the conclusion that the arrests were intended to withdraw any Taliban leaders who had a positive attitude towards negotiations with the Afghan government from circulation. For them, it is evident that: "This is not cooperation against the Taliban by an allied state; it is collusion with the Taliban by an enemy state.“[127] Waldman quotes a diplomat, according to whom the Pakistani Government had all high-ranking Taliban, who had signalled their readiness for peace talks arrested by February 2010.[128] He concludes that Pakistan wanted to demonstrate that it would block negotiations until it would be fully involved into the process. That message seems to have been understood like this also by the rebels. In interviews, most of those asked interpreted the arrests as an attempt to block the peace negotiations.[129] Voices expressing strong doubts about a change of thinking within the military and civilian government can also be heard from within Pakistan itself. Members of the Pakistani executive reveal their intention to stop the secret peace negotiations Baradar had held with the Afghan government, excluding Pakistan. A member of the security forces confirmed: "We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us. […] We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.“[130] Western observers in the country are sharing this view. For example, a high NATO staff admitted that: “We have been played before. That the Pakistanis picked up Baradar to control the tempo of the negotiations is absolutely plausible.”[131] A former diplomat with extensive experience in the Middle East also considers the wave of arrests to be a warning of ISI directed at the Taliban. Finally, a report of the American Congressional Research Service about the assassination of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 also noted that Washington and other Western governments have seemingly been anxious for some time that Pakistan had begun to take a more aggressive and unilateralist course in 2010 to determine the progress of peace negotiations in Afghanistan. Signs suggesting this were the arrests of certain Taliban who had pushed negotiations with the Karzai government, as well as the protection of the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan by Pakistan.[132]

Thus, there remains little room for other explanations than the one that Pakistan has once again been playing a double game: On the one hand, it appeased the U.S. by giving them the impression that it was now seriously cracking down on the extremists on its territory. On the other hand, it influenced the strategy of the Taliban so that negotiations with the Karzai government without Pakistani permission are not an option, thus keeping the Taliban as a proxy for the enforcement of its own strategic interests in Afghanistan. At the same time it strengthened its control over the Taliban.


Since September the 11th 2001, the subsequent acceptance of the "Seven Points" by President Musharraf and the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in autumn 2001, Pakistan has been presenting itself as a reliable coalition partner of the United States and the West in the "war on terrorism" - and has been publicly acknowledged as such by NATO countries. In December 2009 President Obama reiterated characteristically: "[…] we are committed to a partnership that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual trust“.[133] And as recently as April 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense called Pakistan an Ally and "effective partner".[134] As a result of its apparent strategic U-turn, Pakistan has received $ 11.6 billion in Coalition Support Funding (CSF) for its security apparatus since the September the 11th, and on top of that another 6 billion dollars in economic aid, all by the United States.[135] This means that Pakistan has received almost 90% of the total CSF worldwide.[136] And the U.S. intend to pay $ 7.5 billion additional aid dollars over the next five years.[137] Pakistani officers even sit in the Tripartite Joint Intelligence Operations Center, which is located in the ISAF headquarters in Kabul.[138]

Behind this façade of a faithful ally in the "war on terrorism," Pakistan is playing a bold double game, by means of which the outcome of the war in Afghanistan has been blown wide open: As was demonstrated unequivocally in the present study, the ISI at the forefront does give the Taliban - since the foundation of Mullah Omar's group from 1994 to today - complete, very comprehensive and systematic support. The ISI supplies the Taliban with money, weapons, ammunition and intelligence, provides for their military training, organizes the recruitment of new Islamist militants in the madrassas and helps in planning military offensives. Although the organisation, the nature and partly also the extent of assistance vary and have evolved over the 16 years, the support outlined is an iron constant in the relationship between the ISI and the Taliban - from the founding of the "religious students" and their government in Kabul to their armed uprising in 2010. Moreover, since the flight of the Taliban from Afghanistan in the winter of 2001/2002, the ISI has been harbouring Taliban leaders in Balochistan and also supports the other two major factions of the rebellion in Afghanistan, the Hizb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and especially the Haqqani network. There can be no doubt: Without the support and guidance from Pakistan, the insurgency in Afghanistan in its present extent would be impossible.

But the ISI does not only fuel the Afghan insurgency by increasing the capacity of the Taliban and its allies as by far the most important of its foreign sponsors. It also manipulated the intentions of these groups. The ISI has a significant influence on the insurgents - including at the strategic level - which is being applied both directly, through ISI agents in the Quetta Shura, as well as indirectly, through (threatened) arrests (as in the case of Mullah Baradar). Since 2002, the Pakistani intelligence service has been putting its Afghan proxy under a lot of pressure to continue the armed struggle against the Kabul government and the international forces by threatening to murder, arrest or extradite them to the U.S. The attempt of the ISI to control, or at least to influence them, can be detected already during the period of struggle of the mujahedeen against the Red Army and has been shaping the sometimes-problematic relationship between the ISI and the Taliban since the beginning.

The Pakistani military and the ISI play their big double game with almost diabolical insolence. On the one hand, a portion of the billions of dollars they receive from the U.S. for the "war on terror" ends up by reaching the Taliban - of the main enemies of the United States in this war - and their allies, who, with this money, kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.[139] On the other hand, the ISI and the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies exploit the American troops to increase their control over the Taliban and to keep the Afghan insurgency alive. This happened during the arrest of Mullah Baradar and other senior Taliban in February 2010.

But why does Pakistan in general and the ISI in particular play this great double game? Why does the ISI still support the Taliban on a grand scale? This in spite of the carrot and stick policy of the United States, which is manifested in massive pressure, sweetened with two-digit billion sums. Despite the growing blowback caused by the Taliban in Pakistan, who, since 2007, have developed into a serious threat for Pakistan and have at times controlled large areas in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and the NWFP (North Western Frontier Province). Even though Pakistan's Afghanistan policy can certainly not be explained in a purely mono-causal way, there is a superior motif that since the mid-1990s has been present in all major stakeholders: The perception of India as the largest and existential threat. This perception, associated with deep fears, explains the aim of Pakistan's security strategy of a stable Government in Afghanistan, which, if not directly controlled by Islamabad, should at least be well-disposed towards it, and in any event should be free of Indian influence. For 15 years, the ISI has been linking this hope almost exclusively with the Taliban. The concept of "strategic depth" is closely connected with this strategic national interest: This means access to enough space west of the Indus for a reshaping of the Pakistani army, if they were to be pushed behind the river by an Indian invasion, and also implies a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan. Although the need for "strategic depth" has been convincingly refuted by Pakistan's civilian strategists, the concept will always be playing a paramount role in the thinking of military leaders.[140] As recently as 2010, General Kayani, the Chief of Staff of the Pakistan army, has reduced the aim of his country to a simple denominator: "We want a strategic depth in Afghanistan.“[141]

In a way that is incompatible with this primary objective of Pakistan's security strategy, namely to minimise the influence and presence of India in Afghanistan, New Delhi has been taking an important role in the civilian reconstruction in Afghanistan, in which it has already invested between 0.5 und 1.3 billion dollars:[142] India has been financing roads, bridges, canals, schools, training Afghan officials and providing even for the reconstruction of the Afghan Parliament.[143] India's reconstruction strategy, one of the best and most comprehensive ever in the Hindu Kush, was designed to gain ground in every sector of Afghan society, to give India a good reputation in the Afghan population, to derive the maximum political advantage and of course to prevent Pakistani influence.[144] In addition to increased development assistance, India has, encouraged by the U.S. government, increased its investments in and its trade with Afghanistan.[145] India also maintains close relations with the Karzai administration. It has established a network of four consulates in Afghanistan, including by reopening of consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad, which had been closed since 1979, and the country's Foreign Intelligence Service, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has also expanded its presence and increased its activities.[146] In addition to the civil commitment, India would also like to take an important role in training the Afghan security forces. "[We] will not leave Afghanistan because we have strategic interests there“, YK Sinha, secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran in the Indian Foreign Ministry, told a representative of the U.S. government at a meeting in February 2010.[147] In short, India has been trying to profit from the lack of Pakistani influence over the Afghan government in an increasingly offensive way. The ISI in turn tries to counter India's - perceived or actual - influence by supporting the insurgents in Afghanistan as a deputy.

A secondary theme for the Pakistani support for the Taliban is the question of Pashtunistan and the controversial border demarcation with Afghanistan. During the second Anglo-Afghan war, Afghanistan had had to cede parts of Western Balochistan, Quetta and the bulk of the FATA to Britain in the Treaty of Gandamak in 1879. In 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand in accordance with this contract determined Afghanistan's present borders with Pakistan (then British India) thereby permanently dividing the Pashtun tribal areas.[148] The "Durand Line" has since then not been accepted by any Afghan government[149] and has always been rejected by a large number of Pashtuns on either side of the border.[150] Pakistan has therefore traditionally tried to gain influence among the Pashtun, to prevent the emergence of a Pashtunistan and to silence Afghan demands for territory in northwest Pakistan. This objective provides a second important explanation as to why the ISI has been continuously supporting the Taliban since the mid-nineties. For unlike the Ghilzai-Pashtuns, who dominate in the upper echelons of the Taliban, their historical rivals, the Durrani Pashtuns, who, in turn, have most government posts in Kabul are known to support of the idea of a "Pashtunistan" decidedly and make claims to Pakistani territory.[151] For Islamabad, Taliban depending on Pakistan therefore take on the meaning of a kind of universal advantage: Their support ensures continued influence in Afghanistan without the Taliban-dominated government in Kabul, although Pashtun, bringing up the question of "Pashtunistan" and the Durand Line. Pakistan's Afghanistan policy is thereby strongly justified by a historical perspective. On the one hand by the fateful legacy of the colonial boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but above all by the by profound anxieties putting a strain on the relationship between Pakistan and India, which began with the emergence of the two States in the wake of the decolonization of British India in 1947. Since then, the rivalry has been cemented by four wars.[152]

Epilogue: The Long Shadow of Abbottabad

The targeted killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) village by U.S. Special Forces on 2 May 2011 in Abbottabad, only fifty kilometres north of Islamabad as the crow flies, catapulted the relations between the Pakistani army and Islamist extremists in the headlines of world press. Experts were rubbing their eyes in amazement. How was it possible that the most wanted man in the world could settle in the immediate vicinity of a military garrison and remain undisturbed for almost five years? Some people, like the former MI6 agent Nigel Inkster of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) expressed their surprise that the ISI, "by far the most competent and professional intelligence service in South Asia, should have failed to notice or investigate the location where bin Laden was found, given its unusual character and proximity to important military facilities, the security of which would have been a constant preoccupation."[153] Furthermore, the analysis of a mobile phone belonging to the courier of Osama bin Laden that was seized during the commando action revealed close ties between the Qaeda leaders in hiding and Islamist Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM).[154] The Pakistani HUM, which has originally operated primarily in Kashmir has traditionally had close ties to both the ISI and Al Qaeda and is likely to have played an important role in the logistical support of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.[155] Not only the site, but also the timing of the assassination raised questions about the role of the ISI. Finally, the relations between the United States and Pakistan had been increasingly strained since the beginning of the year, and between the CIA and the ISI a downright intelligence war had broken out behind the scenes, in which the affair of the CIA Contractor Raymond Davis represents an important milestone in a spiral of escalation.[156] At the time, some analysts therefore rightly pointed out that Pakistan had already several times plotted successes in combating high-level terrorists in particularly favourable moments as a kind of liberating act, "and perhaps played the 'Osama card' just as U.S.-Pakistan relations were at an acutely low ebb."[157]

As early as late April, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, had publicly accused the ISI on one of his many visits to Islamabad in an unusually undiplomatic note of directly supporting the Haqqani network and of fomenting the fight against international troops in Afghanistan. After the killing of Bin Laden these opinions were increasingly being voiced.[158] Hanif Atmar, former Afghan Interior Minister identified the ISI as one of the sources of funding insurgents in Afghanistan - in addition to Al Qaeda and the "war economy".[159] The former U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, accused Pakistan of playing a double game in a column in The National Interest. As was the case of the Bush Administration, Obama and his Government hadn't succeeded in causing a change of direction of Pakistani politics either: "Islamabad wants to keep the pipeline of American assistance flowing while limiting U.S. anti-terror operations in Pakistan, Particularly the drone attacks. It is also escalating pressure on U.S. forces in Afghanistan by, among other things, allowing factories to operate in places like Chaman that are producing improvised explosive devices [IEDs] designed to maim the legs and genital areas of soldiers. Its overall design seeks to turn its neighbor into a Pakistani satrapy."[160]

In the weeks after the killing of Bin Laden, IED factories continued to be a defining feature of American-Pakistani relations. In mid-May, Marc Grossman, (the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan of the Obama administration) and CIA Deputy Director Michael J. Morell gave General Kayani and ISI Chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha one IMINT video with the exact locations of two factories in which Afghan insurgents produced IEDs as part of a confidence building measure. One of the factories was in a girls' school in Miram Shah, the hometown of the headquarters of the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, and the other one was in South Waziristan. When on June 4th units of the Pakistani military finally stormed the two facilities, they found them both deserted. It seems likely that the ISI had warned the extremists. A high-ranking officer of the Pakistan military also claimed that the United States had shared information about other locations of facilities of the insurgents like arsenals, which had subsequently also been found empty. Even the Pakistani officer expressed the suspicion "that perhaps there was a tip-off."[161] However, the Pakistani leaks were not limited to weapons factories and weapons caches: A senior representative of the Obama administration admitted that due to lack of confidence the Pakistani military would be often not be privy to details of the drone attacks since in the past, target people had been able to escape them after specific warnings: "That would presumably be by the Pakistani side, which still favors a strategy of choosing between 'good' Taliban, those who do Pakistan's bidding in Afghanistan and 'bad', those who do not."[162]

In early July, a prominent former commander of various militant groups, who had been in the pay of the ISI as a fighter, leader and trainer of insurgents in Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan since the nineties, went public. In an interview with the New York Times, he said that the Pakistani military and ISI leaders continue to support the Afghan Taliban as a deputy in their fight against the Afghan government and international troops. "There are two bodies running these affairs: mullahs and retired generals," added the former commander, and specifically named former ISI directors. "These people have a very big role still."[163]

The Afghan government has also begun to realise that success in peace efforts with the Taliban can only go via Pakistan as a vital force behind the insurgency. As a consequence, President Hamid Karzai travelled to Islamabad in June, where during a meeting with the civilian and military leadership he sought to win the support of Pakistan for the peace talks.[164] Finally, by means of threats and arrests the ISI continues to thwart the efforts of individual commanders to enter into negotiations with the government in Kabul without Islamabad's consent. As late as the beginning of this year, for example, Mullah Agha Muhammad, a brother of Mullah Baradar, was briefly detained by Pakistani security forces to prevent him from opening discussions with the Afghan Government; the same warning that had previously been addressed to his brother a year before. In this sense, former UN special envoy for Iraq and Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi and former U.S. UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering who together lead an international task force on Afghanistan, recently concluded that the Pakistani military wants to influence any future agreement between the Taliban and Kabul, and therefore seeks to control the insurgents.[165] But yet another factor has recently been added to the efforts of Pakistan: Islamabad tries to use to its advantage the fact that for the peace process Kabul is dependent on its eastern neighbours, insofar as that Afghanistan is supposed to be moved into a new strategic direction and to be removed from its alliance with the U.S. and India and into the Pakistan-China axis.[166]


Ahmed, Ishtiaq, The Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence: A Profile, ISAS Insights, No. 35, 15. August 2008.

Burke, Jason, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam, London, 2004.

Davis, Anthony, How the Taliban Became a Military Force, in: Maley, William (Ed.), Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban, London, 1998, 43-71.

Fair, Christine, The Time for Sober Realism: Renegotiating US Relations with Pakistan, The Washington Quarterly 32, 2 (2009), 149-172.

Filkins, Dexter, Pakistanis Tell of Motive in Taliban Leader’s Arrest, New York Times, 23 August 2010, 1.

Gall, Carlotta, Pakistani Military Still Cultivates Militant Groups, a Former Fighter Says, New York Times, 4 July 2011, (7 August 2011).

Gebauer, Matthias; Goetz, John; Hoyng, Hans; Koelbl, Susanne; Rosenbach, Marcel; Schmitz, Gregor Peter, Die Afghanistan-Protokolle: Enthüllung brisanter Kriegsdokumente, Spiegel Online, 25. July 2010,,1518,708311,00.html (31 December 2010).

Giustozzi, Antonio (Ed.), Decoding the New Taliban Insights from the Afghan Field, London, 2009.

Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity: The Role of Pakistan, Russia, and Iran in Fueling the Civil War, Washington D.C. et al., July 2001.

Johnson, Thomas H.; Mason, M. Chris, No Sign Until the Burst of Fire: Understanding the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier, International Security 32, 4 (2008), 41-77.

_____. Down the AfPak Rabbit Hole, Foreign Policy, 1. March 2010, (31 December 2010).

Jones, Seth, In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan, New York, 2009.

Khalilzad , Zalmay, The Great Pakistan Rethink, The National Interest, 5 May 2011, (12 May 2011).

Lefeuvre, Georges, Afghanische Patrioten: Die Paschtunen, die Nation und die Taliban, Le Monde Diplomatique [German edition], Nr. 9312, 8 October 2010, 14-15.

Mazzetti, Mark; Perlez, Jane; Schmitt, Eric; Lehren, Andrew W., Pakistan Aids Insurgency in Afghanistan, Reports Assert, New York Times, 25 July 2010.

Rashid, Ahmed, Taliban: Afghanistans Gotteskrieger und der Dschihad, München, 2002.

_____. Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, New York, 2008.

Rollins, John, Osama bin Laden’s Death: Implications and Considerations, Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, 5 May 2011.

Ruttig, Thomas, The Other Side: Dimensions of the Afghan Insurgency: Causes, Actors and Approaches to Talks, Afghanistan Analysts Network, July 2009.

Saif, Abdul Salam, My Life with the Taliban, London, 2010.

Steele, Jonathan, Gesucht : Taliban für den Frieden, Le Monde Diplomatique [German edition], Nr. 9312, 8 October 2010, 12-13.

Tellis, Ashley J., Pakistan and the War on Terror: Conflicted Goals, Compromised Performance, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington D.C. et al., 2008.

_____. Beradar, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban : What Gives?, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Outlook, Washington D.C., March 2010.

Tribal Analysis Center, The Quetta Shura: A Tribal Analysis, Williamsburg, 2009.

Waldman, Matt, The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship Between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents, Crisis State Research Centre Discussion Papers, No. 18, June 2010.

_____. Dangerous Liaisons with the Taliban : The Feasability and Risks of Negotiations, United States Institute of Peace, Special Report, No. 256, Washington D.C., October 2010.

Yousaf, Mohammed; Adkin, Mark, The Bear Trap: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, London, 1992.

[1] Founded in 1948, ISI is a military secret service of Pakistan. The exact number of employees is not known but it is estimated to be at least 25,000. There are a further 30,000 serving as informants or performing similar tasks. De jure, the ISI is subordinate to the Prime Minister, but de facto it is the Chief of Staff of the Army that the ISI reports to and from whom it receives its orders. The ISI, which is often referred to as a state within a state partially going about its own foreign policy, is undoubtedly the most powerful and most politicised of the Pakistani intelligence agencies. To see a detailed portrayal of the ISI: Ahmed, The Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence.

[2] Rashid, Taliban, 56.

[3] Rashid, Taliban, 58.

[4] Rashid, Taliban, 62.

[5] Rashid, Taliban, 69.

[6] Rashid, Taliban, 71, Davies, How the Taliban Became a Military Force, 43 ff.

[7] Davis, How the Taliban Became a Military Force, 46.

[8] Developments in Afghanistan, Memo to Ron McMullen, U.S. Department of State, 7 December 1994.

[9] Rashid, Taliban, 73. English translation by the authors.

[10] Developments in Afghanistan, Memo to Ron McMullen, U.S. Department of State, 7 December 1994.

[11] According to Jason Burke, a confrontation between the civilian and military leadership of the country was at the origin of the support for the Taliban. Cf: Burke. Al-Qaeda, 125-126. The same assessment has been given by a report by Human Rights Watch in 2001: "The subsequent shift to the Taliban also reflected changes in Pakistan’s domestic politics. Newly elected in 1993 Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto sought to move away from Hikmatyar and the ISI and find new ways to open trade routes in Central Asia." Cf: Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity, 25.

[12] Rashid, Taliban, 79.

[13] Davis, How the Taliban Became a Military Force, 52-53.

[14] Lieutenant General Tanai had been a general in the Afghan army and Defence Minister during the Soviet occupation. In 1990 he organized a coup with the help of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, but failed. Tanai then fled to Hekmatyar in Pakistan, where he is supposed to have settled to this day. Pakistan was also allegedly implicated in this coup. For instance, Benazir Bhutto had called upon the country to assist Tanai.

[15] Davis, How the Taliban Became a Military Force, 54.

[16] Ibid., 61.

[17] Rashid, Taliban, 88; Cf. also: Letter of GOP PERMREP to SYG on Afghanistan, Cable from U.S. Mission USUN New York to RUEHC/Secretary of State, 1 November 1995.

[18]Pakistan Afghan Policy: Anyone but Rabbani/Masood – Even the Taliban, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, October 1995, 2.

[19] Rashid, Taliban, 91. English translation by the authors. Imam is the "nom de guerre" of Colonel Sultan Amir, who had already been entrusted with the education of Mujahedeen; Davis, How the Taliban Became a Military Force, 45. On the role of Colonel Imam in the establishment of the Taliban, cf. also: Gall, Carlotta, Former Pakistani Officer Embodies a Policy Puzzle, New York Times, 3 March 2010, (10 August 2011).

[20] Rashid, Taliban, 94.

[21] Rashid, Taliban, 96.

[22] Rashid, Taliban, 97.

[23] Rashid, Taliban, 108f.

[24] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity, 23.

[25] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity, 25.

[26] Saif, My Life with the Taliban. See also: Steele, Gesucht: Taliban für den Frieden, 13.

[27] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 26; Pakistan Involvement in Afghanistan, Information Report to DIA Washington, Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, November 1996, (money); Scenesetter for Your Visit to Islamabad: Afghan Angle, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, January 1997, 9, (military advisors); Afghanistan: X Describes Pakistan’s Current Thinking, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, March 1998, 2,3,7 & 9, (weapons).

[28] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity, 23; Pakistan Interservice Intelligence, Information Report to DIA Washington, Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, October 1996, (ammunition, fuel); Afghanistan: X Describes Pakistan’s Current Thinking, 2,3,7 & 9, (ammunition and fuel); Afghanistan: Pakistanis to Regulate Wheat and Fuel Trade to Gain Leverage over Taliban, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 13 August 1997, 7, (fuel); Afghanistan: Taliban Seem to Have Less Funds and Supplies This Year, But the Problem Does Not Appear to Be That Acute, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, February 1999, (fuel); Scenesetter for Your Visit to Islamabad, 9, (diplomatic support); Official Informal – For SA Assistant Secretary Robin Raphel and SA/PAB, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, March 1997, 4, (diplomatic support).

[29] See for example: Rashid, Taliban, 183-195; Davis, How the Taliban Became a Military Force.

[30] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 29 & 52.

[31] Afghan-PAK Border Relations at Torkham Tense, Cable from U.S. Consulate Peshawar to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, October 1996.

[32] Afghanistan: X Briefs the Ambassador on His Activities. Pleads for Greater Activism by U.N, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, August 1997. 20 million Pakistani rupees are the equivalent of nearly a quarter of a million US dollars (December 2010).

[33] Afghanistan: Taliban Seem to Have Less Funds and Supplies This Year, 1.

[34] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity, 27.

[35] Ibid., 28. Based in part on an interview in June 1999 with Mollin Nayim, the Afghan intelligence chief with the Taliban.

[36] The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is a U.S. military intelligence service.

[37] Pakistan involvement in Afghanistan.

[38] Ibid.

[39] The following statements are based on: Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity, 30f.; Yousaf & Adkin, The Bear Trap, 40-42.

[40] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 46. Apparently, the support of Pakistan for the Taliban had been declining since 1998, because the Pakistani government, buffeted by economic problems and economic sanctions that were imposed as a result of nuclear tests in 1998, had less money to allocate. Cf: Afghanistan: Taliban Seem to Have Less Funds and Supplies This Year, 1.

[41] The Nation, 13 July 2000. Musharraf made this statement at a press conference in Islamabad on 25 May 2000.

[42] For more about Ahmad, Aziz and Usmani, cf: Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 24, 28 & 29.

[43] Pakistani Support for Taliban, Cable from Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy Islamabad, U.S. Department of State, 26 September 2000, 1.

[44] Ibid., 2.

[45] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity, 26. Based on interviews with Taliban officials and diplomatic sources in Kabul and Islamabad. See also: Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 60.

[46] The Situation in Afghanistan and Its implications for International Peace and Security, Report of the Secretary General A/55/633-S/2000/1106, U.N. Secretary General, United Nations, 20 November 2000, 13.

[47] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 25.

[48] Ibid., 60.

[49] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity, 23. Based on interviews and e-mail communications with sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The number of 30 ISI trucks per day is also given by Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 60.

[50] Mahmud Plans 2nd Mission to Afghanistan, Cable form U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 24 September 2001; Saif, My Life with the Taliban. Quoted in: Steele, Gesucht: Taliban für den Frieden, 13.

[51] Mahmud Plans 2nd Mission to Afghanistan, 2.

[52] Mahmud Plans 2nd Mission to Afghanistan; Deputy Secretary Armitage – Mamoud Phone Call – September 18, 2001, Cable from Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy Islamabad, U.S. Department of State, 18 September 2001; Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 77.

[53] Deputy Secretary Armitage’s Meeting with General Mahmud: Actions and Support Expected of Pakistan in Fight Against Terrorism, Cable from Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy Islamabad, U.S. Department of State, 14 September 2001; Musharraf Accepts the Seven Points, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 14 September 2001.

[54] Quoted in: Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 78.

[55] For example Ruttig, The Other Side; Giustozzi, Decoding the New Taliban.

[56] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 221, 223 & 244.

[57] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 17.

[58] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 242.

[59] Ibid., 221 & 241.

[60] Ibid., 219.

[61] Gall, Pakistani Military Still Cultivates Militant Groups.

[62] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 13.

[63] For the following statements, cf: Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 222f. Rashid's analysis is based on confirmed U.S. and NATO intelligence reports, which are, amongst other sources, based on observations of American soldiers from bases along the eastern Afghan border, as well as recordings by U.S. drones and SIGINT from the U.S. base at Bagram.

[64] See also: Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 249f. The JUI is the largest Islamic party in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan.

[65] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 221f.

[66] Diplomatic representatives of the USA in Pakistan often complained about the inefficiency and poor provisioning of the Frontier Corps. However, the source material at hand rather invites the conclusion that not (just) incompetence and corruption, but in fact Pakistan's double game strategy is at the bottom of it. To give an example, in 2007 alone the Pakistani military had received from the U.S. $ 100 million to fund military assistance to the Frontier Corps, which by the end of the year had not even received basic medical assistance. Cf: Pakistan: Fixing Coalition Support Funding, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL, U.S. Department of State, 15 December 2007. It is very possible that the extensive medical assistance, which the U.S. had agreed to make available to the Frontier Corps, but which never got there, instead arrived in the medical supply station for the Taliban, which was built by the Pakistani military on the border with Afghanistan.

[67] Counterterrorism Activities (Neo-Taliban), Issue Paper for Vice President of the United States (VPOTUS), U.S. Department of State, 9 December 2005, 1.

[68] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 360.

[69] Insurgency and Terrorism in Afghanistan: Who Is Fighting and Why? (June 2006), in: Special Security Initiative of the Policy Action Group, Papers Presented to President Karzai at the Meeting of the Policy Action Group, Kabul, 9 July 2006, (22. December 2010).

[70] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 364.

[71] Mazzetti et al., Pakistan Aids Insurgency.

[72] MTG, field report from the Afghan War Diary, Regional Command East, Tracking Number 2007-045-142245-0241, 12 February 2007.

[73] See for example: Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 406; Mazzetti et al., Pakistan Aids Insurgency.

[74] Scenesetter for PM Gilani’s Visit to Washington, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 25 July 2008.

[75] Ibid. Another reaction of the Pakistani government was the proposal that the United States and the ISAF expand their border patrols to curb the drug trade in Afghanistan, with which the insurgents bought themselves weapons and funded military operations. However, it is likely that also in this case Pakistan continued its brazen duplicity. On the one hand, with this initiative they could appease the U.S. after the attack in Kabul, on the other hand they could increase their control over the Taliban by letting the international troops dry up alternative funding sources of the insurgents and thereby increase the former's dependence on their Pakistani supporters.

[76] Terrorist Finance: Action Request for Senior Level Engagement on Terrorism Finance, Cable from Secretary of State to RUEHIL/U.S. Embassy Islamabad, U.S. Department of State, 30 December 2009. This background information was supposed to serve the U.S. diplomats in Pakistan as a basis for talks with the Pakistani government, in which the Pakistanis were going to be urged to prohibit in particular the financing of the Taliban with funds from the Gulf States.

[77] Special Advisor to SRAP with Saudi Intel: What To Do about the Taliban?, Cable from U.S. Embassy Riyadh to RUEHC/Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 23 January 2010.

[78] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky.

[79] Tages-Anzeiger, 22 March 2010, 10.

[80] Tages-Anzeiger, 20 August 2010, 10. The statement of Spanta is of course to be taken with a grain of salt, since at least parts of the Afghan government consider Pakistan to be the enemy.

[81] This conclusion is also reached in a recent study by Seth Jones. Cf: Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires, 266.

[82] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 12. These statements are of course to be interpreted with extreme care, because the interviewed Taliban commanders want to give the responsibility for particularly unscrupulous attacks, such as extremely unpopular attacks on Afghan civilians, to Pakistan as a foreign scapegoat.

[83] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 15f.

[84] The highest Shura of the Taliban in Quetta, often called "Rabari Shura" or "Markazi Shura".

[85] Interview of March 2010. Cf: Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 6.

[86] Interview of May 2010. Cf: Ibid.

[87] Interview of March 2010. Cf: Ibid., 10.

[88] Tribal Analysis Center, The Quetta Shura, 6.

[89] Pakistanis at Kandahar Border Flag Meeting – The Quetta Shura Is a Fabrication, Cable from U.S. Embassy Kabul to RUEHC/Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 7 October 2009. The Pakistani delegation, led by Brigadier General Sejaad, also included three ISI agents.

[90] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 16-20.

[91] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 5, 8f.

[92] Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires. However, Jones could not as yet base his study on the comprehensive source material analysed in this study.

[93] Fair, The Time for Sober Realism, 161-163. Furthermore, the two American analysts Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason recognize the involvement of Pakistan's civilian government in supporting the Afghan resistance. Cf: Johnson & Mason, No Sign Until the Burst of Fire.

[94] For example Prime Minister Gilani during a visit to Washington in the summer of 2008. Cf: Scenesetter for PM Gilani’s Visit to Washington, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 25 July 2008.

[95] Scenesetter for General Kayani’s Visit to Washington, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to RUEHC/Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 19 February 2009. An assessment of security by the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar in February 2009 also stated that "[...] there is a divided loyalty within ISI ranks which may cause inaction, or assistance to Taliban and anti-US groups." The consulate staff, however, already mention that - contrary to official pronouncements - there were probably Taliban sympathizers “within the ranks of the Pakistani government“. (English translation by the authors.) Cf: Security Environment Profile Questionnaire (SEPQ) – Peshawar, Cable from U.S. Consul Peshawar to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2009.

[96] Reviewing Our Afghanistan – Pakistan Strategy, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 23 September 2009.

[97]The following statements are based mainly on the articles of the New York Times, Spiegel und Guardian regarding the documents of the Afghan War Diary. The three newspapers had had access to the documents already in advance of the publication and had printed a series of articles about it. For the ISI's relationship with the Taliban, see in particular: Mazzetti et al., Pakistan Aids Insurgency; Gebauer et al., Afghanistan-Protokolle;, 25 July 2010, (31 December 2010). A systematic evaluation of the 76'911 documents was not possible for this study. The authors had to limit themselves to selective reading.

[98] See for example: Spiegel Online, 27 July 2010,,1518,708785,00.html (27 December 2010); Frankfurter Rundschau, 29 July 2010, (27 December 2010).

[99] Mazzetti et al., Pakistan Aids Insurgency.

[100] To see today's role of Gul in the Afghan resistance: Mazzetti et al., Pakistan Aids Insurgency; Gebauer et al., Afghanistan-Protokolle.

[101] Mazzetti et al., Pakistan Aids Insurgency.

[102] Ibid.; Gebauer et al., Afghanistan-Protokolle.

[103] Ibid.

[104] To see involvement of ISI in suicide attacks of the insurgents in Afghanistan: Mazzetti et al., Pakistan Aids Insurgency.

[105] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 10 et al.

[106] Mazzetti, Filkins, Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban's Top Commander, New York Times, 15 February 2010.

[107] Profile: Mullah Abdul Gahni Baradar, (28 December 2010).

[109] Moreau, Ron, America’s New Nightmare, Newsweek, 25 July 2009, (28 December 2010).

[110] Mazzetti, Filkins, Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban's Top Commander, New York Times, 15 February 2010.

[111] Moreau, America’s New Nightmare.

[112] Dam, Bette, Mullah Baradar: Friend or Foe?, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 16 February 2010, (28 December 2010).

[113] Mullah Dadullah is considered the initiator of the insurrection that began in 2003 with the murder of a Red Cross employee. Dadullah was killed in a commando raid by NATO troops on May 13th 2007.

[114] Moreau, America’s New Nightmare.

[115] Taliban Commander Mullah Baradar ‘Seized in Pakistan’, BBC News, 16 February 2010, (28 December 2010).

[116] Killian, Martin, Pakistan verhaftete Taliban-Chef, um Krieg in Afghanistan zu verlängern, Tages Anzeiger, 24 August 2010, 9, English translation by the authors; Filkins, Pakistanis Tell of Motive.

[117] Filkins, Pakistanis Tell of Motive.

[118] Mazzetti, Filkins, Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban's Top Commander, New York Times, 15 February 2010.

[119] Zubair Shah, Pir, Filkins, Dexter, Pakistani Reports Capture of a Taliban Leader, New York Times, 22 February 2010.

[120] Ignatius, David, To Pakistan, Almost with Love, Washington Post, 4 March2010.

[121] Tellis, Baradar, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban, 4.

[122] Ibid., 5. Maulavi Abdul Kabir is a Taliban commander and former governor of Nangarhar province.

[123] Tellis, Beradar, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban, 3; Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 8f; Johnson & Mason, Down the AfPak Rabbit Hole; Washington Post, 10 April 2010.

[124] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 8f. The source is a Talib who is in regular contact with members of the Quetta Shura. Since the incident at present cannot be verified by any independent source, it could of course also be a false rumour or misinformation.

[125] See among others: Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 7; Farmer, Hamid Karzai Held Secret Talks with Mulla Beradar in Afghanistan, Telegraph, 16 March2010. (31 December 2010).

[126] Tellis, Beradar, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban, 5.

[127] Johnson & Mason, Down the AfPak Rabbit Hole.

[128] Waldman, Dangerous Liaisons, 12.

[129] Ibid.; In detail: Waldman, The Sun in the Sky.

[130] Filkins, Pakistanis Tell of Motive.

[131] Ibid.

[132] Rollins, Osama bin Laden’s Death, 13.

[133] Address by President Obama on Afghanistan, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, 1 December 2009, (30 December 2010).

[134] Report on Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan and United States Plan for Sustaining the Afghanistan National Security Forces, Report to U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Defense, April 2010, 5.

[135] Kronstadt, Alan K, Direct Overt U.S. Aid and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY2002-FY2011, U.S. Congressional Research Service Report, 9 March 2010; Kronstadt, Alan K., Major U.S. Arms Sales and Grants to Pakistan since 2001, U.S. Congressional Research Service Report, 23 March2010.

[136] Pakistan: Fixing Coalition Support Funding.

[137] Under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act. Cf: Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 21.

[138] Report on Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, 7 & 32.

[139] In an interview with Matt Waldman a local commander of the Haqqani network describes this bizarre cash flow. When asked where the funds of his group came from, he replied: "From them [the Americans] to the Pakistani military, and then to us." He was amazed that the United States de facto promoted their activities. Cf: Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 19.

[140] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 25.

[141] Tellis, Beradar, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban, 8.

[142] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 248; Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 5; Matthay, Sabina, Afghanische Albträume in Indien und Pakistan: Vor der internationalen Kabul-Konferenz,, ARD, 19 July 2010, (30 December 2010).

[143] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 5; Matthay, Afghanische Albträume.

[144] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 248. Indian companies for example received extensive road-building contracts. They also carry out construction projects on the Afghan-Pakistani border. (Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 5.)

[145] Reviewing our Afghanistan – Pakistan Strategy.

[146] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 248f & 417; Matthay, Afghanische Albträume; Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 5.

[147] Indian Views on Afghanistan: Eager for Increased USG Coordination, Wary of Pakistani Scheming, Skeptical on R/R, Cable from U.S. Embassy New Delhi to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 23 February 2010.

[148] Cf: Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 267f. For the Durand Line and its historical impact on Pakistan and Afghanistan, see also: Lefeuvre, Afghanische Patrioten, 14f.

[149] Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 8; Steele, Gesucht: Taliban für den Frieden, 13.

[150] Waldman, The Sun in the Sky, 5. There are about 25 million Pashtuns living in Pakistan, approximately twice as many as in Afghanistan.

[151] Ibid., 5-7, 9; Tellis, Beradar, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban, 5. For example, Hamid Karzai is a Durrani Pashtun, Mullah Omar is Ghilzai-Pashtun. Most of the Taliban fighters mobilised originally by the ISI were from the Ghilzai tribes. Cf: Tellis, Pakistan and the War on Terror, 6.

[152] First Kashmir War (1947-1949), Second Kashmir War (1965), Bangladesh War (1971), Kargil War (1999).

[153] Inkster, Nigel, The Death of Osama bin Laden, Survival 53, 3 (2011), 6.

[154] Gall, Carlotta, Shah, Pir Zubair, Schmitt, Eric, Seized Phone Offers Clues to Bin Laden's Pakistani Links, New York Times, 24 June 2011, (10 August 2011).

[155] For the close cooperation between HUM-ISI-Al-Qaeda since the 1990s, see Burke, Al Qaeda.

[156] For an interesting interpretation of the events involving Raymond Davis see: Fair, Christine, ISI Boxes CIA into a Corner, The National Interest, 15. April 2011, (23 April 2011).

[157] Rollins, Osama bin Laden's Death, 10.

[158] Perlez, Jane; Khan, Ismail, Deadly U.S. Drone Strike Increases Pressure on Pakistan, New York Times, 23 April 2011, A6.

[159] Rubin, Alissa J.; Sanger, David E., Bin Laden’s Death and the New Unknown in Afghanistan, New York Times, 7 May 2011, (8 May 2011).

[160]Khalilzad, Zalmay, The Great Pakistan Rethink The National Interest, 5 May 2011, (12 May 2011).

[161] Griff, Witte, DeYoung, Karen, New challenge for U.S.-Pakistan ties, Washington Post, 10 June 2011, (12 June 2011).

[162] Perlez, Jane, U.S. Relations with Pakistan Falter in Rift over Drone Strikes, New York Times, 18 April 2011, A8.

[163] Gall, Pakistani Military Still Cultivates Militant Groups.

[164] Masood, Salman, Afghan Leader Seeks Pakistani Help in Talks, New York Times, 11 June 2011, A8.

[165] Gall, Carlotta, Losses in Pakistani Haven Strain Afghan Taliban, New York Times, 31 March 2011, (10 August, 2011).

[166] Of paramount importance in this context is a meeting between the heads of the Afghan and Pakistani governments on 16 April 2011 in Kabul. Rosenberg, Matthew, Karzai Told to Dump US, Wall Street Journal, 27 April 2011, A1; Rubin, Alissa J., Pakistan Nudges Afghan Toward China, Officials Say, New York Times, 28 April 2011, A9; Glimmers of Hope, Economist, 14 Mai 2011, 31.


About the Author(s)

Lukas Hegi is a student of general history and English literature and linguistics at the University of Zurich. He is an officer with the rank of captain in the Swiss Armed Forces. His main interests lie in contemporary and military history.

Adrian Hänni, born 1980, is a doctoral student at the Institute of Social and Economic History at Zurich University. He has studied general history, economics and political philosophy in Zurich. He wrote his thesis about terrorism discourse during the first term of Ronald Reagan. Currently, the author is doing research on the discursive construction of the terrorist threat in the United States from 1886 to 1986. His research interests include present history and in particular that of news services.



Sun, 05/12/2013 - 10:54am

This is truly exceptional. There is only one thing missing - further exploration of the role of Benazir Bhutto in creating the Taliban. Let's face it. One of the oldest arguments used against intelligence services is that they go rogue. Sometimes that's true, but to a much lesser degree than we might think. Every time I see Benazir Bhutto hailed as a paragon of women's rights, I can't believe it. Of course, she was trying to wash her hands of the whole thing when she was assassinated. And believe it or not, I have read news stories of US patrols apprehending female ISI agents working with the Afghan Taliban.

The unspoken truth about continued US involvement in Afghanistan is, I think, the fact that policymakers want to stay because of fear of the Taliban's "treatment of women." But looking at issues like the above, I keep wondering if that is not more negotiable than we might think. After all, when one considers how many Persian Gulf sheikhs have probably suffered and died from cirrhosis of the liver, the phrase from another reviewer - "naïve superpower" - is really on the mark. And during all of this, brave American soldiers and innocent Afghan civilians remain guinea pigs in policymakers' utopian experiments. How much more disgusting can things get?

Thank you for putting together this account of the ISI/Pakistan relationship with the Taliban, and how ISI's moves fit in with the fabric of instability of the region.

For a very long time, I have tried to wrap my head around the reasons why Pakistan would support the Taliban while accepting the risk of instability in its border areas. Accounts of "Taliban" attacks on Pakistan installations, government offices, and civilians must be framed against the fact that the Taliban are not a monolithic, homogeneous organization. This article has helped better shape my understanding of the many facets to the problem.

I also understand the motivations for support to the various factions of the Taliban movement in a better light now. If Pakistan thinks it can control the Taliban, it is playing a dangerous game. If the ISI thinks it can control the Taliban, the currently-serving and former ISI officials will likely not be dissuaded from thinking they can leash the tiger. The flow of money, weapons, drug profits, and influence is such a strong an incentive to play both sides, ISI's behavior is actually very predictable.

The Pakistan government's behavior is fairly easy to predict as well, considering its national security strategy relative to its position in the region, and the worry caused by India. And as our resident Brigadier Ray might say, Pakistan is caught between the desire to be democratic and Islamic at the same time.

This is quite an excellent monograph and I congratulate the authors. It does two very good things.

First, it gathers together and presents in one place an overwhelming body of evidence confirming Pakistani perfidy. It is sort of a one stop shop when looking for references and evidence of murderous double dealing by the Pakistani government.

Second, the authors don't mince words. The "Pakistani establishment" takes American money and uses it to support people who kill American and NATO troops, blowing off their legs and genitals among other things. They kill Americans. And without Pakistani help, Taliban & Co could not be in the favorable position they are now in. I wish we could be so plain spoken.

That we have allowed this to go on for a decade will forever be a puzzlement to historians. It is as if Western Approaches Command had had liaison officers from the U-boat Waffe attached to and working closely with them to coordinate activities and distribute Lend-Lease aid (to the U-boat Waffe); and Churchill kept wondering why the merchantmen continued getting sunk.


Wed, 04/03/2013 - 3:15pm

the only reliable ally in region is india,no one else


Wed, 04/03/2013 - 3:14pm

Pakistan is,since a long time now,a dedicated fifth column,definitely,definitely,