The Pakistani Godfather: The Inter-Services Intelligence and the Afghan Taliban 1994-2010 (2/4)

by Dr. Adrian Hänni and Lukas Hegi.

The aim of the present study is to gather facts and disclose links that demonstrate the kind of game the Pakistani government is playing with the West, with its intelligence service “Inter-Services Intelligence” (ISI) supporting the Taliban on a grand scale. After a historical summary highlighting the close connection between the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI with the Taliban since their emergence in the mid-90s (in part one, two and three), the arrest of an influential Taliban leader is used as an example to demonstrate the effrontery with which the Pakistanis are playing their game (in part four).

A Taliban fighter shortly before the turn of the millennium (Photo: Richard Wayman / Sygma / Corbis).

A Taliban fighter shortly before the turn of the millennium (Photo: Richard Wayman / Sygma / Corbis).

The Taliban in Power in Kabul (1996-2001)
The support of the Taliban by the Pakistani government and the ISI continued after the gang around Mullah Omar took Kabul in September 1996 and overthrew the Tajik-dominated government of Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Massoud. Abdul Salam Saif, the Taliban ambassador in Pakistan, wrote what previously was the only detailed inside account of the movement, in which he describes in detail how he was inundated with offers from the Pakistani intelligence officials (Abdul Salam Saif, “My Life with the Taliban, 2010; see also Jonathan Steele, “Gesucht: Taliban für den Frieden“, Le Monde Diplomatique [German edition], Nr. 9312, 08.10.2010, 12-13). The ISI continued pumping money, weapons and advisers into Afghanistan to help the Taliban win against the Northern Alliance [1]. In addition, Pakistan provided diplomatic support, organised training for Taliban fighters, some of whom it had itself recruited, planned and commanded offensives, delivered ammunition and fuel and on several occasions apparently got directly involved in combat support [2]. Undoubtedly, the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies, with the ISI at the forefront, made a vital contribution to the Taliban becoming a highly effective military force [3]. The covert support of the Taliban by the ISI came from the corps headquarters in Peshawar (Ahmed Rashid, “Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia“, New York:Penguin Books, 2008, 29 & 52). To give an example: a contact person deemed trustworthy by the U.S. consulate in Peshawar reported in October 1996 the border crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan of an ISI convoy, consisting of 30-35 ISI trucks and 15-20 fuel trucks, at Torkham (“Afghan-PAK Border Relations at Torkham Tense“, Cable from U.S. Consulate Peshawar to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 02.10.1996). The ISI itself estimated in late 1996 the total Pakistani aid to the Taliban to be as high as 20 million rupees (“Afghanistan: X Briefs the Ambassador on his activities. Pleads for Greater Activism by U.N.“, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 27.08.1997. In 1996, 20 million Pakistani rupees were the equivalent of nearly half a million US dollars). A number that may well be set too low. Two years later, a Pakistani source of the U.S. State Department put the support of the Pakistani government for the Taliban at “about a million dollars every few months” (“Afghanistan: Taliban seem to have less Funds and Supplies this Year, but the Problem does not appear to be that acute“, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, February 1999, 1).

Afghan widows clad in burqas line up during a cash for work project by humanitarian organisation CARE International in Kabul January 6, 2010. In this project, 500 Afghan widows, most of whom lost their husbands during the civil wars in Afghanistan, make blankets after receiving the materials from CARE.

According to a 2001 report by Human Rights Watch, the first direct military contacts between the Afghanistan office of the ISI and the Taliban after they seized power was established by sending a small team of Pakistani military advisers to the former stronghold of the Afghan army in Rishikor (Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity“, July 2001, 27). The base in Rishikor, southwest of Kabul, was subsequently used as the main training centre for Pakistani volunteers, who had been carted off to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan. No later than 1999, the accommodation of the Pakistani military and intelligence personnel were in a guarded area within the camp (Human Rights Watch, 28 – based in part on an interview in June 1999 with Mollin Nayim, the Afghan intelligence chief with the Taliban). According to a report to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Pakistani religious students also received military training at Kandahar and Herat. There, a combination of members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps (FC), staff of the Najibullah era, as well as former supporters of the Wahhabi warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and the long-standing ISI protégé Gulbuddin Hekmatyar provided training (“Pakistan Involvement in Afghanistan“, Information Report to DIA Washington, Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, November 1996). This use of Pakistan’s FC was apparently not an isolated case. In addition to the training of fighters, company-size FC elements in Afghanistan were also used for command and control tasks and, if necessary, for fighting action itself. The reason for the use of the FC was that its units, as opposed to those of the Punjabi-dominated army, were completely or at least predominantly composed of Pashtuns. This represents the Taliban and the people in the South of Afghanistan (“Pakistan involvement in Afghanistan”).

Also by supplying fuel and ammunition, the ISI was trying to consolidate its influence on the Taliban operations. Here, the intelligence service based its actions on the system which it had set up during the Soviet occupation to control the military operations of its Afghan proxies. According to this system, large amounts of ammunition and fuel were made available to the Taliban commanders only when an operation had been approved by the ISI and the Pakistani military. The fact that the Taliban were not happy with this system meant that they began looking for alternative arms suppliers, which is why soon private actors began to be involved in arms trade with the Taliban, too. A private offer was available particularly because the Bhutto government in 1994 had fired dozens of ISI officers, some of which with ties to the Taliban. Some of these officers had then founded their own import-export firms or participated in existing companies that were organising large private security and import-export-led operations. Thanks to these new business relations as well as their old Taliban connections, the ex-ISI officers now acted as weapons suppliers to Afghanistan (Human Rights Watch, 30f.; Mohammed Yousaf and Mark Adkin, “The Bear Trap: Afghanistan’s Untold Story“, September 1992, 40-42).

General Pervez Musharraf (right), October 1999, after his coup d'état.

General Pervez Musharraf (right), October 1999, after his coup d’état.

After General Pervez Musharraf had come to power by an army coup in 1999, he increased the Pakistani support for the Taliban (Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 46. Apparently, the support of Pakistan for the Taliban had been declining since 1998, because the Pakistani government, buffeted by economic problems and economic sanctions that were imposed as a result of nuclear tests in 1998, had less money to allocate. Cf: “Afghanistan: Taliban Seem to Have Less Funds and Supplies This Year”, 1). Pervez Musharraf publicly declared that Pakistan’s strategic interests lie in supporting the Afghan Pashtuns, whom he associated solely with the Taliban. The new ruler then went on to say that: “This is our national interest […] the Taliban cannot be alienated by Pakistan. We have a national security interest here […]” (Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 50). Apart from army chief Musharraf, the power within the military junta lay in particular with three hard-line generals who had made the decisive coup of 1999: Mahmoud Ahmad, Mohammed Aziz and Muzaffar Usmani (For more about Ahmad, Aziz and Usmani, cf: Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 24, 28 & 29). All three were passionate supporters of Islamic fundamentalist parties and the Taliban. Aziz, Director of Covert Operations in the ISI in the late 1990s, served as the main organiser behind the military victories of the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. Ahmad – nota bene one of the most vocal supporters of the Taliban within the regime – in his function as ISI chief practically made the foreign policy of Pakistan. Thus, the U.S. State Department concluded in September 2000: “While Pakistani support for the Taliban has been long-standing, the magnitude of recent support is unprecedented.” (“Pakistan Support for Taliban“, Cable from Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy Islamabad, U.S. Department of State, 26.09.2000, 1). The Clinton Administration at that time also appeared increasingly concerned that the direct participation of Pakistan in Taliban military operations had become more and more frequent in recent months, and that Pakistani military personnel had taken a more active role in the fighting (“Pakistan Support for Taliban”, 2). Towards the end of the year 2000, Pakistani aircraft helped Taliban forces with troop rotations during combat operations and staff of the ISI as well as of the army were involved directly in the planning of major military operations of the Taliban (Human Rights Watch, 26 – based on interviews with Taliban officials and diplomatic sources in Kabul and Islamabad. See also: Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 60). In November 2000, UN General Secretary Kofi Annan accused Pakistan at least implicitly of providing such support (“The Situation in Afghanistan and Its implications for International Peace and Security“, Report of the Secretary General A/55/633-S/2000/1106, U.N. Secretary General, United Nations, 20.11.2000). Thus, the UN Security Council in January 2001 finally imposed sanctions against the regime in Kabul, which were aimed directly at stopping the Pakistani weapons deliveries to the Taliban (Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 25). But apparently, the sanctions missed their effect, for an intelligence dossier stating that Pakistan was circumventing the UN sanctions by continuing to deliver fuel and other goods to the Taliban was presented to the Security Council by both Russia and France (Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 60). In April and May 2001, a few months before September the 11th, 30 ISI trucks were still crossing the Pakistani border into Afghanistan every day – the same number that the U.S. consulate in Peshawar had reported in October 1996 immediately after the coming into power of the Taliban. Some of these convoys were equipped with artillery shells, tank ammunition and anti-tank missiles (Human Rights Watch, 23 – based on interviews and e-mail communications with sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The number of 30 ISI trucks per day is also given by Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 60.).

Like at this electronics repair center in Islamabad, millions tuned in throughout Pakistan to hear President General Pervez Musharraf speak to the nation. He was giving a televised address to explain Pakistan's role in assisting America's

Like at this electronics repair center in Islamabad, millions tuned in throughout Pakistan to hear President General Pervez Musharraf speak to the nation. He was giving a televised address to explain Pakistan’s role in assisting America’s “fight against terrorism” by offering airspace and intelligence. (Photo: John Stanmeye, 01.10.2001).

The actions and intentions of Pakistan regarding the Taliban immediately after the terrorist attacks of September the 11th 2001 cannot yet be conclusively assessed due to the few and contradictory sources. What is certain, however, is that the Pakistani military regime in accordance with its longstanding Taliban policy tried to persuade the U.S. to refrain from a military campaign against the Taliban, or at least limit it to air strikes, and to negotiate with the government in Kabul to find a solution (“Mahmud Plans 2nd Mission to Afghanistan“, Cable form U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 24.09.2001; Saif, My Life with the Taliban. Quoted in: Steele, 13). ISI director and de facto Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ahmad tried to convince U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin that the aim of the United States of eliminating Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda could best be achieved by forcing the Taliban to do it themselves: “[…] it is better for the Afghans to do it. We could avoid the fallout. If the Taliban are eliminated […] Afghanistan will revert to warlordism.” (“Mahmud Plans 2nd Mission to Afghanistan”, 2). In September 2001, Ahmad not only met with many members of the Bush administration, but also twice with Mullah Omar in Kandahar. The question of whether or not at that time he made a last-minute attempt to get the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden after all, whether, as the U.S. State Department believed, this was merely a delay tactic, as claimed by Ahmed Rashid, or whether, quite to the contrary, Ahmad encouraged Mullah Omar to brave an American attack rather than turn in Bin Laden, as is claimed by leaks to the CIA, must be left unanswered due to contradictory source material (“Mahmud Plans 2nd Mission to Afghanistan”; “Deputy Secretary Armitage – Mamoud Phone Call – September 18, 2001“, Cable from Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy Islamabad, U.S. Department of State, 18.09.2001; Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 77). In any case, during the ensuing Operation Enduring Freedom, the attack by the US-led coalition on the Taliban government, the ISI played a great double game. On the one hand, Pakistan officially made a U-turn, presenting itself as a close U.S. ally in the “war against terrorism” and accepting the “seven points” of the U.S. government, pledging to stop supporting the Taliban and, explicitly, promising to stop all supplies of fuel as well as any other goods and to cancel the transport of weapons and fighters into Afghanistan (“Deputy Secretary Armitage’s Meeting with General Mahmud: Actions and Support Expected of Pakistan in Fight Against Terrorism“, Cable from Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy Islamabad, U.S. Department of State, 14.09.2001; “Musharraf Accepts the Seven Points“, Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 14 September 2001). On the other hand, and with the consent of Musharraf, the ISI continued providing the Taliban with weapons, ammunition and fuel. As before, ISI trucks were rolling into Afghanistan on a daily basis. In addition, dozens of members of the Frontier Corps and ISI officers remained in Afghanistan to assist the Taliban in their defence. CIA agent Gary Berntsen realised “from the beginning of the conflict that ISI advisers were supporting the Taliban with expertise and material [...]” (Quoted in: Rashid, “Descent into Chaos”, 78). This double game was to shape Pakistan’s Taliban policy after the expulsion of Mullah Omar’s gang from Afghanistan and continues to do so to this day.

Footnotes

Part 3 continues with the Taliban Insurgency (2002-2010).

This entry was posted in Adrian Hänni, Afghanistan, English, Intelligence, Lukas Hegi, Pakistan, Security Policy.

3 Responses to The Pakistani Godfather: The Inter-Services Intelligence and the Afghan Taliban 1994-2010 (2/4)

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