Pak-US intelligence cooperation delivers results
By Kamran Khan The News: Jang (Pakistan) October 19, 2001
KARACHI: The secret services of Pakistan have reported an initial breakthrough in their efforts to minimise support for Mulla Omar and Osama Bin Laden within the Taliban administration as well as for the pro-Taliban campaign by religious parties in Pakistan, official sources said.
Senior Pakistani security officials have been holding extensive background meetings with top religious leaders of the country in order to convince them that the policy decision taken by General Pervez Musharraf was in the best interest of the country. Pakistani officials are also working with Afghan elements to encourage an anti-Mulla Omar group in Taliban. Officials said that they had made substantial progress on both counts.
The sources said that a premier secret service achieved breakthrough on both issues last week when an important Pakistani religious leader, who also runs one of the largest religious seminaries in the NWFP, secretly agreed with the secret service to use his influence with Taliban ministers and officials to adopt a more moderate course.
"He enjoys great influence over Taliban because thousands of them had graduated from his seminary. He personally knows several Taliban ministers," an official said. "His message to Taliban is that the battle to save Osama is not a battle for Islam."
The same religious scholar -- who is also an important leader of a coalition of religious parties and groups now leading pro-Taliban and pro-Osama rallies and protest marches all over the country -- has also agreed to be less active in the group's pro-Taliban activities in future. The religious leader, now providing an active support to the government, has, nevertheless, stressed that because of the sensitive nature of the issue, he wouldn't make any public commitment about his efforts to dissect the Taliban movement from Mulla Omar and Al-Qaeda group.
As the religious leader re-energised his contacts with the Taliban political and military leadership, President General Pervez Musharraf was informed by his security aides on Wednesday that a small group of senior Taliban officials -- willing to abandon Mulla Omar to join a new broad-based government in Afghanistan -- had contacted Pakistani officials in Peshawar, a senior Pakistani official said. It was, however, not known if the religious leader from NWFP had any role in this latest development, but officials were quick to describe it as "a significant breakthrough".
Pakistani sources said that messages from at least two Taliban ministers had confirmed earlier reports that a major Taliban group was gearing to break ranks with Mulla Omar. "There is a stream of messages from important Taliban political and military officials from various Afghan cities, but the latest communication from two Taliban ministers is most credible and significant," confirmed an official.
Pakistani officials said that the Taliban ministers sent their messages through intermediaries who had been shuttling through safer road passages between Kandahar and Quetta and between Jalalabad and Peshawer.
Rehmatullah Kakazada, Afghanistan's Consul General in Karachi, has strongly denied the reports about defection of any Taliban ministers. He said that reports about disunity in the Taliban government were part of a disinformation campaign.
While Pakistani officials work closely with international forces, including the United Nations, to encourage anti-Mulla Omar and Al-Qaeda group in the present Taliban regime, they are also working separately to renew their contacts with former Pashtun Mujahideen commanders who had earned name in Jihad against the Soviet forces.
"Some of these Mujahideen commanders hate Taliban because of the disrespect they had for heroes of Jihad against Soviet union," a Pakistani source said, hoping that at least a few of the former Mujahideen commanders might not like Northern Alliance or Zahir Shah taking over Kabul but they would definitely like to see an instant downfall of Mulla Omar.
No credible feedback was available on the efforts by some Pakistani officials to lobby former Mujahideen commanders such as Maulvi Yunis Khalis and Maulvi Nabi Mohammadi, the two elderly Pashtun commanders, to urge them to use their contacts with Taliban to dissuade them from taking a course that may lead to complete destruction of Afghanistan.
Simultaneously, Pakistani and US officials are said to be working intensely on a separate front to bring various Pashtun tribals from southern and eastern Afghanistan to a common anti-Taliban platform.
A Pakistani source informed: "Through his representative, Zahir Shah has assured us that he would respect Pakistan's judgement in the process leading to the selection of an interim council that will ultimately hold Loya Jirga inside Afghanistan." "Not a single Pashtun tribal leader, contacted so far from east to south in Afghanistan, has refused to participate in the political coalition being created to rid this country of Mulla Omar and Osama Bin Laden," the Pakistani official said. Some of these tribal leaders had completely rejected offers of senior level jobs from Mulla Omar, he added.
Officials in their background interviews acknowledged that the recent Afghanistan-related activities in the secret services of the country were directly linked to the intelligence cooperation that Pakistan had committed with the US soon after the September 11 incident.
"We are in the process of setting the rules of the games. It is crucial to designate the duties so there is no confusion once the operation gets going," informed an official familiar with the recent Pak-US intelligence interaction in Islamabad.
During its eight-year-long war against the USSR, Afghanistan had been provided with financial, intelligence and propaganda support by the US and its allies, while the ISI handled the operational side with strict control on monetary disbursement.
"Pakistan, like the previous Afghan operation, would like to keep a firm grip over the political operation," a senior official said, adding: "It means that no foreign intelligence activity on Afghanistan would take place in Pakistan without our complete knowledge."
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