Pakistan ISI Backing the Taliban?

The reports of a new study showing that “Pakistan’s military intelligence agency directly funds and trains the Afghan Taliban and is officially represented on its leadership council” are frustrating but, as Steve Hynd observes  shocking  “only if you hadn’t read about a Spanish report in October 2008, the WaPo’s report on what US officials knew in April of this year, just about everything Afghan and Indian intelligence have ever said about the Taliban, NATO reports back in 2006 and, in fact, every bit of evidence since well before Richard Armitage threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the stone age if it didn’t play ball with Bush’s adventure in Afghanistan.”

Mark Safrasnki agrees but argues its time to “Accept that Pakistan, for all intents and purposes, is an enemy of the United States for internal reasons related to domestic politics and regional ambitions and will be for some time.”

I share their frustrations but, as I argue in my New Atlanticist essay, “Pakistan: Friend or Foe” do think it’s more complicated than whether Pakistan is our friend or enemy or the military is fighting the Taliban or helping them.  In both case, it’s a mixed bag.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Maybe the problem is in thinking of Pakistan in the singular. Pakistan seems to be a bag containing several largely autonomous forces, some controlled by the central government, some partly controlled, some not controlled at all. I’m not sure there is a Pakistan.

  2. sam says:

    Well, which Taliban are we talking about? The Taliban in Afghanistan, which the Pakistanis, I think, see as the only counterweight to increased Indian influence there, or the Taliban in Afghanistan who seem intent on destabilizing the Pakistani government. As you say in your piece,

    ” [I]t would seem that the ISI is indeed at cross purposes with our interests, if not with Pakistan’s. But given that there’s little evidence that the United States and its NATO allies are in it for the long haul — and even Hamid Karzai seems to be hedging his bets — it’s not shocking that the ISI is doing what it’s apparently doing. And it’s not clear that the United States has any particularly pleasant options.”

    Then there all those mineral riches we’ve read about. Perhaps we should just get out of the Great Game and take our chances. Let the Brits Chinese and the Russians have at it. Much success to them – not.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    There’s a distinction that I think is useful for understanding the situation. Afghanistan is a country without a government. Pakistan is a government without a country. Honestly, it might even be that the Afghan “government” aspires to what the Pakistani government is: an engine for employing its elite and allocating aid money among them.

    The Pakistani government doesn’t even pretend to govern its Northwest Territory or the ironically named Federally Administered Tribal Area.

    The key problem is that we have little alternative but to do business with the government of Pakistan. Afghanistan is landlocked and we can’t supply an army by air. That means that we transport supplies particularly gasoline via the long land route through Pakistan.

  4. steve says:

    Have to agree that this is not news. It has been well known for years. It just means that Pakistan’s first concern is Pakistan. They are much more worried about India than they are about a few thousand Taliban shooting at us. Until we give them a better reason to go after the Taliban, they will not really do it.

    We also need to keep this in context. The US deserted the area after the USSR left. If you read any Afghan history, we have made “commitments” even before that. Yet, we always leave. Afghans and Pakistanis know that history, so they prepare for what happens when we are gone.


  5. As the Taliban was a creature of the ISI to begin with, IIRC, why should this be a surprise?

    FWIW, considering the rogue elements of the CIA actively working against George Bush a few years ago, we shoul dbe careful about casting too many stones.

  6. steve says:

    It did occur to me that this has relevance vis-a-vis India. A huge, growing economy that is close.