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Jun 13

Written by: Diana West
Sunday, June 13, 2010 2:51 AM 

The Taliban: The ally of my "ally" (Pakistan) is my ... ?

A bunch of stories today trumpet a new London School of Economics report on Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the Times of London wins for best headline --"Pakistan puppet masters guide the Taliban killers" -- to which I would add -- "and Uncle Sucker doesn't see the strings."

Of course, we didn't need to wait for the LSE for this: Moorthy Muthuswamy's excellent book Defeating Political Jihad told us to dump our "allies" from the "axis of jihad" -- namely, Pakistan and  Saudi Arabia (Iran is the other axis country) -- and realign with our natural allies against jihad (for example, Israel and India) last year. (I reviewed the book here.)

And what was President Obama doing in Pakistan in 1981 anyway, a trip he let slip (it doesn't appear in his memoir) during the campaign? As Andy McCarthy recounts inThe Grand Jihad,Obama traveled there with a wealthy Pakistani friend, Wahid Hamid, and stayed about three weeks. Part of the time he stayed at the Karachi family home of another wealthy Pakistani friend, Hassan Chandoo, who would become a "major Obama fundraiser." Andy writes that he also stayed at the Jacobabad home of Ahamd Mian Soomro, a member of "one of Pakistan's more prominent political families." (His son, Mohammad Mian Soomro, was chairman of the Pakistan Senate, was caretaker prime minister in 2007, was interim president after Musharraf was forced out in 2008.) Obama's visit took place "at the height of Pakistan's Islamicization under the martial law imposed by General Zia  ul-Haq, a time when it was tough (not impossible) for US citizens to get visas. Next door in A-stan, war was raging between the USSR and the muhajideen/Taliban; on the other side, the Iranian revolution was in full swing.

Andy writes: "Of all places, why would Obama travel to Pakistan at that time? And how did he enter the country? Did he use an American passport to enter a police state in which it was dangerous for Americans? If not, did he have travel documents from another country -- which would raise questions also posed by his Indonesian years: Was Obama a citizen of an Islamic country? Those questions weren't pursued.

What else is new?

But I digress.

From The Times:

Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan runs far deeper than a few corrupt police officers, however. The Sunday Times can reveal that it is officially sanctioned at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government.

Pakistan’s own intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), is said to be represented on the Taliban’s war council — the Quetta shura. Up to seven of the 15-man shura are believed to be ISI agents.

The former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, Amrullah Saleh, who resigned last week, said: “The ISI is part of the landscape of destruction in this country, no doubt, so it will be a waste of time to provide evidence of ISI involvement. They are a part of it.”

Testimony by western and Afghan security officials, Taliban commanders, former Taliban ministers and a senior Taliban emissary show the extent to which the ISI manipulates the Taliban’s strategy in Afghanistan.

Pakistani support for the Taliban is prolonging a conflict that has cost the West billions of dollars and hundreds of lives. Last week 32 Nato soldiers were killed.

According to a report published today by the London School of Economics, which backs up months of research by this newspaper, “Pakistan appears to be playing a double game of astonishing magnitude” in Afghanistan.

The report’s author, Matt Waldman, a Harvard analyst, argues that previous studies significantly underestimated the influence that Pakistan’s ISI exerts over the Taliban. Far from being the work of rogue elements, interviews suggest this “support is official ISI policy”, he says.

The LSE report, based on dozens of interviews and corroborated by two senior western security officials, states: “As the provider of sanctuary and substantial financial, military and logistical support to the insurgency, the ISI appears to have strong strategic and operational influence — reinforced by coercion. There is thus a strong case that the ISI orchestrates, sustains and shapes the overall insurgent campaign.”

The report also alleges that Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, recently met captured Taliban leaders to assure them that the Taliban had his government’s full support. This was vigorously denied by Zardari’s spokesman. Pakistani troops have launched offensives against militants in North and South Waziristan.

However, a senior Taliban source in regular contact with members of the Quetta shura told The Sunday Times that in early April, Zardari and a senior ISI official met 50 high-ranking Taliban members at a prison in Pakistan.

According to a Taliban leader in the jail at the time, five days before the meeting prison officials were told to prepare for the impending presidential call. Prison guards wearing dark glasses served the Taliban captives traditional Afghan meals three times a day.

“They wanted to make the prisoners feel like they were important and respected,” the source said.

Hours before Zardari’s visit, the head warder told the Taliban inmates to impress upon the president how well they had been looked after during their time in captivity.

Zardari spoke to them for half an hour. He allegedly explained that he had arrested them because his government was under increasing American pressure to end the sanctuary enjoyed by the Taliban in Pakistan and to round up their ringleaders.

“You are our people, we are friends, and after your release we will of course support you to do your operations,” he said, according to the source.

He vowed to release the less well-known commanders in the near future and said that the “famous” Taliban leaders would be freed at a later date.

Five days after Zardari’s visit, a handful of Taliban prisoners, including The Sunday Times’s source, were driven into Quetta and set free, in line with the president’s pledge.

“This report is consistent with Pakistan’s political history in which civilian leaders actively backed jihadi groups that operate in Afghanistan and Kashmir,” Waldman said.

According to the source, during his visit to the prison Zardari also met Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s former second in command, who was arrested by the ISI earlier this year with seven other Taliban leaders.

Baradar, who is from the same tribe as Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, had allegedly approached the Afghan government to discuss the prospect of a peace settlement between the two sides.

Baradar’s arrest is seen in both diplomatic and Taliban circles as an ISI plot to manipulate the Taliban’s political hierarchy and also to block negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban leadership.

Shortly after Baradar’s arrest the ISI arrested two other Taliban members — Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir and his close associate and friend Mullah Abdul Rauf. Both men were released after just two nights in custody.

Following his release, Zakir, who spent years in custody in Guantanamo Bay, assumed command of the Taliban’s military wing, replacing Baradar. Rauf, also a former Guantanamo inmate, was immediately appointed chairman of the Quetta shura. ...

Good thing he was rehabilitated.

To ensure that the Pakistani government retains its influence over the Taliban’s leadership, the ISI has placed its own representatives on the Quetta shura, according to these officials.

Up to seven of the Afghan Taliban leaders who sit on the 15-man shura are believed to be ISI agents. However, some sources maintain that every member of the shura has ISI links.

“It is impossible to be a member of the Quetta shura without membership of the ISI,” said a senior Taliban intermediary who liaises with the Afghan government and Taliban leaders.

You need a funhouse mirror to follow this.

The LSE report states: “Interviews strongly suggest that the ISI has representatives on the shura, either as participants or observers, and the agency is thus involved at the highest levels of the movement.”

The two shura members who receive the strongest support from the ISI are Taib Agha, former spokesman for Mullah Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, and Mullah Hasan Rahmani, the former Taliban governor of Kandahar, according to the Taliban intermediary and western officials.

Strategies that the ISI encourages, according to Taliban commanders, include: cutting Nato’s supply lines by bombing bridges and roads; attacking key infrastructure projects; assassinating progovernment tribal elders; murdering doctors and teachers; closing schools and attacking schoolgirls.

ISI agents hand chits to Taliban commanders who use them to buy weapons at arms dumps in North Waziristan.

The Taliban’s “plastic bombs” — the low metal content improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that kill the majority of British soldiers who die in Afghanistan — were introduced to the Taliban by Pakistani officials, according to Taliban commanders, the Taliban intermediary and western officials. The materials allow Taliban sappers to plant bombs that can evade Nato mine detectors.

Rasoul, the Taliban commander from Wardak province, also alleged that the ISI pays 200,000 Pakistani rupees (£1,600) in compensation to the families of suicide bombers who launch attacks on targets in Afghanistan. ...

Major-General Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s senior military spokesman, called the claim that the ISI has representatives on the Quetta shura “ridiculous”. He said: “The allegations are absolutely baseless.”

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the Pakistani president, said: “There’s no such thing as President Zardari meeting Taliban leaders. This never happened.”

Sounds convincing -- at least if you're Gen. Petraeus.

To see the full London School of Economics report, go to thesundaytimes.co.uk/world

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