Pakistan is considered a key state to stability and security in Asia. Its rivalry with India, their nuclear weapons, and its role in the Afghanistan war made this country one of the hotspots in today’s international panorama.
Officially, Pakistan is an USA ally in the War on Terror. But since 9/11 some analysts have claimed that Islamabad would have played a double game, mainly through its intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). ISI has collaborated with Western governments in hunting down Al Qaeda leaders. But as its critics say, it would have supported secretly the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid explained this supposed shadowy role in an interview: “While part of the ISI assisted the Bush Administration, furnishing it with self-serving but at times useful intelligence, the ISI create another, covert section, to run its Taliban-support operations”.
Matt Waldman, Harvard University, has written a report for the London School of Economics, “The Sun in the Sky”, about the links between ISI and taliban. And the documents revealed by WikiLeaks also show some degree of Pakistani support.
Why is ISI supposedly acting that way? The first explanation available may be that some Pakistani spies and military are sympathetic to Islamic fundamentalists, because some commanders joined the army and the intelligence services in the times of Muhammad Zia ul Haq dictatorship (1978-1988), when the sharia (Islamic law) was imposed in the country.
But this argument would explain only the situation partly. The Pakistani support to Afghan taliban must be understood under the view of its rivalry with India for the region of Kashmir, and the idea of “strategic depth”. It means that in the event of an all-out war with India, the Pakistani army would operate from Afghanistan to overcome its disadvantage against the bigger neighbour. So, if Islamabad has a friendly government in Kabul (like the Taliban regime was) and the war with India starts, Pakistan army will operate from Afghan territory without risk to be easily overcome by huge enemy forces.
The Pakistani governments (democratic or Musharraf dictatorship) have intervened in Afghan affairs to guarantee friendly governors in Kabul, as we saw during the Soviet invasion or the war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. We should also remember that the ISI was in charge of training the mujahedin whom fight back USSR troops and communist regime in Afghanistan.
Pakistan knows that NATO troops will not stay for long time in Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai government is close to India. With the influence from New Delhi rising, the Pakistani might feel surrounded by their enemies.
Islamabad has always denied his involvement with the Taliban, and says that the support to the insurgency may come from rogue agents. But Western intelligence agencies like the CIA or the Spanish CNI have published documents appointing the ISI involvement in Taliban attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan (for example the bombing in the Indian embassy in Kabul causing 41 deaths) and high ranking officers from Karzai’s government.
Another question is the degree of control exerted by Islamabad over the ISI. Critics have said that the intelligence agency is a “state within the state” and put their obedience towards Asif Zardari’s government as one of the key elements for the stability in the country and in the whole region, one of the most dangerous in the world. The new democratic government in Pakistan are trying to proof that it can control it.
How to avoid the supposedly Pakistani help to the taliban insurgency? The international community must support the democratic government in Pakistan. The United Nations and the USA will also try to restart talks between Islamabad and New Delhi to settle a peace agreement over the disputed Kashmir region. In doing so, no one in Pakistan should see the need to help the Afghan terrorists.