You might have noticed an LSE discussion paper by Harvard Carr Center research fellow, Matt Waldman, The Sun in the Sky: the relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents, feature on the news. Its abstract:
Although the Taliban has a strong endogenous impetus, according to Taliban commanders the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence, the largest intelligence service in Pakistan] orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement. They say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani groups, and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies. In their words, this is ‘as clear as the sun in the sky’.
Directly or indirectly the ISI appears to exert significant influence on the strategic decision making and field operations of the Taliban; and has even greater sway over Haqqani insurgents. According to both Taliban and Haqqani commanders, it controls the most violent insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan.
Insurgent commanders confirmed that the ISI are even represented, as participants or observers, on the Taliban supreme leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani command council. Indeed, the agency appears to have circumscribed the Taliban’s strategic autonomy, precluding steps towards talks with the Afghan government through recent arrests.
President Zardari himself has apparently assured captive, senior Taliban leaders that they are ‘our people’ and have his backing. He has also apparently authorised their release from prison. The ISI even arrested and then released two Taliban leaders, Qayyum Zakir, the movement’s new military commander, and Mullah Abdul Raouf Khadem, reportedly now head of the Quetta Shura, who are among the three or four highest ranking in the movement below Mullah Omar.
Many academics do research on these kinds of things. What struck me as particularly odd was the media coverage of Waldman. He spoke with the authority of a government foreign office spokesperson, despite being a mere non-governmental academic research fellow. I found it difficult to see how what he was doing differs from what the intelligence services do.
He wasn’t given an easy ride by all the media. Here’s Al Jazeera:
The interviewer rightly pushed the point that the report showed absolutely no evidence for the claims, other than the hearsay of anonymous sources.
All this media coverage reminded me of an article by a journalist explaining how important sounding people working for SIS would take him out for drinks, give him a spot of “Really enjoy your work… important that the people know what’s really going on… shouldn’t really be telling you this… but I’ve seen evidence that Iraq has WMDs [or whatever it was at the time]…” Being at a relatively early stage of his career and flattered by the attention, he went off and wrote the obvious article, citing anonymous senior intelligence service sources.
Just how does someone who worked for Oxfam, and who was a LibDem foreign policy advisor, gets personal access to people who can provide, on the face of it, material of use to the intelligence services? Why him?
And the final paragraph of the abstract:
Pakistan’s apparent involvement in a double-game of this scale could have major geopolitical implications and could even provoke US counter-measures. However, the powerful role of the ISI, and parts of the Pakistani military, suggests that progress against the Afghan insurgency, or towards political engagement, requires their support. The only sure way to secure such cooperation is to address the fundamental causes of Pakistan’s insecurity, especially its latent and enduring conflict with India.
The message to Pakistan seems to be: continue to (allegedly!) misbehave and the US will come and get you… but the US also needs you and in return can help with India.
But why is the delivery being done by an academic research who formerly worked at Oxfam?
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.