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Pakistan spy agency thwarting Taliban talks: Report

world Updated: Oct 07, 2010 12:39 IST

Pakistan's intelligence agency is pressuring Afghan Taliban members to shun US-backed peace talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Citing Taliban commanders and US officials, the newspaper said Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence agency has encouraged Afghan insurgents to step up attacks, including on civilians, and resist surrender or peace talks.

"The ISI wants to arrest commanders who are not obeying [ISI] orders," a Taliban commander in Kunar province told the Journal.

The commander said he had no plans to stop fighting foreign troops, but war opposed to the broad-based attacks being urged by some ISI officials.

"The ISI wants us to kill everyone -- policemen, soldiers, engineers, teachers, civilians -- just to intimidate people," the commander told the newspaper, adding that the agency had tried to arrest him when he refused.

US officials told the Journal they had heard similar reports of ISI pressure on Taliban members from insurgents who had been captured or agreed to lay down arms.

It remains unclear whether ISI pressure on the Taliban to resist negotiations comes from the top of the agency, or is the work of lower-level intelligence personnel, US officials told the paper.

Some believe that the upper echelons of the powerful organization are trying to reform it, but face opposition from rank and file members.

Other US officials believe lower level officers are acting with the sanction of their commanders.

"I haven't seen evidence that the ISI is not in control of all of its parts," a senior US defense official told the newspaper.

Wherever the pressure is coming from, it has been interpreted as an attempt by Pakistan to ensure it has leverage as Kabul tries to capitalize on reported "overtures" from Taliban leaders ready to negotiate their surrender.

The report comes amid growing tension between the US and Pakistani governments over Afghanistan, with Washington convinced Islamabad is waging a half-hearted battle against militants.

US officials fear Islamabad has avoided tackling insurgents that use Pakistani bases to launch attacks in Afghanistan to ensure continued control over the pace of the war in its neighbor.

Islamabad denies the accusations, and a Pakistani official told the Journal that the ISI was simply an easy scapegoat for setbacks in Afghanistan.

"Whenever anything goes wrong in Afghanistan, ISI is to be blamed," a senior Pakistani official told the newspaper. "Honestly, they see ISI agents behind every bush in Afghanistan."