The controversy raised by the accounts of alleged collusion between Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban in the Afghan war logs has resurrected one of the most vexed questions of the Afghan war: Whose side is Pakistan on?
The reports have galvanised the opinions of some Americans who view the Pakistani military, which runs the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as a double-dealing entity that accepts $1billion a year in US funding while quietly helping Afghan insurgents.
Although the quality of evidence against the ISI in the logs is low — and the agency rejects it as “malicious and unsubstantiated” — experts say there is strong evidence of collusion.
The main focus is along the lawless 2 500km frontier with Afghanistan, where insurgent commanders can freely recruit, resupply and seek finance. The main node is in the province of Balochistan, across the border from conflict-racked Helmand and Kandahar. Despite American and British pressure, the ISI has done little to break up this safe haven.
Few Taliban leaders have been arrested there, in contrast with the dozens of al-Qaeda fugitives rounded up elsewhere. And the whereabouts of Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar remains a mystery.
A senior United States official said the ISI’s relationship with the Taliban was unclear. “Is it command and control? We don’t know. It’s one thing to provide a group with territory and let them raise funds, recruit and give tactical advice, but another to be able to tell them to do something — or shut them down at will.”
The Taliban’s other main staging area lies further north along the border, in the tribal belt, where one of the war’s most notorious commanders, Jalaluddin Haqqani, has a foothold.
Some 377 reports in the war logs refer to Haqqani fighters — their distribution of threatening “night letters”, the training of suicide bombers, ammunition smuggling across the border and plots to attack Kabul’s luxury hotels.
The logs echo growing CIA accusations. Based on intercepted phone calls, US agents accuse the ISI of sponsoring suicide attacks by Haqqani fighters on the Indian embassy in Kabul.
The third warlord with a Pakistani base is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (63), who has deep ties to the ISI and operates close to Peshawar. His name features in 69 war log reports.
Another significant figure may be Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who led the fight against the Pakistani Taliban last year and has won an unprecedented three-year extension of his term of office.
Kayani was also ISI head from 2003 to 2007, when ISI-related reporting in the war logs started to soar. —