Study claims strong ties between Pakistan's ISI and Taliban
Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency provides funding, training and sanctuary to the Taliban in Afghanistan on a scale far greater than previously believed, a study claimed Sunday.
However the Pakistani military dismissed the report for the London School of Economics (LSE) as "malicious and baseless".
The LSE study, based on interviews with nine Taliban field commanders in Afghanistan between February and May this year, claims the relationship between the ISI and the militants goes far beyond current estimates.
"Although the Taliban has a strong endogenous impetus, according to Taliban commanders the ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement," wrote author Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University.
"They say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani groups, and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies. In their words, this is 'as clear as the sun in the sky'."
Waldman said the ISI appears to exert "significant influence" on strategic decision-making and field operations of the Taliban and controls the most violent insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan.
Insurgent commanders claimed the ISI was even officially represented, as participants or observers, on the Taliban supreme leadership council, he said.
The report alleges that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari himself had assured captive senior Taliban leaders that they were "our people" and had his backing. He had apparently authorised some to be released from prison.
The study drew an angry reaction from the Pakistani military.
"It is a part of a malicious campaign against the Pakistan army and the ISI," Pakistan army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.
"It is baseless. The sacrifices by Pakistan's army and the ISI and the casualties in the war on terror speak for themselves," he said. "We have a series of questions on the credibility of the report."
Most interviewees explained the ISI's involvement in terms of Pakistan's rivalry with India, as the regional powers vie for influence ahead of the start of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan next year.
Waldman's report argues that resolving this is key to bringing Islamabad onside efforts to defeat the insurgency.
"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," he concluded.
The ISI has played a key political role in Pakistan, which has spent more than half of its near 63-year history under military rule, and there have also long been suspicions about its role in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The ISI is accused along with the CIA of helping create the Taliban militia which ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, by channelling funding to Afghan fighters battling the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
For his report, Waldman interviewed nine insurgent field commanders, three operating in the south of Afghanistan, three in the centre and three in the south-east, as well as one high-level Taliban intermediary.
He also talked with 10 former senior Taliban officials, a number of Afghan elders, politicians and analysts, as well as foreign diplomats and security officials. A research assistant interviewed six further insurgents.
© 2010 AFP