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Pakistan Maintains Relationship With Afghan Taliban, Harvard Researcher Says

As we reported yesterday, the London School of Economics and Political Science has published a discussion paper by Matthew Waldman, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, that suggests Pakistan’s military intelligence wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is directing, funding, arming and training the Afghan Taliban.

His report, called "The Sun in the Sky: the relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents," centers on interviews with insurgent field commanders, former senior Taliban officials, Afghan elders, tribal leaders and Western diplomats.

Waldman argues Pakistan is providing the Afghan Taliban with "significant levels of support," from arms and ammunition, to money.  Commanders told Waldman the ISI has operational and strategic influence.

In an interview with NPR's Melissa Block, Waldman said it is time for "a great deal more honesty on all sides, in India and Pakistan, and elsewhere, about what is going on, and how we ultimately address the underlying causes of these kinds of activities."

A commander from the Haqqani network -- an insurgent group that is separate from the Quetta Shura, which is headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban -- told Waldman that insurgents had crossed the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan in trucks that belonged to the Pakistani military, and that the ISI had provided them with weapons and operational instructions.

Citing a senior figure in the Taliban movement, Waldman said Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, reportedly visited with imprisoned members of the Afghan Taliban, offered them his support, then promised them they would be released in due course.

According to Waldman, a group of senior Taliban figures was let go earlier this year.

"I think real questions have to be asked about why that took place," he said.

Asked about what might motivate the alliance, Waldman said that members of the Afghan Taliban benefit greatly from '"an area that is a sanctuary, where they can recuperate, where they train, and where they can prepare for attacks that take place inside Afghanistan."  Financial support is also important, he added.

Because of the "ongoing and latent conflict with India," Waldman thinks Pakistan is worried about the relationship between the Afghan government and India.

They want what they describe as "strategic depth" to their west, and that is why I think they feel that the Taliban as an allied force is a sort of influence for them, and is in their interests.

Since the report was released, critics -- including a spokesman for Pakistan’s military -- have said it is "rubbish," filled with "wild accusations."

"These aren’t wild accusations," Waldman said in reply.  "These are the findings in a report that evolved over 50 interviews."

I think it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that there have been these denials, but I think it is important that we recognize that many analysts have taken this view, and we need to start addressing the fundamental causes of what we’re seeing in the region.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.