Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI keeps ties to the Taliban as a "strategic hedge" due to uncertainty about the future outcome of the war in neighbouring Afghanistan, according to US Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates.
"Their maintaining contact with these groups, in my view, is a strategic hedge. They're not sure who's going to win in Afghanistan," he told CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday commenting on ISI's support for insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"They're not sure what's going to happen along that border area. So to a certain extent, they play both sides," he added.
Gates and other top defence officials have expressed concern over ISI's relationship Afghanistan-based insurgent groups ever since President Barack Obama's administration released its Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy in late March.
But both Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have suggested that stronger and enduring US engagement with Pakistan can lead to a distancing between the ISI and insurgent elements.
Mullen, who has previously emphasised the need for the ISI to change its strategic approach, Monday said he was "cautiously optimistic" that with time and patience, the United States will show that it has followed through on its initial commitment to Pakistan.
"That will drive strategies in those countries that often times hedge against the possibility that we might leave," he said at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "So it's going to take us some time and some patience to answer those particular questions."
"The question I get when I go to Afghanistan and Pakistan routinely is, 'Are you sticking around this time?'" Mullen said.
"I think it's a valid question, and until that question is answered - and those countries know and the citizens know that our intent is to have a long-term relationship with them, not just a military relationship - I think that question will continue to be out there."