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Exposed: Pakistan’s secret love affair with Taliban

world Updated: Jun 14, 2010 01:10 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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Accusing Pakistan of playing an “astonishing double game,” two reports on Sunday said President Asif Ali Zardari had secretly released dozens of Taliban leaders from prison.

The reports — one by a London School of Economics team, the other by The Sunday Times — appearing a day after British Prime Minister David Cameron returned from Afghanistan, showed how Pakistan’s continued support to the Taliban was costing the West lives.

“Pakistan appears to be playing a double game of astonishing magnitude in Afghanistan,” said the LSE report, whose findings make a mockery of the West’s policy of pouring billions of dollars of aid into Pakistan, while negotiating with what it calls the ‘good Taliban.’

The report, written by Harvard University academic Matt Waldman, said support for the Taliban, far from being carried out by rogue spies, is “official ISI policy”. The Sunday Times report agreed with this view, noting that such support was “officially sanctioned at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government.”

Both reports, denied by Islamabad, said Zardari recently met captured Taliban leaders in Pakistan to assure them of his government’s full support.

The Sunday Times said Zardari met 50 high-ranking militants at a prison in Pakistan in April. He told the prisoners he had locked them up only because of American pressure, and they would be out soon. “You are our people, we are friends, and after your release we will support you,” Zardari was quoted as saying by a Taliban leader who was in jail at the time and released five days later.

Equally damaging for the Pakistan government were quotes in the Sunday Times report from Taliban members and Western officials saying up to seven of the 15 men who sit on the Taliban war council — the Quetta shura — were ISI agents. Some sources maintained every shura member had ISI links.

More than 1,800 NATO and US-led coalition soldiers have been killed in the Afghan conflict since 2002. Embarrassingly for Western policy-makers, the reports claimed improvised explosive devices responsible for killing most British soldiers in Afghanistan were introduced to Taliban by Pakistani officials.