US officials believe that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) still supports the Taliban despite recent signals that the spy agency had started cracking down on the Islamist group, says the Washington Post.
The recent capture of the Afghan Taliban's second in command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar seemed to signal a turning point in Pakistan. But US officials now think that even as Pakistan's security forces worked with their American counterparts to capture Baradar and other insurgents, ISI, quietly freed at least two senior Afghan Taliban figures it had captured on its own, the influential US daily reported on Sunday.
The Post cited unnamed US military and intelligence officials as saying the releases, detected by American spy agencies but not publicly disclosed, are evidence that parts of Pakistan's security establishment continue to support the Afghan Taliban - something that India has always maintained.
The officials, it said, declined to identify the Taliban figures who were released citing the secrecy surrounding US monitoring of the ISI, but said the freed captives were high-ranking Taliban members the US would want in custody.
US officials, the Post said, think that "Pakistan continues to pursue a hedging strategy in seeking to maintain relationships with an array of entities - including the US and Afghan governments, as well as insurgent networks - struggling to shape the outcome in Afghanistan, even as it aggressively battles the Pakistani branch of the Taliban."
The ISI wants "to be able to resort to the hard-power option of supporting groups that can take Kabul" if the US suddenly leaves, a US military adviser was cited as saying.
Pakistani intelligence officials told the Post in Islamabad the ISI was committed to dismantling insurgent groups and denied that any Taliban operatives had been released after being captured.
The daily said US officials concur that the collaboration between the CIA and the ISI has improved substantially, but say they see ongoing signs that some ISI operatives are providing sanctuary and other assistance to factions of the Taliban when their CIA counterparts are not around.
CIA officials, according to the Post, think that the ISI's connection to the Taliban is active. But "it's not clear how high that goes or who knows about it," a US counterterrorism official was quoted as saying. "The Pakistanis did a sharp change of policy after 9/11, and it's not certain everybody got the memo - or read it if they did."