Can Pakistan’s ISI sever ties with Taliban?

April 13, 2009

The United States has begun demanding rather publicly that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence make a clean break of its ties with the Afghan Taliban to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan.

But can you force a country to act against its self-interest, despite all all your leverage, asks Robert D. Kaplan  in a piece for the Atlantic. And does it make sense for an intelligence agency to break off all contact with arguably the biggest player in the region?

Since President Barack Obama placed Pakistan at the centre of his strategy to fight the Afghan war, the debate over the ISI has gotten more open and more heated. Some Pakistani officials and experts with links to the establishment have taken exception to the United States openly painting the spy agency in enemy colours, accusing elements within it of supporting the Talibam.

Kaplan argues that Pakistan’s geography as well as a history of instability makes it almost impossible for it to cut ties to the radical Islamists. Pakistan and Afghanistan have a long and unruly border and that alone would make it necessary for security agencies to build a network of contacts with the principal players in Afghanistan.

On top of that, Pakistanis tend to see Afghanistan through the prism of the country’s unending conflict with India. “When they look to the west they envison an “islamisation” of Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries with which to face off against Hindu-dominated India to the east,” Kaplan writes.

So just as Israel will not scale back settlements in the occupied territories, frustrating U.S. peace efforts, or South Korea will from time to time extend an olive branch to North Korea, undermining U.S. efforts to contain the communist state, Pakistan, another one of America’s allies is not going to act against its core interest, he says. You can tell Pakistan to stop helping the Taliban plan and carry out operations, but you can’t tell them to cut links to the militant group altogether.

But isn’t Pakistan itself threatened by the Taliban? “Quetta Burns. Karachi on Edge. Islamabad on Alert”  ran a headline on the popular blog All Things Pakistan. Author Adil Najam says he wouldn’t recommend reading Pakistani newspapers for the faint-hearted. It’s a perfect storm, and if this doesn’t threaten Pakistan’s core interest what does?

[A protest in Karachi and Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani with chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committe John Kerry]


Rajeev writes: “this diversity will not work in Hindu Republic of India.”

Hindu India will never happen. It is too big for any specific ideology to take over the country, especially in today’s world. India has gone past that threshold. There are other Indias as well – Hindi India, Poor India etc where there are different kinds of majority. Diversity is strength. E Pluribus Unum.


Anup writes: “what could be their ulterior motive for using these Rashid types to spread such horrifying stories & for what sly purpose…”


Rashid is a very sensible and rational writer. Please do not conclude about him by this one reference. He is highly respected in international circles. He is similar to MJ Akbar or Kuldeep Nayyar. If you read his books, you will never see any bias. He has been campaigning hard with the Americans about the festering of ISI and Pak military’s nefarious activities. He has worked hard with UN to bring a peaceful government in Afghanistan. Lunatics like Umair might call him a RAW agent. Read his book, “Descent into chaos,” if you can.


Rajeev writes: “this diversity will not work in Hindu Republic of India.”

“Hindu India will never happen. It is too big for any specific ideology to take over the country, especially in today’s world.”
-Mauryan writes

–I agree. “Hindu Republic of India” (HRI) was my way of equating this with Islamic republics. Co-existance and secularism in Inddia has been practiced since ages. Post-1947 India formally became democratic/secular, but this comes naturally. In India, religion-based nationalism is just not possible for n#of reasons. Democratic/seculaism is the way to go.

New words such as “Indian Taliban” are fancy names often used by authors. mostly to attract attention. This one is fictional in nature.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive


—Personally i hold MJ Akbar in high esteem but he’s a rare case, the same couldn’t be said of the rest of the breed, i’m not familiar with Rashid but as given to understand by you, then i believe that although he understands that if sanity is to be restored in Pakistan, then the only way is for Pakistan to cut loose from it’s past shackles of hatred & viciousness against India & take a great constructive leap of peaceful co-existence & amicable co-operation, but since he has no hope of such a ridiculous transcendental turn of event taking place, he in his anxiety is surreptitiously trying to appeal to the Indian’s sensibility, as he perceives it to be Pakistan’s only hope of survival.

Posted by anup | Report as abusive

Islam doesnt have a caste system, please learn. islam it could be stated have two major sects, Sunni and Shiite. While overwhelming muslim nations, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indian muslims, Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Arab world are Sunni Muslims.
Shiites are concentrated in Iran(almost 100% Shiite and their power base) Shia are in Pak-Afghanistan-India and a percentage in Lebanon (Hezbollah is a Shia millitant organization). Syrians have Shia population so do Bahrain, so Shias are concentrated. Iran, Hezbollah/Lebanon are core enemies of Iran and share this with All other muslims(Sunnis). Shia and Sunni are actually equal i society, its only difference in ideology of the two sects.
On Iran, Pakistan and Iran have understanding on gas project due to economic interests. Iranian FM Kamal Kharazi visited Pakistan the first day after nuclear tests by Pakistan to congratulate. Pakistan allegedly helped to some degree Irans nukes. The enmity with Israel is shared, Iran president Ahmedinejad has visited King Abdullah and Iran-Saudi relations are vastly improved. US wants to begin diplomatic relations with Iran also.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

Iran, Hezbollah/Lebanon are core enemies of Israel (correction)

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

Anup writes: “since he (Rashid) has no hope of such a ridiculous transcendental turn of event taking place, he in his anxiety is surreptitiously trying to appeal to the Indian’s sensibility, as he perceives it to be Pakistan’s only hope of survival.”

Rashid is living in house that is burning in flames. He looks at his neighbor’s compound and sees a wedding celebration going on. Everyone seems happy. Even if he is a good hearted man, there will always be an element of sadness in him about his house not being the way his neighbor’s is. He might lament from that feeling that his house is in fire and there is a strong possibility that the flame can spread to the neighbor if he does not take his attention off this wedding party and acknowledge him. But Rashid is a good man. There are some very sensible people in the Islamic world. They get shouted down by the fanatics so much that no one realizes their presence. Check out the website of Irshad Manji. I have read her books and she makes a lot of sense. And she has death threats in many Islamic nations. If you get a chance to read Rashid’s book from the library or bookstore, do not hesitate to read it. It gives the feeling as though a non-Pakistani wrote it. There are no emotions that cloud one’s judgment. He writes exactly what went wrong since the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and how ignorant the Americans have been until now. It is their ignorance that the ISI and the Pakistani establishment has capitalized until now. For a change the Americans have an intelligent President who wants facts and acts on data.

There are interesting things in Rashid’s book:

1. George Bush did not know who Musharraf was when he took over as President.
2. He did not know who Taliban were. He thought they were a high school foot ball team in Texas.
3. When 9/11 happened, the Americans realized how little they knew about how to launch a counter offensive.
4. The Bush team (Armitage, Rumsfeld,Cheeny) tried its best to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 event and tried to make a plan of attacking Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously.
5. Close to 1000 Pakistani military personnel were air lifted from Kunduz by Pakistani air force planes after Taliban fell. American general Tommy Frank refused to allow American troops there. So many Arab, Central Asian and Pakistani militants were picked up and transferred to safety as well.

And a lot more. This book is a complete revelation.


I agree with Umair, Shia, Ahmedia and Sunni are sects in Islam and this system is much worse than our caste system.

Shia and Sunnis consider each other as heretics and since Islma approves/exhorts death to heretics, both of them are on each other’s neck.

That is why i am surprised how Iran is working with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

For information to Umair, there are a few Shias in (North eastern?)Saudi Arabia also. Needless to say Sunnis prosecute them there as well.

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

@Islam doesnt have a caste system, please learn. islam it could be stated have two major sects, Sunni and Shiite.

—There is lot between the lines “Major sect”. How about minor an subsects. Little misleading since there are a lots and lots of sects/subsects/branches.

Partial list of these divisions is:
Shia/Sunni/Wahhabis/salafi/Sufi/Kharijit es/Bahaiism/
Zaidi/Ghulat/Twelver/Ismaili/Ahmadiyya ……..

It is anybody’s guess tolerant they are to each other.

–happens in all religions. Point is not to point fingers at others as a rule.
-Call it Sects/casts/Denominations…..
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

Umair writes: “Islam doesnt have a caste system, please learn. islam it could be stated have two major sects, Sunni and Shiite”

Why did Iraq and Iran fight a ten year old war? Why is the Taliban blowing up Shiite mosques and killings Shias?

The degree of hatred between Sunnis and Shias is venomous. Anyway, every religion, sect, culture has groups that hate each other. People divide on some reason and fight each other, which is unfortunate.

I think ethnicity and nationality has a much stronger influence on people than religion. People have been Arabs and Persians before Islam itself came into existence. And the animosity between the Arabs, Persians and Turks (or Byzantine empire) goes back to centuries before Islam arrived.

What Islam needs to today is a new sect, similar to Martin Luther’s Protestant sect that did away with Roman Catholic religion altogether. May be a new Islamic sect based on peace and equality to women, devoid of Arab tribal customs needs to come from the moderate ones. Radical Islam will self destruct in the bargain. This is the only way I see Muslims being accepted with respect in other societies.


Let’s be clear here people, you can bash the hindu caste system, but with the caste system, sure there is social inequity at times, and too much at times, but never do you see the level of human depravity, violence, hatred, bloodshed and eternal deep hatred, dehumanization, demonization, religious and racist supremacy and hatred towards Jews propagated by some sects of Islam.

The most peaceful sections in my opinion are the Sufi, Ahmedia, and Ismaili’s. I rarely have seen a world of hatred or violence against muslims or non-muslims uttered from the mouths of the followers of these particular sects of Islam. It is also no wonder that they thrive no matter which country they live in.

In my opinion, they are the leaders of a truer, moderate, gentler Islam which can live with other peoples in peace, regardless of their religion.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

Umair often rants about the caste system. Well there is one in Pakistan, it is the poor, who the Taliban are exploiting. We can argue labels here, but the effect is the same.

Whether you label it caste or socio-economic inequity, the result is the same, the poor are being used by the Taliban.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

Sikhs pay Rs 20 million in Jizia to Pak Taliban

Islamabad, April 16: Members of Pakistan’s minority Sikh community living in the restive Aurakzai tribal region have paid Rs 20 million as “tax” to the Taliban after militants forcibly occupied some of their homes and kidnapped a Sikh leader.The Taliban had demanded Rs 50 million as ‘Jizia’ – a tax levied on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule – but the militants finally settled for Rs 20 million. After the amount was paid yesterday, the militants vacated the homes they had taken over and released Sikh leader Saiwang Singh, officials in the tribal region near the northwestern city of Peshawar were quoted as saying by the Daily Times newspaper. The officials said the Taliban had announced that the Sikhs were now free to live anywhere in Aurzakzai Agency. The militants also announced they would protect the community, saying that no one would harm them after they had paid Jizia. Sikhs who had left the area would now return to their homes and resume their business, the officials said.The militants had occupied at least 10 homes of Sikhs in Qasimkhel village on Tuesday. About 35 Sikh families have been living in Qasimkhel for many years. The Taliban demand for Jizia was resolved at a jirga or council held yesterday through the efforts of local tribal elders. The militants had said the Sikhs should pay Jizia in accordance with Shariah or Islamic law.


For three or four centuries the U.S. has struggled with race and slavery. Our prisons are a form of institutionalized racism. Capital flees areas inhabited by largely Blacks, Hispanics and native Americans. Look at Detroit or Cleveland. Health care by world standards is woefully inadequate in the U.S.. By comparison disparities in infant mortality, life expectancy and morbididy between Blacks and Whites completes this national shame.

As our strides towards justice and equality have been long and arduous, we should have equally low expectation of other nations to make similar change. Ultimately a society will exercise self determination. Foreign powers have no right and traverse at their own peril when they interfere in the affairs of other nations. History is replete with examples. The 20th century is education enough.

A nation cannot effectively outlaw closely held beliefs (no matter how virtuous or depraved) as the law does not rule the heart. The people will resist, even in the face of brutal repression. Absent a serious and honest discussion of actions and consequences by all parties and a commitment to change tempered by tolerance, enmity will be rife thus sowing the seeds of conflict. I accept this as an axiom. My nation has not ascribed to such lofty goals. We simply shroud our desire for economic advantage as a quest for peace, human rights and democracy. As such we receive little if any consideration from our world neighbors and will continue to reap that harvest.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Anubis writes: “Ultimately a society will exercise self determination. Foreign powers have no right and traverse at their own peril when they interfere in the affairs of other nations.”

You are forgetting the fact that self determination and realization of wrong doing, unfairness etc are the result of improved quality of life, education and better social development. Only then changes begin to happen from within. Countries are dependent on each other for vital resources. This brings conflicts due to various reasons – political or ideological differences. So some nations force their way in, in order to have access to those resources. And this brings in interference in the internal matters of many countries since domestic issues can become contrary to the interests of the powerful nations. And the vicious cycle of geo-politics happens. Countries which will not talk to each other on one ideological principle will go together to fight some other ideology. Such lack of principles always bring in a clash of civilizations and unnecessary drain of energy and life. There are always winners and losers in these interactions. That is the way the real world is.


What does this have to do with cruel caste system in India??!

The ISI is keeping contacts with the Taliban for the day when the US leaves. I don’t see a problem with that.


Strategic Ali writes: “The ISI is keeping contacts with the Taliban for the day when the US leaves. I don’t see a problem with that”

That is one reason why the US will not leave from your backyard soon. They already know what your ISI is up to and will begin to force them to cleanse themselves of the Taliban elements. And they intend doing something about the Taliban itself. So when your great grand children are ready for school, you will get a clear picture on when they will leave. They generally do not leave hot spots. They leave their soldiers behind – South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Europe etc.. They now know that Pakistan and Afghanistan are hot spots and they are sitting close to the oil fields in Central Asia and too close to China. And they will now try to protect their business interests in India. They are not going to leave anytime soon. So rest in peace.


@all Bloggers,

If Pakistan wants to talibanize, maybe we should let it.

If it does, the superpowers and even India will not need any permission or UN consensus to thwart any threats. Proactively, all sorts of things can be accomplished with regards to reshaping the region and denuclearizing Pakistan.

The Taliban will be so busy killing average Pakistani’s and the Punjabi army, the world does not need to do much, except sit back and let it happen, let the chips fall where they may.

Maybe we should just all walk away and let Pakistan Talibanize. Then plans can be made accordingly to Balkanize and disarm a Talibanized Pakistan, which in turmoil, chaos and lack of a cohesive government will be much easier to clean up, than the current form which Pakistan is in.

A whole range of pre-emptive options become available to all the stake holder countries if we let it Talibanize.

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I agree with you about letting Pakistan fester with its wounds. It does not matter to India’s interests. What we need to do is to be alert and cautious in order to minimize any cinders falling from their backyard. And if we avoid any overtures for war, we’ll do fine. They wanted an Islamic state and they are going to get the most perfect Islamic nation that will take them to the glory days of their prophet.


There is an interesting discussion in NY Times about Pakistan and Taliban. 009/04/14/south-asias-taliban-problem/in dex.html?ref=asia



The Taliban are easy to take down, give them alcohol and women, and video tape them. Release the videos on the internet with everyone’s favourite Mullah or Sheikh, doing the nasty with a bunch of women. No one will follow them. Dirty tactics, rather than military ones need to be employed to morally deface the Taliban. A war of propaganda needs to be started by Pakistan against the Taliban. We have yet to see this.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

GW writes: “The Taliban are easy to take down, give them alcohol and women, and video tape them. ”

They like boys. They do not get excited by women.


No.As simple as That!
The ISI is another name of the Taliban.The interests of the individuals is much greater than the interests of the country.These myopic Military,punjabi elite havent realised still that they have been sending Pakistan into this Boghole. What I dont understand is the idea that after the US leaves Afghanistan,Pakistan would have a be friendly government there? Why do we need it?Just seal the border and see what Happens. No matter who is in power in Afghanistan for pakistan it wont matter.
Lets not take sides, we should mind our business and improve life here.The society in Pakistan is so fragmented that I feel its going to be worse than the civil war in Lebanon in the 70′s.It’s better the military minds its business otherwise,I think the best solution would be to balkanize Pakistan!
We,the Karachiites and Sindhis,dont want Nuclear weapons nor an army nor Taliban? We just want to live a better life.ISI and its generals should rot in Hell!
If I get the chance to be Pakistan’s army chief or President I would publicly execute all these top *astards and give the country try a new slate.

Posted by Suleman Maniya,Goteborg,Sweden | Report as abusive

Most countries founded on ideology have found it hard to keep the ideology loved by their people and have resorted to repression and brutality to keep the ideology in power. And they collapsed in the bargain. Soviet Union, North Korea etc are prime examples. One needs a lot of money to keep the people happy. This way they will turn a blind eye to those in power and allow them to keep what they want. China is an example. Smaller countries with not much natural resources failed miserably when ideology was used to carve them out. In such countries the first ones to be eliminated are the intellectuals, educated, professionals etc. Religion can never run governments in modern day world. Religion only provides solace when people need it. People who fought for a nation for Muslims using violence are slowly beginning to learn that lesson in Pakistan. Religion did not make their lives better than others. What should have been confined to the mosques and homes, began to direct traffic on the streets. And all traffic has turned into chaos. Everything has a realm in which it works. It cannot be used in the wrong areas. It will only bring emptiness and dejection at the end.


this is just another conspiracy gainst pakistan that ISI is vng ties with taliban and that pakistan,s ISI is still supporting the talibans. how about coming up with some solid reasons that y wud ISI support taliban wen the government is on war with the talibans and lets not forget talibans are a threat not only to america but to many others including Pakistan so y wud the intelligence agency of pakistan damage itself and its country. there are many unanswered questions……so lets not jump to any conclusions.

Posted by zaresh | Report as abusive


The US will leave tomorrow if Osama Bin Laden and Zawahiri can be found today. US does not change, when their objective in Afghanistan was achieved in 1989, they left quickly. They will do the same when OBL is caught, and say that Taliban are a domestic problem of the region.

I find the views of Indians about Islam and Pakistan not only inaccurate, but full of hatred themselves.


Amir Ali,
The US will leave tomorrow if Osama Bin Laden and Zawahiri can be found today—–

They will continue to give financial assistance, but try to reduce their own casualties. Im sure thats understandable.


@I find the views of Indians about Islam and Pakistan not only inaccurate, but full of hatred themselves.
- Posted by Aamir Ali to Mauryan
-Ali: Each and everytime you write “Indian”, rememeber it includes 13% of Muslims population and people of different religions. That makes India having Muslim population as large as Pakistan’s total population. So Islam is not foreign to non-Muslims and having Muslim friends is having just anyother friend; I have many. So who cares what your views are. About Pakistan, even sane Pakistanis justify India’s anger about Pakistan. This is nothing else-a single factor -the terrorism, that you love to throw inside India and India hates Pakistan for that. You justify the deeds of those terrorists in the name of Islam–misleading the youths—and that is the radical Islam Indians have problem with.

You have no idea about Muslims in India, no idea about the state of Kashmiris in India.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive


Having Muslim friends doesnt make you an expert on Islam and reading about Pakistan in newspapers doesn’t make you an expert on Pakistan either. The comments on this blog are full of vitriol against Muslims/Pakistanis, only shows the prejudice that Kashmiris/Muslims face in India.


Aamir Ali:
@Having Muslim friends doesnt make you an expert on Islam and reading about Pakistan in newspapers doesn’t make you an expert on Pakistan either.

Aamir Ali: But it gives me a definute advantage over you.

What do you think about this article? 30/questions-about-burning/

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