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ISI ‘helping’ Taliban spread terror in Afghanistan
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Operatives in Pakistan's military intelligence agency are helping the Taliban continue its campaign of terror in Afghanistan, and other terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, which India blames for the Mumbai attacks, according to US government officials.

This support consists of "money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders, who are gearing up to confront the international force in Afghanistan that will soon include some 17,000 American reinforcements," the New York Times reports.

The New York Times quoted US and Pakistani officials as saying support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the "shadowy S Wing of the Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)."

"There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether the Taliban should intensify or scale back violence in the months before the Afghan elections, scheduled for August,” the report said. Details of these continuing ties between the ISI and Taliban were reported by American, Pakistani and other security officials during recent interviews in Washington and Islamabad.

Little is publicly known about the ISI’s S Wing, which, officials say, directs intelligence operations outside of Pakistan. According to the Times, American officials said that the S Wing provided direct support to three major groups carrying out attacks in Afghanistan: the Taliban based in Quetta, Pakistan, commanded by Mullah Muhammad Omar; the militant network run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; and a different group run by guerrilla leader Jalaluddin Haqqani.

US officials have for a while now expressed frustration both in private and in public about continuing ties between the Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban. Earlier, in an interview with this correspondent, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Richard Boucher, said the Pakistani government had to do a lot more to break this link. "We will have to make sure that is done completely and effectively," Boucher said, adding, "At this point it is a work in progress."

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently on “The Charlie Rose Show” on PBS, "They (ISI operatives) have been very attached to many of these extremist organisations, and it’s my belief that in the long run, they have got to completely cut ties with those in order to really move in the right direction.”

The Times reported that American officials have said that mid-level ISI operatives occasionally cultivate relationships that are not approved by their bosses. Yet, it added, “In a sign of just how resigned western officials are to the ties, the British government has sent several dispatches to Islamabad in recent months asking that the ISI use its strategy meetings with the Taliban to persuade its commanders to scale back violence in Afghanistan before the August presidential election there, according to one official.”

Earlier this week, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said India and the US “must work together with all of our international partners to support” the Pakistani government as it takes steps to confront and eliminate extremists.

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