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01 Aug

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PAKISTAN’S ISI AND AFGHAN INSURGENTS

THE SUN IN THE SKY:
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PAKISTAN’S ISI
AND AFGHAN INSURGENTS
(Summary in Dari appended)
*****

 Matt Waldman
Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
June 2010

The McGlynn: This is an excellent discussion paper.

Full Discussion Paper

Abstract
Many accounts of the Afghan conflict misapprehend the nature of the relationship between
Pakistan’s security services and the insurgency. The relationship, in fact, goes far beyond
contact and coexistence, with some assistance provided by elements within, or linked to,
Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) or military.
Although the Taliban has a strong endogenous impetus, according to Taliban commanders
the ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement. 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’.
Directly or indirectly the ISI appears to exert significant influence on the strategic decisionmaking
and field operations of the Taliban; and has even greater sway over Haqqani
insurgents. According to both Taliban and Haqqani commanders, it controls the most violent
insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan.
Insurgent commanders confirmed that the ISI are even represented, as participants or
observers, on the Taliban supreme leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, and the
Haqqani command council. Indeed, the agency appears to have circumscribed the Taliban’s
strategic autonomy, precluding steps towards talks with the Afghan government through
recent arrests.
President Zardari himself has apparently assured captive, senior Taliban leaders that they
are ‘our people’ and have his backing. He has also apparently authorised their release from
prison. The ISI even arrested and then released two Taliban leaders, Qayyum Zakir, the
movement’s new military commander, and Mullah Abdul Raouf Khadem, reportedly now
head of the Quetta Shura, who are among the three or four highest ranking in the movement
below Mullah Omar.
Pakistan’s apparent involvement in a double-game of this scale could have major geopolitical
implications and could even provoke US counter-measures. However, the powerful
role of the ISI, and parts of the Pakistani military, suggests that progress against the Afghan
insurgency, or towards political engagement, requires their support. The only sure way to
secure such cooperation is to address the fundamental causes of Pakistan’s insecurity,
especially its latent and enduring conflict with India.
1 Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
The views expressed in this paper are the author’s own and do not represent those of any institution or organisation.

Introduction

*************
This paper seeks to appraise the relationship between Afghan insurgents and Pakistan’s Inter-
Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI).3 It is not intended to be a precise analysis of this
relationship, which is inevitably dynamic and opaque, or to specify how it is manifested in
any particular location. Rather, it explores its principal dimensions as expressed by insurgent
commanders and those with first-hand knowledge or experience of the Afghan insurgency.
The author conducted semi-structured interviews in or near Kabul and Kandahar, from
February-May 2010, with nine insurgent field commanders: three operating in the south of the
country (Kandahar province), three based in the centre of the country (Wardak province), and
three operating in the south-east (two in Khost and one in Ghazni); and one high level Taliban
intermediary.4 All interviewees were contacted and interviewed separately. Though some of
the commanders operate in the same province, none is based in the same district as another,
and none disclosed to comrades that they were being interviewed. Given the comparative lack
of research involving active insurgents, their comments are reproduced at length. For
background research and corroboration purposes an Afghan research assistant conducted a
further six insurgent interviews: three in Kandahar with commanders who operate in that
province; and three in Quetta: with a senior Taliban official and commanders who operate in
each of Kandahar and Helmand.
The author also conducted interviews with ten former senior Taliban officials (six ministers,
two ambassadors, a high-ranking civil servant and a military commander);5 twenty-two
Afghan elders, tribal leaders, politicians and analysts; and thirteen foreign diplomats, experts
and security officials………………………………………

Full Discussion Paper

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