FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Wikileaks points to Pakistan, Iran support for Taliban
, August 7, 2010
Among the 90,000 US military documents published on the internet site, Wikileaks, a number contain disturbing allegations that Iran and Pakistan's intelligence service had secretly armed Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan to kill Afghan government employees and Western troops.
The reports are unconfirmed, and have been denied by both Iran and Pakistan; but they cannot be simply dismissed, as the Taliban have clearly been receiving continued external supplies to enable them to continue their guerrilla war in the eight years since American-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.
According to the Wikileaks documents, in 2004 and 2005, Iran offered a group of eight Taliban leaders living in Iran more than $US1,700 in bounty for each Afghan soldier killed, and around $US3,500 for each Afghan government official killed. Another report claimed that two Iranian intelligence agents had brought more than $US200,000 to Afghanistan and handed it over to aides of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former Afghan Prime Minister who now heads one of the insurgent factions.
Hekmatyar was a leader of the Islamic insurgency against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, and received millions of dollars in US funding, which was funnelled to the insurgency through the Pakistan security agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Hekmatyar was Prime Minister of Afghanistan for two years in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union was forced out of Afghanistan. But he opposed the Taliban, and was forced to go into exile in Iran after the Taliban came to power.
In 2006, Hekmatyar claimed that his force had assisted Osama bin Laden to escape from the Tora Bora mountains, near the Afghan-Pakistan border, in 2002.
In 2006, another report claimed that Hekmatyar's group had brought 200 cars from Iran and Pakistan to use as car bombs. A later report claimed that, in 2009, a force of Taliban and foreign fighters had moved from Iran into Afghanistan, to fight the Allied forces.
The Wikileaks documents contain, apart from their documentation of Iran's interference in Afghanistan, a large number of reports of connections between Pakistan's ISI and the Taliban, since the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Washington DC, on September 11, 2001.
These reports are alarming, because Pakistan receives about $US1 billion a year in US military aid, which is intended to be used by Pakistan to fight the Taliban, particularly in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Top US officials have recently praised Pakistan's assistance in the fight against the Taliban. For example, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced an increase of $US500 million in assistance and called the United States and Pakistan "partners joined in common cause".
But reports from the ground paint a different picture.
US military officers have frequently reported the ease with which Taliban fighters cross the border with Pakistan, both to attack Allied forces and to flee to safe havens when the Allies attacked Taliban positions along the border.
Pakistan is a staunchly Islamic nation, like Afghanistan, and ethnically, the Sunni Pashtun people occupy both countries.
One of those frequently mentioned in reports is Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, who headed the ISI from 1987 to 1989, when the US was supplying the Taliban through the ISI. The documents indicate that he has maintained close working ties with the Taliban in recent years.
He has worked closely with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose organisation is responsible for numerous attacks on both Afghan Government leaders and Allied forces. One report described him meeting a group of militants, including three Afghan insurgent leaders and three al Qaeda representatives, in January last year, in Wana, capital of the province of South Waziristan.
The document reported that General Gul urged the Taliban leaders to conduct their operations inside Afghanistan, so that Pakistan could ignore their presence in Pakistan's tribal areas.
When challenged about reported links with the Taliban, General Gul denied the allegations, pointing out that he is a retired army officer who lives on his pension. However, when a journalist rang to make an appointment to see him, he was unavailable because he was attending meetings at army headquarters.
A further problem is that the civilian leaders of Pakistan's government seem to have little control over the army, and none over the ISI.
The current head of the army, General Parvez Kayani, ran the ISI from 2004 to 2007, when the links between the Taliban and the ISI were frequently referred to in the documents.
The reports suggest that the Pakistan army is playing a double game with the US: co-operating with American attempts to attack Taliban commanders through drone strikes, while secretly arming the Taliban to kill Allied and Afghan personnel.
While these issues are unresolved, it is clearly impossible to achieve any military victory in Afghanistan.