Washington, April 11, 2010
Pakistan's powerful ISI, which is eyeing Afghanistan in the event of the US exit from there, still maintains "active" links with Taliban as it quietly freed at least two high-ranking militants of the outfit it had captured on its own, a media report said today.
Acknowledging that they have a very limited understanding of the ISI directorate, CIA veterans, who have worked closely with the Pakistani spy agency, describe it as "sprawling", The Washington Post reported.
It is "so compartmentalised" that units working along side the CIA might have little knowledge of the activities of the agency's "S" directorate, which maintains ties to insurgent groups, the paper said.
CIA officials 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," it quoted a US counter-terrorism official as saying.
The recent capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's second-in-command seemed to signal a turning point in Pakistan, an indication that its intelligence agency had gone from helping to cracking down on the militant group.
But US officials now believe that even as Pakistan's security forces worked with their US counterparts to detain Baradar and other insurgents, ISI quietly freed at least two senior Afghan Taliban figures it had captured on its own.
US military and intelligence officials said 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.
"This assistance underscores how complicated the CIA- ISI relationship remains at a time when the United States and Pakistan are battling insurgencies that straddle the Afghanistan border and are increasingly anxious about how the war in that country will end," the paper said.
The officials spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity and declined to identify the Taliban figures who were released, citing the secrecy surrounding US monitoring of the ISI. But they said the freed captives were high-ranking Taliban members and would have been recognisable as insurgents the US would want in custody.
A US military adviser said the senior Taliban figures, who were released, were later detained in Balochistan, a province that encompasses the city of Quetta.
"They did, in fact, capture and release a couple," said a US military official involved in discussions with Pakistan, adding that the ISI's purported decision to do so "speaks to how hard it is to change your DNA.