Pakistan's notorious spy agency provides crucial funding and training to Taliban fighters operating inside Afghanistan and is represented on the movement's leadership council, according to a new report that says links between the two are deeper than previously believed.
Such is the importance of the relationship, says the report, that President Asif Ali Zardari recently visited Taliban prisoners, assuring them they would soon be released and telling them: “You are our people.”
While links between the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and the Taliban have been known for many years, the report by the London School of Economics, based on interviews with Taliban commanders inside Afghanistan, suggests it is the “official policy” of Pakistan, which sees the fighters as providing strategic depth.
“The ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement,” said its author, Matt Waldman. “(Taliban commanders) say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani (their allies in north Waziristan) 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'.”
The ISI developed relationships with various militant groups, among them the Taliban, whose fighters received funding and training from Islamabad enabling them to sweep to power in Afghanistan in the mid 1990s.
The relationship is so important that the ISI is officially represented on the Afghan Taliban's 15-member leadership council, the Quetta Shura.