Pakistan’s Generals Really, Really “Heart” the Afghan Taliban


anatol lieven asp naf.jpgOne of the zingers from the WikiLeaks War Diaries — some 92,000 classified reports on secret military hunting squads, on military encounters with the Taliban, unreported accidental killings of innocent civilians, and more — is that there may be detailed logistics and financial support of the Afghanistan Taliban by Pakistan’s ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence.
As some have commented, this is not necessarily a surprise — but given frequent Pakistan denials coupled with US military and White House claims that it has confidence that Pakistan’s national security chiefs are “with us” and “not with them” — this kind of evidence, if true, is clarifying and troubling.
King’s College London War Studies Professor and New America Foundation Senior Fellow Anatol Lieven captures well the strong linkages between Pakistan’s military elite and the Afghan Taliban in this graph from a longer essay, “All Kayani’s Men,” that ran in the March/April 2008 edition of National Interest:

Concerning the Afghan Taleban, the military and the ISI are at one, and the evidence is unequivocal: The military and ISI continue to give them shelter, and there is deep unwillingness to take serious action against them on America’s behalf, both because it is feared that this would increase Pathan insurgency in Pakistan, and because they are seen as the only assets Pakistan possesses in Afghanistan.
The conviction in the Pakistani security establishment is that the West will quit Afghanistan leaving civil war behind, and that India will then throw its weight behind the non-Pathan forces of the former Northern Alliance in order to encircle Pakistan strategically.
Concerning the Pakistani Taleban and their allies, however, like the military as a whole, the ISI is now committed to the struggle against them, and by the end of 2009 had lost more than seventy of its officers in this fight – some ten times the number of CIA officers killed since 9/11, just as Pakistani military casualties fighting the Pakistani Taleban have greatly exceeded those of the US in Afghanistan. Equally, however, in 2007-2008 there were a great many stories of ISI officers intervening to rescue individual Taleban commanders from arrest by the police or the army – too many, and too circumstantial, for these all to have been invented.
It seems clear therefore that whether because individual ISI officers felt a personal commitment to these men, or because the institution as a whole still regarded them as potentially useful, actions were taking place that were against overall military policy – let alone that of the Pakistani government.
Moreover, some of these men had at least indirect links to Al Qaeda. This does not mean that the ISI knows where Osama bin Laden (if he is indeed still alive), Aiman al-Zawahiri and other Al Qaeda leaders are hiding. It does however suggest that they could probably do a good deal more to find out.

Some of the WikiLeaks documents allege that former Pakistan ISI Chief Hamid Gul ordered attacks against NATO forces and attempted to meet with senior al Qaeda members. The leaks also claim close coordination between Gul and Taliban operations. Gul has denied all of these claims.
gul.jpgThat said, General Gul recently appeared at the 5th Al Jazeera Forum in Doha on a panel with the former Foreign Minister of the Taliban and was actively engaged over the length of the forum with the Foreign Minister and a couple of other top tier ‘former’ Taliban leaders, including the former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan.
I attended the forum and spoke with General Gul and these various ‘former’ Taliban officials.
During his panel presentation in Doha, General Gul made the controversial comment about America’s presence in Afghanistan:

“Losers can’t be choosers! America can cut and run like it had to in Vietnam or it can negotiate its departure with the Taliban which would like to avoid unnecessary instability and disruption. But either way, America has lost in Afghanistan.”

Another Pakistan general who seems more circumspect than Gul told me:

No matter what the Americans hear from Pakistan about cutting ties with the Afghanistan Taliban, these Taliban give Pakistan “strategic depth.”
It is difficult to overstate the enthusiasm that a great many Pakistani generals have for these Taliban. They will not simply shelve that enthusiasm. They may hide it, but they won’t shelve it.

An interesting side note about former ISI chief Hamid Gul involves the U.S. attempting to place him on the Interpol “Terrorism Watch List.”
I have learned from reliable sources that China vetoed the U.S. effort to blacklist Gul.
The interconnectedness of America’s challenges today and the constraints on American action are substantial.
— Steve Clemons


27 comments on “Pakistan’s Generals Really, Really “Heart” the Afghan Taliban

  1. David Billington says:

    I wonder if a more hopeful view of Pakistan is possible. Most Pakistanis
    are Barelvi Muslims, a moderate branch, and a Harvard study a few
    years ago found that claims of spreading madrasa influence were
    unfounded. The country does have a middle class, the percentage is
    just much smaller than in India.
    India is still doing better (it is for one thing a democracy). But modern
    influences in Pakistan might grow if we encouraged them more
    intelligently. For example, most parents there are looking for modern
    education and this is something we might help older students obtain at
    a nominal cost if cell phones are becoming efficient means of online
    delivery. I would hope that there are ways in which we can assist
    modernization that the people of Pakistan themselves actually want and
    are willing up to a point to pay for.
    A Taliban coalition or victory in Afghanistan could embolden Talibs in
    Pakistan and Islamists there generally. The majority in Pakistan who
    want to move into the modern world peacefully could have their
    prospects cut short if extremist influence in the country spreads, and
    terror attacks on India and the West could continue.
    However, after we leave Afghanistan there is likely to be an
    understanding that if another terror attack on the United States
    originates in that part of the world, either we will not allow the
    planners to take sanctuary in Pakistan or we will hold Pakistan
    accountable if they do. In the meantime, I would hope that we can give
    what assistance we can to the Pakistani people that they themselves
    want and can use to build better lives.


  2. Carroll says:

    Posted by DonS, Jul 27 2010, 8:06PM – Link
    ” Tell me it can’t go on forever”
    O. K..It can’t go on forever.
    Seriously…it really can’t.
    I am sure some of our elite shadow government have their not for public consumption studies on how to profit and rule in the US afterlife.
    Beat the herd…Think ahead.


  3. nadine says:

    “Frankly I don’t care if Pakistan has three economic classes or two or seventeen, that’s nobody’s business but the Paks.
    The important facts to know are that India and Pakistan are enemies, China and Pakistan are friends (so Pakistan won’t ‘fail’), and finally that Pakistan interests and US interests are diametrically opposed, ” (Don Bacon)
    So you intend to just play stupid about why Pakistan’s interests are opposed to the US’s and how they got that way? Naturally, the reasons for Pakistan’s positions are beyond reproach, while the US’s are always to blame.
    The trouble with trying to make yourself stupid on an issue is that the effort usually succeeds.


  4. DonS says:

    . . . about time to cut Social Security benefits to finance Obama’s war, eh? How can this guy get up in the morning and look in the mirror? More importantly, when will the supposed great popular dissatisfaction with politicians, politics and government in general by the American people make the connection that they are being screwed by having their pockets picked to pay for needless wars, corrupt foreign governments, and endless graft and unaccounted for billions of dollars? Their money going down the drain of waste, fraud, corruption, and supporting every defense contractor in the business — just because — in the world’s greatest ponzi scheme. Tell me it can’t go on forever.


  5. Don Bacon says:

    this just in:
    House passes war-funding bill
    The 308-114 roll call Tuesday by which the House passed an almost $59 billion measure that includes funds for President Barack Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan.
    Voting yes (to pass) were 148 Democrats and 160 Republicans. Voting no were 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans.
    What’s wrong with this picture? Obama has more friends for his war on the red side than on the blue.


  6. Don Bacon says:

    Frankly I don’t care if Pakistan has three economic classes or two or seventeen, that’s nobody’s business but the Paks.
    The important facts to know are that India and Pakistan are enemies, China and Pakistan are friends (so Pakistan won’t ‘fail’), and finally that Pakistan interests and US interests are diametrically opposed, causing most Pakistanis to hate the US (but take our money — why not), which is one paramount reason to leave this part of the world where they regularly ship pallets of dollars out on aircraft to parts unknown and the idiot Americans who bring them the money don’t even account for it, to say nothing of the lives that are lost in this Quixotic nine year effort to . . .what was the reason again?


  7. nadine says:

    Don Bacon, the problem with Pakistan’s perceived national self-interests is that they are turning Pakistan into a failed state.
    You mention that India’s economy is doing much better than Pakistan’s. Well, this didn’t happen by chance; it happened by India turning away from socialism and encouraging business development. Now the Indian middle class is as populous as the whole United States, while Pakistan remains mainly stratified in a semi-feudal state of rich and poor.
    Pakistan’s choice was not to create a middle class, but to obsess over Kashmir, sponsor terrorism against India, become the planet’s worst nuclear proliferator, and support the Taliban. These choices have consequences. It’s not the first time, and won’t be the last, that a country has been taken down the tubes by its rulers’ bad but “self-interested” choices.
    From a media standpoint, the interesting thing is that nobody blames Pakistan’s bad choices on India like they blame similar Arab bad choices on Israel. Blaming India would be much more plausible because, as you pointed out, India really is a very large and powerful country.
    But then, as far as I know, nobody has spent the last hundred years peddling the idea that everything that is wrong with the world is due to a secret cabal of Indians who control every country in the world and run the media, an idea which is a perennial favorite about the Jews; just ask Oliver Stone.


  8. ... says:

    stupid capatcha stuff round here makes one have to try posting more then a few times and the cut and paste into another window never relays properly… good reason to skip trying to post on the washington notes comment section unfortunately…


  9. ... says:

    gul sounds like a realist… it must be shocking for some to hear a person like that…
    johnh 1123am and bds 1023am – thanks – ditto on that…
    dan kervick.. do you support the continued expansion of info collecting that the patriotic act seems to want to expand many times what it was less then 10 years ago? the criticism that dana priest leveled in her series in the wapo was that all this info collecting requires someone to shift thru it all and presently the coffers are swamped with info with not enough private contractors or whoever to scrutinize it… here is a good article that touches on these dynamics of collecting info but not being able to weed thru all of it in some meaningful way..
    “8. I


  10. nadine says:

    “Your view seems to be closer to the idea of a negotiated
    outcome as a means for US disengagement altogether. The
    reality is that negotiations may only be a diplomatic fig leaf to
    cover our withdrawal. But if so, then to drop our view of the
    Taliban’s record on human rights seems gratuitous and isn’t
    going to affect the Taliban one way or the other. ” (Dave Billington)
    That’s a good point and could be said for a lot of the punditocracy preaching “engagement” and an “end to demonizing” with an assortment of jihadist political groups.


  11. David Billington says:

    Steve Clemons – “My sense is that in the long run we will never
    be rid of the Taliban for this reason — and thus need to stop
    demonizing them. A deal with Pakistan may be possible for
    some sort of hybrid state, part Karzai/part Taliban — but based
    on withdrawal of US troops.”
    I don’t see how downplaying our view of the Taliban’s human
    rights record will make them more amenable to negotiations, if
    we are on the way out of Afghanistan in any case.
    The alternative is to improve the bargaining power of the
    opposition. We could for example support the peoples of the
    former Northern Alliance, who will almost certainly regroup to
    oppose Taliban reconquest as we draw down our forces, in a
    way that we might have done in the late 1990s, ie. with weapons
    and satellite intelligence. This degree of aid could give these
    groups more of the ability and the will to resist and thereby
    make it more likely that the Taliban will compromise with them
    rather than wage an extended civil war.
    It will almost certainly be more practical to aid spontaneous
    opposition that arises, if we still want to try to influence things
    in Afghanistan, than to continue to back the Karzai regime if the
    latter cannot make up for lost time over the next six to twelve
    months. But of course this is to assume that we are willing to
    remain involved at a distance.
    Your view seems to be closer to the idea of a negotiated
    outcome as a means for US disengagement altogether. The
    reality is that negotiations may only be a diplomatic fig leaf to
    cover our withdrawal. But if so, then to drop our view of the
    Taliban’s record on human rights seems gratuitous and isn’t
    going to affect the Taliban one way or the other.


  12. John Waring says:

    We have 10% unemployment, and we’re engaged in wishful thinking in Afghanistan.
    What is the point of our being there in the first place? Radical Islamists can attack the United States from several points on the compass.
    Unless we are willing to get rid of Karzai and build good government from scratch, in one of the most primitive tribal areas on earth, fractured by thirty years of war; unless we are willing to destroy Pashtu resistance on both sides of the Durand Line, and the concomitant resistance of the Pakistani military, committing the several hundreds of thousands of troops required, and thus risk the little remaining stability of the Pakistani state, then the outcome is well-nigh inescapable. What the regional powers want for Afghanistan, what the Afghans work out themselves, will determine Afghan


  13. Don Bacon says:

    this just in:
    Representative David R. Obey, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, intends to vote against the war spending bill before the House on Tuesday, signaling a deepening split in the Democratic Party over the war in the wake of the disclosure of classified documents showing the conflict was not going as well as portrayed.
    The break by Mr. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat ostensibly responsible for the very bill he will oppose, came as fellow liberal Democrats complained that scarce federal dollars were being devoted to Afghanistan at the expense of critical needs at home.


  14. Dan Kervick says:

    90,000 reports?
    How the hell can anyone claim that they have even the beginning of a solid interpretation of what these reports all add up to? It will take months for the alleged information in these reports to be checked, tracked down, corroborated, confirmed or disconfirmed by reporters.
    Not every report that is written in the field is reliable, or even competent. Not every informant whose information is included in some guy’s report is on the up and up. Not every rumor who some report writer sees fit to pass along to his superiors has some basis in fact.
    The fact that someone dumps hundreds of thousands of pages of alleged information on your desk does not automatically make you better informed. That’s why intelligence agencies have analysts: they have to do a lot of work to shift through all this crap and distill it into something that stands up to critical tests, and is intelligible.


  15. observer says:

    John Robert BEHRMAN:
    “Afghanistan has the wherewithal to be a stable, prosperous state”.
    When? What is the ETA in your opinion?


  16. observer says:

    Gul’s comments about US aiming to create geo-strategic facts-on-the-ground (parapharsing his statements) by instrumentally using 9/11 attacks is true.
    How else can you explain lack of retaliation against UAE (where there were days of celeberation for 9/11 attacks) or Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan while invading Iraq and threatening Iran?


  17. erichwwk says:

    mea culpa;
    thanks due to John Robert BEHRMAN, for bringing up the Durand line.


  18. erichwwk says:

    Thanks, for bring up:
    “There are old Pathan/Punjabi conflicts over the Durand line in particular. ”
    Now THAT’S an understatement.
    from a NYT lede:
    In January, Pierre Sprey, a former Pentagon official, told Bill Moyers in a discussion of American strategy for fighting militants along the Afghan-Pakistan border, calling the Pashtuns who live along both sides of the Durand Line


  19. JohnH says:

    It looks increasingly like Afghanistan is nothing more than a playground for military brass and defense contractors.
    Here’s the script:
    1) pick one of the poorest nations on earth
    2) concoct a grade B Hollywood-style story about how a handful of bad guys are threatening the planet
    3) go play and loot the Treasury
    And corrupt politicians and the media cheer it on!


  20. Don Bacon says:

    Ralph Peters puts it well, in the NY Poat: “America plays the fool in Pakistan’s double game”
    Peters: ” The treasure trove of 91,000 classified AfPak documents posted by WikiLeaks suggests that our government’s been deceiving us about Pakistan’s murderous behavior. But the situation’s even worse than that: Our government’s been lying to itself.
    “We’re told that these reports are unverified, that some can be traced back to anti-Pakistani Afghan intelligence operatives, and that American eyewitness accounts are one-offs.
    “Folks, I’ve done plenty of intelligence analysis, and here’s how it works: A single report of a supposed ally’s wrongdoing gets your attention, but it’s regarded as an outlier until another source confirms it. After that, you actively search for further corroboration — before you get blindsided big time.
    “One report might be hearsay. But hundreds of reports of Pakistani collaboration with our Taliban and al Qaeda enemies amount to a pattern. And intelligence is about patterns.
    “Our government’s response to Pakistani complicity in the death of hundreds of our troops and the wounding of thousands? Send additional aid — on top of the $6 billion recently committed — and bills in Congress to grant special trade privileges to Pakistanis in Taliban-infested territories.”


  21. mimi mcallister says:

    Afghanistan war logs: tensions increase after revelation of more leaked files


  22. Don Bacon says:

    Let’s look at the geopolitics involved. The US has cozied up to Pakistan’s arch-enemy India, a country which is much more populous and has a much greater economy than Pakistan, plus India spends almost ten times as much on its military. So Pakistan is concerned.
    While the US has offered assistance to India to expand their nuclear power plants, the US is fighting the China sale of two civil nuclear reactors to Pakistan. China has been a long-time friend of Pakistan.
    India, for its part, is concerned that the military aid being supplied to Pakistan in the name of the global war on terrorism would be “misused” against India.
    India is a presence in Afghanistan, which brackets Pakistan on the other (west) side from India. India has a growing economic and political influence in Afghanistan. General Petraeus said recently: “India has a legitimate interest in this region without question as do others if you want to extend it further.”
    These put-downs have naturally angered Pakistan, the traditional power there. Pakistan has to be prepared for the announced withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, and it doesn’t want to be outflanked by India. Pakistan has to retain some control in Afghanistan. With the Taliban still in de facto control of most of Afghanistan, and a weak, corrupt central government, Pakistan’s national interest is clear.
    The problem, of course, is that Pakistan’s national interest is diametrically opposed to the US (official) national interest, which nevertheless didn’t keep President Obama from making Pakistan the third leg of his most recent new AfPak strategy: “Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.” And this guy is supposed to be smart?


  23. John Robert BEHRMAN says:

    Afghanistan has the wherewithal to be a stable, prosperous state — not a nation, of course, but nations were never the only and, maybe, not the main form of political economy and military power today.
    Bactria is like Switzerland: the German/French/Italian and Protestant/Evangelical/Catholic Confederatio Helvetica, to wit, in the middle of Russian, Chinese, Persian, Indian (nuclear) rivalries generally but not a willing party to any of those conflicts.
    There are old Pathan/Punjabi conflicts over the Durand line in particular. There is also that oil field that prompted drawing the Durand line, in the first place, and that, during the 1950’s, funded Punjabi as military domination of the Pasthun and, for a time, the Bengali.
    We can and should restore Afghans’ traditional ability to make their homelands — valley by valley — not worth great or minor outside powers messing with. We can do it with a “small military footprint” and proficient diplomacy.
    But, we surely cannot do that by protecting remnants of the British Plutocracy (BP) here and abroad; by using foreign wars to protect agro-military pork piled up by DoD and the HASC/SASC before 9-11; or by using domestic fear-mongering to promote the suburban real-estate bubble piled up by DHS and the NSA/DNI kludge after 9-11.
    We cannot prevail in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Waziristan or, for that matter, Louisiana, Texas, and the Trans-Nueces when collusive bargaining among the plutocrats of BoWash and Londinium proceeds without regard to strategy or logistics or even basic arithmetic — oblivious to everything but the inflated incomes and precious lifestyles or our ruling elite: Not “imperialists”, not “capitalists”, just “Radical” or “Union” Whigs.


  24. Cee says:

    Interesting guy
    Gul said that he routinely confronts American journalists about why they do not probe into 9/11, and that they respond by telling Gul that the Patriot Act gets in the way and they are


  25. nadine says:

    “My sense is that in the long run we will never be rid of the
    Taliban for this reason — and thus need to stop demonizing them.
    A deal with Pakistan may be possible for some sort of hybrid state, ” (Steve Clemons)
    Isn’t that exactly what Pakistan tried in the Swat Valley? How did that work out for them?
    My problem with this, Steve, is that you seem to want to deal with radical Islamists by replacing “demonizing” with whitewashing. Unfortunately, you cannot get rid of their ideology and its effects by pretending they don’t exist. If the Taliban truly believe that Allah has ordered them to win at any cost, and deals are only made to be broken as soon as possible, you won’t be able to make a deal with them anymore than Pakistanis could.


  26. steve clemons says:

    alexno — it’s always good to be skeptical. appreciate your
    thoughtful counter points. i have spoken to more than Hamid Gul
    of course. My piece mentions speaking to other Pakistan generals
    above. Have also spoken to Kayani who makes the counter case as
    you might suspect. But at this point, I’ll stick to my course that it’s
    very difficult — perhaps impossible — in the near to mid term for
    Pakistan to forego the strategic benefits of having the Taliban in its
    orbit. My sense is that in the long run we will never be rid of the
    Taliban for this reason — and thus need to stop demonizing them.
    A deal with Pakistan may be possible for some sort of hybrid state,
    part Karzai/part Taliban — but based on withdrawal of US troops.
    We’ll see.


  27. alexno says:

    Two points here:
    1) Just because something is in the Wikileaks
    documents does not mean that it is true. It means
    that it was the perception of the US military at
    the time, quite possibly faulty.
    2) As the Pakistanis are pointing out, Hamid Gul
    has been retired for twenty years, long before the
    events of the Wikileaks documents. He was active
    in the events of the end of the Soviet occupation,
    a time when contacts with the Taliban-Mujahidin
    people were appreciated. He is also known as the
    extreme end of the spectrum, not a typical example
    to cite. Evidently retired people are capable of
    acting, though they more often advise.
    Personally, I am quite open on the question, I
    don’t know what the truth is, but the Pakistanis
    do have a point.


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