With Friends like These-

By Moreau, Ron | Newsweek, August 9, 2010 | Go to article overview

With Friends like These-


Moreau, Ron, Newsweek


Byline: Ron Moreau

The Afghan Taliban say they have one thing in common with the Americans: they're both getting played by Pakistan.

The Afghan Taliban logistics officer laughs about the news he's been hearing on his radio this past week. The story is that a Web site known as WikiLeaks has obtained and posted thousands of classified field reports from U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and hundreds of those reports mention the Americans' suspicions that Pakistan is secretly assisting the Taliban--a charge that Pakistan has repeatedly and vehemently denied. "At least we have something in common with America," the logistics officer says. "The Pakistanis are playing a double game with us, too."

Pakistan's ongoing support of the Afghan Taliban is anything but news to insurgents who have spoken to NEWSWEEK. Requesting anonymity for security reasons, many of them readily admit their utter dependence on the country's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) not only for sanctuary and safe passage but also, some say, for much of their financial support. The logistics officer, speaking at his mud-brick compound near the border, offers an unverifiable estimate that Pakistan provides roughly 80 percent of the insurgents' funding, based on his conversations with other senior Taliban. He says the insurgents could barely cover their expenses in Kandahar province alone if not for the ISI. Not that he views them as friends. "They feed us with one hand and arrest and kill us with the other," he says.

The militants say that most often they're dealing with middlemen who appear to be merchants, money-changers, or businessmen, although the assumption is that they're working for Pakistani intelligence. Some provide money, some motorbikes; others supply contacts for sources who can provide weapons. One smuggler who funnels much of his profits to the insurgency claims that Pakistani forces reserve one remote border crossing in Baluchistan for the Taliban and force civilians to divert to far-off posts.

But many insurgents still blame the Pakistani government for its cooperation in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. "We can't forget or forgive Pakistan for turning against us nine years ago," says a senior Taliban intelligence operative, also speaking with NEWSWEEK along the remote border. And the betrayals didn't stop there. Every Taliban can recite a long list of insurgent leaders who have been arrested in Pakistan or who were killed in Afghanistan with assumed Pakistani complicity. One of the biggest losses was Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, a driving force in the Taliban's revival whose hideout near Quetta was raided by Pakistani forces in 2006. He fled across the border, where he was killed in a U.S. airstrike. Another was Mullah Dadullah Akhund, one of the insurgency's most feared commanders, who died in a coalition raid in Helmand--with the help of the ISI, the Taliban suspects. The insurgents say he was too brazen, too independent, and too close to Al Qaeda for Pakistan's comfort.

That illustrates a central point, Taliban say: the only thing Pakistan can be relied on for is a single-minded pursuit of its own national interest. Some ISI operatives may sympathize with the Taliban cause. But more important is Pakistan's desire to have a hand in Afghan politics and to restrict Indian influence there. …

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