Pakistan is still running training camps to support and arm the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan despite official denials, insurgents have claimed.
By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent
6:00AM BST 26 Oct 2011
Middle-ranking Taliban commanders have boasted that they have received “practical guidance” and training in bomb-making by officers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).
One commander, Mullah Azizullah, told a BBC documentary: “They are all the ISI’s men. They are the ones who run the training.
“First they train us about bombs, then they give us practical guidance.
Their generals are everywhere. They are present during the training.”
In an interview at a safe-house in Kabul in June, he added: “The Taliban movement was created with the help of the ISI. It is like when a tree grows – one has to plant it and water it.”
The claims come amid heightened tensions between Pakistan and the US following an attack by insurgents on the US embassy in Kabul last month, conducted by a group that Adml Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the US joint chief of staff, claimed was directed by the ISI.
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, visited Pakistan last week and urged the head of the ISI and the military to take action against militants operating from their soil, including the group behind the embassy attack, the Haqqani network.
Suspicions remain that Pakistan sees Afghanistan as a “strategic buffer” and is continuing to support insurgents so that it is ready for the withdrawal of British and American troops in three years’ time.
Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani president, told the Daily Telegraph last month that Pakistan had to “really think, what will be the environment and fend for itself against all the exterior pressures, all the exterior manoeuvrings and political manoeuvrings against Pakistan.”
A middle-ranking commander called Mullah Qaseem told the makers of Secret Pakistan, to be broadcast on BBC Two this evening [Wed]: “For a fighter there are two important things – supplies and a place to hide.
“Pakistan plays a significant role. First they support us by providing a place to hide which is really important. Secondly and they provide us with weapons.”
Lt Col Tony Shaffer, who served with US Defence Intelligence between 1995 and 2006, said the ISI tipped of Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the leader of al-Qaeda, during a bloody battle with Pakistani troops in Wana in 2004, allowing him to escape.
“We found out … that 24 hours before going in the HVT (high value target) in this case Dr Zawahiri was given fair warning, ‘You’re about to be attacked, you’d better skedaddle’,” he said.
“And the reason being is because the ISI was able to give tip off information to the al-Qaeda and Taliban folks in the safe haven and allow them to escape ahead of the attack.” Col Richard Kemp, who worked at the Cabinet Office as head of intelligence on international terrorism between 2001 and 2006, said the ISI bore some responsibility for not preventing the July 7 attacks.
“The ISI of course must take responsibility for the fact that some of these camps were still up and running including perhaps the camp that, that was responsible for training the 7/7 attackers,” he said.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who headed a review of Pakistan’s role for President Barack Obama, said: “I told the President Pakistan was double-dealing us and that the Pakistanis had been double-dealing the United States and its allies for years and years, and they were probably going to continue to do so.”
Pakistan’s strategy was defended by General Hamid Gul, Director General of the ISI, between 1987 and 1989 when the West was secretly funding anti-Soviet insurgents in Afghanistan, who said: “The collective wisdom of the nation says that we must continue to have good linkages with Taliban … as far as Taliban is concerned it is in Pakistan’s national interest and I think everybody knows that it is in Pakistan’s national interest.”
Pakistan continues to deny the reports with General Athar Abbas, Director General of Inter Services Public Relations, telling the BBC: “To say that these militant groups were being supported by the state with the organised camps in these areas … I think nothing could be further from the truth.”