Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban

A paper published on June 13 by the London School of Economics states that Pakistan, at the highest political and military levels, fosters and supports insurgents in Afghanistan.

Its author, Matt Waldman of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, declares that “as the provider of sanctuary, and very substantial financial, military and logistical support to the [Afghan] insurgency, the ISI [Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence] appears to have strong strategic and operational influence – reinforced by coercion. There is thus a strong case that the ISI and elements of [Pakistan’s] military are deeply involved in the insurgent campaign [in Afghanistan].”

The ISI of Pakistan is headed by Lt General Ahmad Pasha who meets frequently with senior American and other foreign intelligence representatives. Pasha’s direct superior is General Ashfaq Kayani, chief of the army, who also has discussions with the highest ranking US military officers, such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who came calling in Islamabad last week.

Two days after publication of the Waldman paper a band of about 600 well-armed brigands – call them ‘Taliban’ or whatever – from Afghanistan attacked an isolated border camp in Pakistan manned by two platoons of the locally-recruited Frontier Corps which is commanded by officers of the Pakistan army.  The post was one of the few that has to be supplied by air, there being no road access, and the garrison ran out of ammunition. Ten soldiers were killed and some thirty captured and taken into Afghanistan.  Most were later released. Six bodies were sent back to Pakistan.

Waldman wrote that “American and other western intelligence agencies must be aware of Pakistan’s conduct” in allegedly supporting the Afghan Taliban insurgents.  But if they have evidence  of this supposed behavior it is presumed they would have conveyed their awareness to senior military officers, including Admiral Mullen. They could hardly sit on such important information.  After all, their own soldiers are being killed day by day in ever-greater numbers by insurgents in Afghanistan, who are automatically referred to as ‘Taliban’ – this “James Joyce-style portmanteau word” as defined so pithily by Pepe Escobar – or, in more headline-luring style,  as ‘al-Qaeda-associated Taliban’.

While the futile war in Afghanistan continues, with insurgents having killed 102 foreign troops in June, Mr Waldman asks us to believe that the most senior officer in the US military is content to associate with a man who he says supports the slaughter of US soldiers by purportedly endorsing  “very substantial financial, military and logistical support” to the ‘Taliban’.  Presumably – if the Waldman paper is kosher, as it were – the direct military representative of the President of the United States must have cast aside all loyalty to his soldiers who are fighting a hideously difficult war.

There are no shades of grey, here.   Either Admiral Mullen knows that the armed forces of Pakistan are assisting the enemies of the United States, or he doesn’t believe that they are doing so.  If he does not know it, then the people who refrain from telling him about “substantial support”  –  the US intelligence agencies who Mr Waldman says “must be aware” of this extraordinary duplicity on a massive scale – are treacherous filth.

But if Admiral Mullen has been convinced by his intelligence advisers that Pakistan’s military officers of the highest rank are condoning and even supporting the slaughter of his soldiers, he is a giant-pack,  five-star, Olympic-sized traitor for continuing to associate with them.  Even if he only suspects, way deep down, that General Kayani, the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, and his frequent and genial interlocutor, is in some fashion nourishing enemies of his country, then he must, in all honor, blow the whistle on him.

Then we are asked to believe that General Kayani himself, the commander of over half a million troops, of whom 150,000 on the border with Afghanistan daily risk their lives for their country,  permits or even encourages some of his subordinates to be “deeply involved” in the insurgency in Afghanistan which results in the killing of his own soldiers when the Afghan Taliban attack Pakistan’s border posts.

* * *

We live in a weird and worrisome world, but it will be a strange day indeed when America’s  most senior military officer shakes hands and talks with a foreign army chief who he has been told is  “playing a double game of astonishing magnitude” that results in the deaths of his nation’s soldiers.  And I state flatly that no military leader would ever aid and abet insurgents who attack his country and kill members of his own armed forces, which is what Mr Waldman asserts that General Kayani is doing.

* * *

Of course Pakistan’s ISI is “involved” in Afghanistan.  It would be peculiar were the agency not committed to intelligence operations there, just as are the CIA, Britain’s SIS, India’s RAW and almost every other spy organization of note.

Mind you, the CIA team in Afghanistan is, to put it kindly, amateur, with the magnet of massive money attracting people who tell them what they want to hear.  The Brits are much poorer and comparatively tiny in presence, and in product tend to condescend to their allied spooks, but have proved easy to penetrate to the extent that the Pakistanis have quiet giggles about some of their operatives and operations.  The Indians try hard, but – in spite of what the Pakistanis say – are almost entirely without influence in Afghanistan, although they fund a badly-run training camp in Nimroz for a gang of moronic malcontents who call themselves the Baloch National Army.

A musical about Afghanistan’s all-singing,  all-dancing, international spook drama could be titled the Zigzag Follies.

* * *

Afghanistan is an enormously important neighbor of Pakistan, and the ISI would be failing in its duty were it not to have agents in as many places – politically, militarily and geographically – as it can manage to contrive.

ISI’s  operatives, just as their counterparts in other nations’ agencies, are not purring pussy cats. They move in freaky circles and mix with some people who would be considered by most of us to be psychotic criminals.  They meet and speak with their countries’ enemies whenever they can set up such contacts. General Kayani told me three years ago, when he was head of ISI,  that “of course” his people talked with members of militant ultra-Islamic movements because otherwise “how can we keep track of them?”

We may not approve of the methods of Intelligence operatives, many of whom are jokes, but those of us living in democracies get what our governments consider to be best for us.  If that involves some decidedly dubious activities in the course of seeking pre-emptive intelligence that might save our fellow citizens’ lives, then so be it.  Talking with vicious insurrectionists is repugnant, certainly – but as the commander of the British army said last week,  recollecting that British spooks talked with the brutal fanatics of Irish murder gangs at the height of their terrorist onslaught that killed so many innocents,   “If you look at any counter-insurgency campaign throughout history there’s always a point at which you start to negotiate with each other . . . ”

This is exactly what the ISI has been planning for over the past six years. Of course its agents have many contacts among Afghan insurgents. And they try to help bridge the gap between fanatical barbarism and the rule of law.

But that doesn’t mean Pakistan gives “very substantial financial, military and logistical support” to the savage Afghans who wage war against it.

It is lunacy to imagine that the chief of the Pakistan army helps kill his own soldiers.  And anyone who thinks that the most senior officer in the US military would support him in doing so belongs to a different planet.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY’s website is www.beecluff.com




More articles by:

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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