23 August 2007

Pakistan: "The Taliban's Godfather"

Washington D.C., August 14, 2007 - A collection of newly-declassified documents published today detail U.S. concern over Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban during the seven-year period leading up to 9-11. This new release comes just days after Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, acknowledged that, "There is no doubt Afghan militants are supported from Pakistan soil." While Musharraf admitted the Taliban were being sheltered in the lawless frontier border regions, the declassified U.S. documents released today clearly illustrate that the Taliban was directly funded, armed and advised by Islamabad itself.

Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the documents reflect U.S. apprehension about Islamabad's longstanding provision of direct aid and military support to the Taliban, including the use of Pakistani troops to train and fight alongside the Taliban inside Afghanistan. [Doc 17] The records released today represent the most complete and comprehensive collection of declassified documentation to date on Pakistan's aid programs to the Taliban, illustrating Islamabad's firm commitment to a Taliban victory in Afghanistan. [Doc 34].

These new documents also support and inform the findings of a recently-released CIA intelligence estimate characterizing Pakistan's tribal areas as a safe haven for al-Qaeda terrorists, and provide new details about the close relationship between Islamabad and the Taliban in the years prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Declassified State Department cables and U.S. intelligence reports describe the use of Taliban terrorist training areas in Afghanistan by Pakistani-supported militants in Kashmir, as well as Pakistan's covert effort to supply Pashtun troops from its tribal regions to the Taliban cause in Afghanistan-effectively forging and reinforcing Pashtun bonds across the border and consolidating the Taliban's severe form of Islam throughout Pakistan's frontier region.

Also published today are documents linking Harakat ul-Ansar, a militant Kashmiri group funded directly by the government of Pakistan, [Doc 10] to terrorist training camps shared by Osama bin Laden in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. [Doc 16]

Of particular concern was the potential for Islamabad-Taliban links to strengthen Taliban influence in Pakistan's tribal regions along the border. A January 1997 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan observed that "for Pakistan, a Taliban-based government in Kabul would be as good as it can get in Afghanistan," adding that worries that the "Taliban brand of Islam…might infect Pakistan," was "apparently a problem for another day." [Doc 20] Now ten years later, Islamabad seems to be acknowledging the domestic complications that the Taliban movement has created within Pakistan. A report produced by Pakistan's Interior Ministry and obtained by the International Herald Tribune in June 2007 warned President Pervez Musharraf that Taliban-inspired Islamic militancy has spread throughout Pakistan's tribal regions and could potentially threaten the rest of the country. The document is "an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the country's heart," according to one Pakistani official quoted in the article. "It's tragic it's taken so long to recognize it."

Islamabad denies that it ever provided military support to the Taliban , but the newly-released documents report that in the weeks following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996, Pakistan's intelligence agency was "supplying the Taliban forces with munitions, fuel, and food." Pakistan's Interservice Intelligence Directorate was "using a private sector transportation company to funnel supplies into Afghanistan and to the Taliban forces." [Doc 15] Other documents also conclude that there has been an extensive and consistent history of "both military and financial assistance to the Taliban." [Doc 8]

The newly-released documents also shed light on the complexity of U.S. diplomacy with Pakistan as the State Department has struggled to maintain the U.S.-Pakistan alliance amid concerns over the rise of the Taliban regime. In one August 1997 cable, U.S. Ambassador Thomas W. Simons advises, "Our good relations with Pakistan associate us willy-nilly, so we need to be extremely careful about Pakistani proposals that draw us even closer," adding that, "Pakistan is a party rather than just a mediator [in Afghanistan]." [Doc 24] In another 1997 cable, the Embassy asserts that "the best policy for the U.S. is to steer clear of direct involvement in the disputes between the two countries [Pakistan and Iran], and to continue to work for peace in Afghanistan." [Doc 22]

As to Pakistan's end-game in supporting the Taliban, several documents suggest that in the interest of its own security, Pakistan would try to moderate some of the Taliban's more extreme policies. [Doc 8] But the Taliban have a long history of resistance to external interests, and the actual extent of Pakistani influence over the Taliban during this period remains largely speculative. As the State Department commented in a cable from late-1995, "Although Pakistan has reportedly assured Tehran and Tashkent that it can control the Taliban, we remain unconvinced. Pakistan surely has some influence on the Taliban, but it falls short of being able to call the shots." [Doc 7]


August 1996: Pakistan Intelligence (ISID) "provides at least $30,000 - and possibly as much as $60,000 - per month" to the militant Kashmiri group Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA). Despite this aid, the group is reaching out to sponsors of international terrorism including Osama bin Laden for additional support, and may in the near future become a threat to Islamabad itself as well as U.S. interests. HUA contacts have hinted they "might undertake terrorist actions against civilian airliners." [Doc 10]
October 1996: A Canadian intelligence document released by the National Security Agency and originally classified Top Secret SI, Umbra comments on recent Taliban military successes noting that even Pakistan "must harbour some concern" regarding the Taliban's impressive capture of Kabul, as such victory may diminish Pakistan's influence over the movement and produce a Taliban regime in Kabul with strong links to Pakistan's own Pashtuns. [Doc 14]
October 1996: Although food supplies from Pakistan to the Taliban are conducted openly through Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISID, "the munitions convoys depart Pakistan late in the evening hours and are concealed to reveal their true contents." [Doc 15]
November 1996: Pakistan's Pashtun-based "Frontier Corps elements are utilized in command and control; training; and when necessary - combat" alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. [Doc 17]
March 1998: Al-Qaeda and Pakistan government-funded Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA) have been sharing terrorist training camps in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan for years [Link Doc 16], and HUA has increasingly been moving ideologically closer to al-Qaeda. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad is growing increasingly concerned as Fazlur Rahman Khalil, a leader in Pakistan's Harakat ul-Ansar has signed Osama bin Laden's most recent fatwa promoting terrorist activities against U.S. interests. [Doc 26]
September 1998 [Doc 31] and March 1999 [Doc 33]: The U.S. Department of State voices concern that Pakistan is not doing all it can to pressure the Taliban to surrender Osama bin Laden. "Pakistan has not been responsive to our requests that it use its full influence on the Taliban surrender of Bin Ladin." [Doc 33]
September 2000: A cable cited in The 9/11 Commission Report notes that Pakistan's aid to the Taliban has reached "unprecedented" levels, including recent reports that Islamabad has possibly allowed the Taliban to use territory in Pakistan for military operations. Furthermore the U.S. has "seen reports that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with materiel, fuel, funding, technical assistance and military advisors." [Doc 34]
Read the Documents
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Document 1 - [Excised] to Ron McMullen (Afghanistan Desk), "Developments in Afghanistan," December 5, 1994, Unknown Classification, 1 p. [Excised]

Just as the Taliban are emerging as a major player in Afghanistan, a source [name excised] is troubled over Pakistan's deep involvement in Afghan politics and Pakistan's evident role in the Taliban's recent military successes. His concerns include, "that the GOP [Government of Pakistan] ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] is deeply involved in the Taleban take over in Kandahar and Qalat," and that Pakistan's efforts to further its agenda in Afghanistan will sabotage U.N. peace efforts currently being led by Mahmoud Mesteri, Special Envoy for Afghanistan for the U.N. Secretary General.

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