Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency provides funding, training and sanctuary to the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to a study which claimed to have the strongest evidence yet of their links.
However the report for the London School of Economics (LSE) was on Sunday dismissed by the Pakistani military as “malicious and baseless”.
The LSE study, based on interviews with nine Taliban field commanders in Afghanistan between February and May this year, claims their relationship goes far beyond what is currently known.
“Although the Taliban has a strong endogenous impetus, according to Taliban commanders the ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement,” wrote author Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University.
“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’.”
Waldman said the ISI appears to exert “significant influence” on strategic decision-making and field operations of the Taliban and controls the most violent insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan.
Insurgent commanders claimed the ISI was even officially represented, as participants or observers, on the Taliban supreme leadership council, he said.
The report also alleges that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari himself had assured captive, senior Taliban leaders that they were “our people” and had his backing. He had apparently authorised some to be released from prison.
It concludes that efforts by the Afghan government and NATO-led forces to end the insurgency in Afghanistan will only be possible with Pakistani support.
The report drew an angry reaction from the Pakistani military.
“It is a part of a malicious campaign against the Pakistan army and the ISI,” Pakistan army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.
“It is baseless. The sacrifices by Pakistan’s army and the ISI and the casualties in the war on terror speak for themselves,” he said. “We have a series of questions on the credibility of the report.”