India and US-based security experts tracking developments in Pakistan have said that the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, is continuing its support to both Taliban and Al Qaeda and that Pakistan is trying to sell a false image that these terror groups are acting on their own. The evidence gathered by the agencies working in the US has indicated the same.
These observations have come amid the Trump administration cancelling $300 million in aid to Pakistan earlier this week. The aid was a part of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and it was suspended after the US administration found that despite several and repeated communications, Islamabad had failed to take decisive action against terrorist groups that were using Pakistan as a safe haven.
Pakistan started getting aid under this fund from 2002, and till 2016 it received close to $15 billion. The Coalition Support Funds (CSF) refers to the money from the Defense Emergency Response Fund (DERF), which is used to reimburse US coalition partners for logistical and military support to US military operations.
However, in recent times, especially after the coming of President Donald Trump, Pakistan’s “aid” has taken a hit, with the US President accusing Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies and deceit”.
US Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, who stopped by Pakistan earlier this week while coming to India, reportedly conveyed this “deceitfulness” to the new government headed by Imran Khan. He was accompanied by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
As per multiple US reports, over these 15 years, much of the CSF fund which was supposed to be utilised for eradicating Taliban and Al Qaeda, was used to prop them up—a part of it is being accumulated by the Pakistani generals, with the maximum part being diverted to help finance weapons designed to counter India.
Retired US Colonel Lawrence Sellin, who served with the US Army for 29 years, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, believes that the contentions made by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are totally disconnected from each other and that the ISI has provided no support of any kind to either Al Qaeda or the Taliban are patently absurd statements.
“It is widely regarded as historical fact that the Taliban is a creation and proxy of the ISI and that the Taliban provided Al Qaeda a safe haven and an operating base in Afghanistan. Within days of Al Qaeda’s 11 September 2001 attack on the United States, the ISI immediately began providing support to the Taliban. After its defeat in the Autumn of 2001, both the Taliban and Al Qaeda were jointly given safe haven in Pakistan, including the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden”, Sellin told The Sunday Guardian. Sellin has recently written about how Pakistan was back-stabbing the US.
According to him, there is an extensive Taliban infrastructure and support network in Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan, which includes education, recruiting, training, financial and command and control centres. “The ISI has even been reported to employ facilitators, who assist the movement of the Taliban in and out of Afghanistan. One such alleged facilitator lives in an ISI safe house in the Qaziabad area of Nushki, a Pakistani town close to the Afghan border”, he added.
Indian agencies have also submitted hard evidence to the American team, destroying Pakistan’s claim that it was not supporting the Taliban, sources familiar with the developments said.
“People like Hafiz Saeed who carried a US bounty on his head, Masood Azhar, Haqqani Network, all are openly operating in Pakistan without any cover of any sort. They give speeches, roam freely and continue to meet Pakistani politicians and army generals without any fear. US’ policy for a long time has been to use money to dissuade the Pakistani generals and politicians from supporting the Taliban but they have now realised it will not work. India alone cannot fight terrorism emanating from Pakistan—at the most we can repulse an attack or hit at their India based assets. It is countries like US and China which have much stronger leverage with Pakistan, and they need to say enough is enough,” a senior officer with a government security agency said.
Incidentally, the founder of the Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was declared by the Taliban to be dead due to a long time illness just days before Pompeo and Mattis were supposed to land in Islamabad. Multiple media reports had in 2015 stated that Haqqani had died at the time. Security experts told The Sunday Guardian that the announcement of Haqqani’s death could be a red herring floated to appease the US delegation.
According to Colonel Sellin, Taliban was maintaining a close relationship with Al Qaeda even now. “Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the Al Qaeda branch in South and Central Asia, has publicly declared its allegiance to the Taliban. Another key indicator that the Taliban’s relationship with Al Qaeda remains strong is the ascendance of Sirajuddin Haqqani to serve as one of the top two deputies to the Taliban’s emir as well as its commander of military operations. Sirajuddin is closely allied to Al Qaeda. Numerous designations of Haqqani Network commanders detail the close ties to Al Qaeda. In December last year, the Number 2 leader of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Pakistani national Omar bin Khatab, and 80 other Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan were killed in a joint US-Afghan operation. According to US military officials, Al Qaeda has been directly involved in fighting the Afghan government and foreign troops alongside the Taliban and has advised the Taliban in night attacks with rockets and mortars. Then US commander in Afghanistan, Gen John W. Nicholson Jr stated that he still saw collaboration and a ‘close relationship’ between Al Qaeda and the Taliban”, he said, while calling the ISI an equal opportunity employer of terrorists.