Pakistani intelligence under suspicion

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

KATY CLARK: I'm Katy Clark. This is The World. Pakistan's military intelligence agency or ISI is directly supporting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. That according to a New York Times report today. The report says Pakistani support consists of money, military supplies, and strategic guidance to Taliban commanders. These are the same Taliban militants who are fighting US troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan meanwhile is considered a key US ally. The World's Laura Lynch is in Karachi, Pakistan right now. Laura, what's new in this New York Times story? What does it tell us that we didn't know before or perhaps only suspected?

LAURA LYNCH: Well, I suppose for those who haven't been paying attention over the years, it tell us of the degree of the cooperation between the ISI and the Taliban. To some, it is the fact that there seems to be a wider array, a deeper array of support than there had been up until now. But I suppose the most important thing from an American perspective is that the Pakistani government had given us assurances that these days were over, that the ISI was not going to be providing this kind of cooperation and support to the Taliban. So that is coming as probably the biggest news out of today's article. Now, of course, here in Pakistan there are some who say that that's no news at all, that perhaps if anyone in the United States government thought that they were going to get the civilian government here in Pakistan to get the ISI to back off its ties with the Taliban, they were simply being naive.

CLARK: Laura, we have some tape of Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general, and he says today's report from the New York Times is not entirely true. He says yes, the ISI and the Taliban communicate, but that's what intelligence agencies like the ISI do.

TALAT MASOOD: There are certain groups with which it does maintain contact because this is the function of the intelligence agencies to also maintain contacts to see as to exactly what the motives are and how they are operating. But by no means it implies that they are trying to support them or are giving them any form of material, sort of, assistance.

CLARK: Laura, what do you make of this claim that the ISI talks to the Taliban but it's just to keep tabs on them?

LYNCH: Well, you know, that is also what was quoted from Pakistani officials in the New York Times article itself, that it was a more nuanced look at how they were working with the Taliban. Now, there are those here who will tell you that that simply can't be seen to be the case just simply because of the history of the relationship between the ISI and between the Taliban. The cooperation actually goes much deeper than that. The historical roots show that the ISI had supported them at least in the past with material, with ammunition, with intelligence � and in return had been able to get a more � well, their goal was to get a more secure and stable Afghanistan. But it also in some cases was to be able to train militants who would then go on and fight for control of the disputed Kashmir Province, disputed between India and Pakistan.

CLARK: So if the ISI is indeed helping the Taliban, do top Pakistani government officials have any power to stop this? What can Pakistani president Assaf Ali-Zardari do to break the ties between the ISI and the Taliban?

LYNCH: Well, I think that what today's article and the reaction that I've heard suggests that it is very, very difficult for a civilian government to try to break down these ties, and for it to be able to tell the intelligence services exactly what it wants it to do. And that tension has been there for many, many years. We know how powerful the military is in Pakistan. The intelligence agency within the military is that much more a thing unto itself.

CLARK: The World's Laura Lynch, speaking to us from Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. Thank you, Laura.

LYNCH: You're welcome.