June 14, 2010 in Nation/World

Report says Pakistan arms, trains Taliban

Sebastian Abbot Associated Press
 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan’s main spy agency continues to arm and train the Taliban and is even represented on the group’s leadership council despite U.S. pressure to sever ties and billions in aid to combat the militants, a research report concluded.

The findings could heighten tension between the neighboring countries and raise further questions about U.S. success in Afghanistan since Pakistani cooperation is seen as key to defeating the Taliban, which seized power in Kabul in the 1990s with Islamabad’s support.

U.S. officials have suggested in the past that current or former members of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, have maintained links to the Taliban despite the government’s decision to denounce the group in 2001 under U.S. pressure.

But the report issued Sunday by the London School of Economics offered one of the strongest cases that assistance to the group is official ISI policy, and even extends to the highest levels of the Pakistani government.

“Pakistan’s apparent involvement in a double-game of this scale could have major geopolitical implications and could even provoke U.S. countermeasures,” said the report, which was based on interviews with Taliban commanders, former Taliban officials, Western diplomats and many others.

“Without a change in Pakistani behavior it will be difficult, if not impossible, for international forces and the Afghan government to make progress against the insurgency,” said the report, written by Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, spokesman for the Pakistani army, which controls ISI, rejected the report, calling it “rubbish.”

“In the past, these kinds of baseless and unsubstantiated allegations have surfaced and we have rejected them,” said Abbas.

Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to oppose the Afghan Taliban because it believes the militant group may be the best partner for countering the influence of archenemy India in Afghanistan after NATO forces withdraw.

“Interviews suggest that Pakistan continues to give extensive support to the insurgency in terms of funding, munitions and supplies,” said the report.

In addition, “ISI continues to sanction and support military training centers for insurgents and a large number of (Islamic schools) that actively encourage their students to fight in Afghanistan,” it said.

One of the report’s most surprising allegations is that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and a senior ISI official visited some 50 high-ranking Taliban fighters held at a secret prison and told them they were only arrested because of U.S. pressure. Zardari reportedly told them they would be released and that Pakistan would help support their operations, according to a Taliban member who was one of about a dozen insurgents set free just three days after the president’s visit.

Presidential spokeswoman Farahnaz Ispahani denied the allegations in the report, saying “if Mr. Waldman had been a seasoned academic, he would have conducted interviews in Pakistan itself to balance his so-called research report.”

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