Operatives in Pakistan's military intelligence are directly aiding Taliban's campaign in southern Afghanistan, despite official claims that ISI has severed all relations with the extremists, a media report said in New York on Thursday.
The Taliban's widening campaign in southern Afghanistan is made possible in part by direct support from operatives in
Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the New York Times said, citing US government officials.
The support, it said 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.
Support for Taliban and other militant groups is coordinated by operatives in the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan's spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the officials were quoted as saying.
It said there is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before Afghan elections.
The report contradicted oft repeated claims by Pakistan's top officials that ISI has cut-off all relations with Taliban and other militant groups. But the inability or unwillingness, of the embattled civilian government to break ties that bind the ISI to the militants illustrates the complexities of a region of shifting alliances, it said.
In a sign of just how resigned Western officials are to the ties, the Times quoted one official as saying that the UK 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.
US officials admit they are struggling to understand these allegiances as they fight an insurgency in Afghanistan. But the Pakistanis told the paper that the contacts were less threatening than the US officials depicted and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India.
"In intelligence you have to be in contact with your enemy or you are running blind," a senior Pakistani military officer said. Details of the ISI's continuing ties to militant groups, the Times said, were described by a half-dozen American,
Pakistani and other security officials during recent interviews in Washington and the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
The American officials were quoted as saying proof of the ties between the Taliban and Pakistani spies came from
electronic surveillance and trusted informants. The Pakistani officials interviewed by the paper said that they had first
hand knowledge of the connections, though they denied that the ties were strengthening the insurgency.
American officials, the paper said, have complained for more than a year about the ISI's support to groups like the Taliban. But the new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse
types of support than was previously known - months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI's playing a
"double game" had ended.
But American officials told the paper that it is unlikely that top officials in Islamabad are directly coordinating the clandestine efforts. They have also said that mid-level ISI operatives occasionally cultivate relationships that are not
approved by their bosses.