Why Would the Pakistani Intelligence Support the Taliban

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Why Would the Pakistani Intelligence Support the Taliban

One of the most disturbing aspects of the revelations contained in WikiLeaks is the picture it paints of the behavior of Pakistan.

Pakistan, it seems, has been playing a ‘double game,’ assuring the US that it is doing what it can to tackle the fundamentalist militancy within its borders, taking incredible quantities of US aid in both cash and kind, but not only allowing militancy to flourish within its borders, but also, the leaks show, tolerating contact between top-level figures from its Intelligence Agency and commanders of the insurgency.

Given the allied perception that the fundamentalist militants pose a clear threat not just to the allied but to Pakistan too, one of the questions which is most often asked is: why is Pakistan doing this?

There are a number of reasons. Foremost amongst them is the Pakistani Intelligence Agency’s institutional perception that the main threat to the country comes from India. This runs deep and colors most Pakistani analysts’ view of the conflict on its Western border. It means, firstly, that they see the Taliban as an acceptable bulwark against Indian ambitions to dominate the region, whether real or perceived.

A second reason is that Pakistan does not believe that the allies in general, and the US in particular, are likely to keep significant military force in Afghanistan for the long-term. This means that they have an incentive to conduct relationships with all regional players in a way that is mindful of the day after US forces leave. Once the allies have left, the Taliban and the insurgency members will still be there, and Pakistan knows it will have to deal with them.

A third reason is that the ISI is independent of Pakistani politics in a way that any assumption of analogy between the CIA and US politics misrepresents. Not only does the Pakistani Intelligence Agency run massive businesses which dominate much of Pakistan’s economy, but the number of them which file public accounts is in the single figures. Demands by the Pakistani Parliament for greater accountability have consistently been rejected. The government been able to get the ISI to even report to the Interior Ministry for much of its history. The workings of Pakistani politics simply have no institutional checks over the organization. Presidents come and go, but the ISI is a fixture of Pakistani national life. It has no incentive to answer to political control or for greater transparency.

The striking thing about these issues is that none are likely to change in the short term. Whatever the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, the perceptions and incentives which color Pakistan’s behavior in the conflict are not going to change any time soon.


Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and Chairman and CEO of Ibrahim Associates.

This article also appeared on huffingtonpost.com on August 3, 2010:


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