Pakistan: ISI Ties With The Taliban Are Nothing New

A new report, released today, is creating a stir and will make an already complex relationship between the United States and Pakistan even more problematic. According to a British researcher, Matt Waldman, who is a former Oxfam official, Pakistan’s all powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) “appears to be playing a double game of astonishing magnitude” says Waldman in his report published by the London School of Economics.

First of all, the ties between Taliban in Afghanistan and the ISI are nothing new, but instead the ISI has supported the Taliban for decades. It is a reality which is quite often overlooked in the Western press. The ISI has a long history of links to insurgents, not only in Afghanistan but also in Kashmir. The ISI is often described as “a state within a state”, but is in fact the  part of the Pakistani military involved in civilian politics, Islamic militancy and foreign affairs.

The ISI was created in 1948, but had an essential role in the 1980’s when it became the key conduit for weapons and at least $6 Billion in US and Saudi covert funds for the Mujahideen “freedom fighters” taking on the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And as everyone should know the Mujahideen fighters of the 1980’s were nothing less than the precursors of the Taliban heavily supported by the CIA via ISI. So not only the ISI and the CIA had strong historic ties with the Taliban, but as matter of fact the ISI was instrumental to propel the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, the ISI has officially renounced its support to Islamic militants with the exception of the ones in Kashmir. What seems to be an apparent contradiction here is the fact that the ISI  has helped the Afghan Taliban in the past, and might still be doing it according to Waldman’s report, while fighting their own Taliban in Pakistan. However, the ISI strategy makes more sense in the context of the ongoing regional conflict between Pakistan and India over their respective influence in Afghanistan.

“This report is consistent with Pakistan’s political history in which civilian leaders actively backed Jihadi groups that operate in Afghanistan and Kashmir,” Waldman told UK’s Sunday Times today.

According to the report, the ISI is said to compensate families of suicide bombers with 200,000 Pakistani rupees. Waldman says these claims in the report are substantiated by former Taliban ministers and a senior United Nations official based in Kabul. Waldman also spoke personally to nine Taliban field commanders.

Pakistan’s military spokesman, Major-General Athar Abbas, said that “Waldman’s claims are ridiculous and the allegations are baseless”.

President Karzai has in the past accused the ISI of supporting the Afghan Taliban. But what is important to know is whether it is a formal involvement of the ISI, with full support and knowledge of the Pakistani government, or if their  apparent support for the Taliban come from rogue elements within the ISI.

“Without a change in Pakistani behaviour, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for international forces and the Afghan government to make progress against the insurgency,” writes Waldman in the report.


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