Military Wiki
Inter-Services Intelligence activities in Afghanistan
Part of Soviet War in Afghanistan, Operation Cyclone, War in Afghanistan (1989-2001) and War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
State emblem of Pakistan.svg

Operational scope Strategic and Tactical
Location Afghanistan
Date 1975—Present

The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been heavily involved in covertly running the military intelligence programs in Afghanistan since before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the 1980s, the ISI systematically coordinated the distribution of arms and financial means provided by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to some factions of the Afghan mujahideen such as the HeI of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. After the Soviet retreat, the ISI and the Pakistan government led by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto became primary source of supporting the Hekmatyar in his 1992–1994 bombardment campaign against the Afghan government and the capital Kabul. It is widely agreed that after Hekmatyar failed to take over power in Afghanistan, the ISI helped to found the Afghan Taliban. The ISI in conjunction with other parts of the Pakistan military subsequently provided financial, logistical, military and direct combat support to the Taliban until the attacks of 9/11. It is widely acknowledged that the ISI has given the Afghan Taliban safe havens inside Pakistan and supported the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan after 9/11 helping them, especially the Haqqani network, carry out attacks inside Afghanistan. Pakistani officials deny this accusation. Allegations have been raised by international government officials, policy analysts and even Pakistani military officials that the ISI in conjunction with the military leadership has also provided some amount of support and refuge to al-Qaeda. Such allegations were increasingly issued when Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, just miles from one of Pakistan's biggest military academies.

Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin[]


Flag used by Hezb-e Islami

In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The ISI and the CIA worked together to recruit Muslims throughout the world to take part in Jihad against the occupying forces.[1] However the CIA had little direct contact with the Mujahideen as the ISI were the main contacts and handlers and they favored the most radical of the groups, namely the Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.[2][3] In 1991, after the Soviets had left Afghanistan, the ISI tried to install a government under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar with Jalalabad as their provisional capital, but failed.[4] The Afghan Interim Government, which they wanted to install, had Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as Prime Minister and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf as Foreign Minister. The central organizer of the offensive on the Pakistan side was Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, Director-General of the ISI. The Jalalabad operation was seen as a grave mistake by other mujahideen leaders such as Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Haq.[5] Neither Massoud nor Haq had been informed of the offensive by the ISI beforehand and neither had participated, as both commanders were considered too independent.[3] After operations by the Shura-e Nazar of Ahmad Shah Massoud and the defection of the communist general Abdul Rashid Dostum and the subsequent fall of the communist Mohammad Najibullah-regime in 1992, the Afghan political parties agreed on a peace and power-sharing agreement (the Peshawar Accords). The Peshawar Accords created the Islamic State of Afghanistan and appointed an interim government for a transitional period to be followed by general elections.[3] According to Human Rights Watch:

The sovereignty of Afghanistan was vested formally in the Islamic State of Afghanistan, an entity created in April 1992, after the fall of the Soviet-backed Najibullah government.... With the exception of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, all of the parties... were ostensibly unified under this government in April 1992. ... Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, for its part, refused to recognize the government for most of the period discussed in this report and launched attacks against government forces and Kabul generally.... Shells and rockets fell everywhere.[6]

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar received operational, financial and military support from Pakistan.[7] Afghanistan expert Amin Saikal concludes in Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival:

Pakistan was keen to gear up for a breakthrough in Central Asia.... Islamabad could not possibly expect the new Islamic government leaders... to subordinate their own nationalist objectives in order to help Pakistan realize its regional ambitions.... Had it not been for the ISI's logistic support and supply of a large number of rockets, Hekmatyar's forces would not have been able to target and destroy half of Kabul.[8]

By 1994, however, Hekmatyar had proved unable to conquer territory from the Islamic State. Australian National University Professor William Maley writes, "in this respect he was a bitter disappointment to his patrons."[9]


Since the Afghan Presidential Elections in late 2009 Afghan President Hamid Karzai has increasingly become isolated surrounding himself with members of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami.[10] The Associated Press reports: "Several of Karzai's close friends and advisers now speak of a president whose doors have closed to all but one narrow faction and who refuses to listen to dissenting opinions."[10] Al-Jazeera wrote in early 2012 that Presidential Chief of Staff, Karim Khoram from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, besides controlling the Government Media and Information Center, enjoys a "tight grip" over President Karzai.[11] Former co-workers of Khoram have accused him of acting "divisive internally" and having isolated Hamid Karzai's "non-Pashtun allies".[11] Al-Jazeera observes: "The damage that Khoram has inflicted on President Karzai's image in one year - his enemies could not have done the same."[11] Senior non-Hezb-e Islami Pashtun officials in the Afghan government have accused Khoram of acting as a spy for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.[11]

Afghan Taliban[]


Flag used by the Afghan Taliban widely believed to receive extensive support by Pakistan's military and its Inter-Services Intelligence.

The Taliban were largely founded by Pakistan's Interior Ministry under Nasrullah Barbar and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in 1994.[12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19] In 1999, Nasrullah Baber who was the minister of the interior under Bhutto during the Taliban's ascent to power admitted, "we created the Taliban".[20] William Maley, Professor at the Australian National University and Director of the Asia-Pacific College, writes on the emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan:

"In 1994, with the failure of [Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's alliance] attempt to oust [the Afghan] Rabbani [administration], Pakistan found itself in an awkward position. Hekmatyar had proved incapable of seizing and controlling defended territory: in this respect he was a bitter disappointment to his patrons. ... In October 1994, [Pakistani interior minister] Babar [took] a group of Western ambassadors (including the US Ambassador to Pakistan John C. Monjo) to Kandahar, without even bothering to inform the Kabul government, even though it manned an embassy in Islamabad. ... On 29 October 1994, a convoy of trucks, including a notorious ISI officer, Sultan Amir ... and two figures who were later to become prominent Taliban leaders, entered Afghanistan."[9]

The ISI used the Taliban to establish a regime in Afghanistan which would be favorable to Pakistan, as they were trying to gain strategic depth.[21][22][23][24] Since the creation of the Taliban, the ISI and the Pakistani military have given financial, logistical, military including direct combat support.[25][26][27]

According to Pakistani Afghanistan expert Ahmed Rashid, "between 1994 and 1999, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistanis trained and fought in Afghanistan" on the side of the Taliban.[9] Peter Tomsen also stated that up until 9/11 Pakistani military and ISI officers along with thousands of regular Pakistani armed forces personnel had been involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.[28]

Human Rights Watch wrote in 2000:

"Of all the foreign powers involved in efforts to sustain and manipulate the ongoing fighting [in Afghanistan], Pakistan is distinguished both by the sweep of its objectives and the scale of its efforts, which include soliciting funding for the Taliban, bankrolling Taliban operations, providing diplomatic support as the Taliban's virtual emissaries abroad, arranging training for Taliban fighters, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to serve in Taliban armies, planning and directing offensives, providing and facilitating shipments of ammunition and fuel, and ... directly providing combat support."[29]

In 1998, Iran accused Pakistani commandos of "war crimes at Bamiyan".[30] The same year Russia said, Pakistan was responsible for the "military expansion" of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan by sending large numbers of Pakistani troops including ISI personnel some of whom had subsequently been taken as prisoners by the anti-Taliban United Front (Northern Alliance).[31] In 2000, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo against military support to the Taliban, with UN officials explicitly singling out Pakistan. The UN secretary-general criticized Pakistan for its military support and the Security Council stated it was "deeply distress[ed] over reports of involvement in the fighting, on the Taliban side, of thousands of non-Afghan nationals."[32] In July 2001, several countries including the United States, accused Pakistan of being "in violation of U.N. sanctions because of its military aid to the Taliban."[33] The Taliban also obtained financial resources from Pakistan. In 1997 alone, after the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, Pakistan gave $30 million in aid and a further $10 million for government wages.[34]

Development of the Taliban insurgency up until 2006 infiltrating from Pakistan into Afghanistan's Pashtun areas.

The Taliban are not Islam - the Taliban are Islamabad.[35]

After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan claimed to have ended its support to the Taliban.[36][37] But with the fall of Kabul to anti-Taliban forces in November 2001, ISI forces worked with and helped Taliban militias who were in full retreat.[38] In November 2001, Taliban and Al-Qaeda combatants as well as Pakistani ISI and other military operatives were safely evacuated from the Afghan city of Kunduz on Pakistan Army cargo aircraft to Pakistan Air Force bases in Chitral and Gilgit in Pakistan's Northern Areas in what has been dubbed the "Airlift of Evil"[39] A range of officials inside and outside Pakistan have stepped up suggestions of links between the ISI and terrorist groups in recent years.[40] In fall 2006, a leaked report by a British Defense Ministry think tank charged, "Indirectly Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism and extremism--whether in London on 7/7 [the July 2005 attacks on London's transit system], or in Afghanistan, or Iraq."[40] In June 2008, Afghan officials accused Pakistan's intelligence service of plotting a failed assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai; shortly thereafter, they implied the ISI's involvement in a July 2008 Taliban attack on the Indian embassy.[40] Indian officials also blamed the ISI for the bombing of the Indian embassy.[40] Numerous U.S. officials have also accused the ISI of supporting terrorist groups including the Afghan Taliban. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "to a certain extent, they play both sides." Gates and others suggest the ISI maintains links with groups like the Afghan Taliban as a "strategic hedge" to help Islamabad gain influence in Kabul once U.S. troops exit the region.[40] U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in 2011 called the Haqqani network (the Afghan Taliban's most destructive element) a "veritable arm of Pakistan's ISI".[41] He further stated, "Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers."[41]

From 2010, a report by a leading British institution also claimed that Pakistan's intelligence service still today has a strong link with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Published by the London School of Economics, the report said that Pakistan's ISI has an "official policy" of support for the Taliban. It said the ISI provides funding and training for the Taliban, and that the agency has representatives on the so-called Quetta Shura, the Taliban's leadership council. The report, based on interviews with Taliban commanders in Afghanistan, was written by Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University.[42] "Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude," the report said. The report also linked high-level members of the Pakistani government with the Taliban. It said Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, met with senior Taliban prisoners in 2010 and promised to release them. Zardari reportedly told the detainees they were only arrested because of American pressure. "The Pakistan government's apparent duplicity – and awareness of it among the American public and political establishment – could have enormous geopolitical implications," Waldman said. "Without a change in Pakistani behaviour it will be difficult if not impossible for international forces and the Afghan government to make progress against the insurgency." Amrullah Saleh, director of Afghanistan's intelligence service until June 2010, told Reuters in 2010 that the ISI was "part of a landscape of destruction in this country".[43]

In March 2012, the Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, told the United States Senate that as of 2012 there was still no change in Pakistan's policy of support for the Afghan Taliban and its Haqqani network. When asked by U.S. Senator John McCain whether the ISI had severed its links with the Afghan Taliban, General Allen testified: "No."[44]


The Pakistani army through ISI have been accused of recruiting fighters and suicide bombers for the Afghan Taliban among the 1.7 million registered and 1-2 million unregistered Pashtun Afghan refugees living in refugee camps and settlements along the Afghan-Pakistan border in Pakistan many of whom have lived there since the Soviet war in Afghanistan.[45][46][47][48]

Abdel Qadir, an Afghan refugee who returned to Afghanistan, says Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence had asked him to either receive training to join the Afghan Taliban or for him and his family to leave the country. He explains: "It is a step by step process. First they come, they talk to you. They ask you for the information.... Then gradually they ask you for people they can train and send [to Afghanistan].... They say, 'Either you do what we say, or you leave the country.'"[46]

Janat Gul, another former refugee who returned to Afghanistan, told the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, that Afghan refugees which had been successfully recruited by the ISI were taken to Pakistani training camps which had previously been used during the times of the Soviet war in Afghanistan.[46]

According to an investigative report among Afghan refugees inside Pakistan by the New York Times, people testified that "dozens of families had lost sons in Afghanistan as suicide bombers and fighters" and "families whose sons had died as suicide bombers in Afghanistan said they were afraid to talk about the deaths because of pressure from Pakistani intelligence agents, the ISI."[47]

Pakistani and Afghan tribal elders also testified that the ISI was arresting or even killing Taliban members which wanted to quit fighting and refused to re-enlist to fight in Afghanistan or to die as suicide bombers. One former Taliban commander told the New York Times that such arrests were then sold to the Westerners and others as part of a supposed Pakistani collaboration effort in the War against Terror.[47]

Provision of safe haven[]

Gen. James L. Jones, then NATO's supreme commander, in September 2007 testified in front of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Afghan Taliban movement uses the Pakistani city of Quetta as their main headquarters.[47] Pakistan's minister for information and broadcasting, Tariq Azim Khan, mocked the statement by saying, if there were any Taliban in Quetta, "you can count them on your fingers."[47]


From 2002 until 2004, without major Taliban activities, Afghanistan witnessed relative calm with Afghan civilians and foreigners being able to freely and peacefully walk the streets of major cities and reconstruction being initiated. The 2010 testimonies of former Taliban commanders show that Pakistan through its Inter-Services Intelligence was however "actively encouraging a Taliban revival" from 2004-2006.[49] The effort to reintroduce the Afghan Taliban militarily in Afghanistan was preceded by a two-year, large-scale training campaign of Taliban fighters and leaders conducted by the ISI in several training camps in Quetta and other places in Pakistan.[49] From 2004-2006 the Afghan Taliban consequently started a deadly insurgency campaign in Afghanistan killing thousands of civilians and combatants and thereby renewing and escalating the War in Afghanistan (2001-present). One Taliban commander involved in the Taliban resurgence said that 80 percent of his fighters had been trained in an ISI camp.[49]

Haqqani network[]

The ISI have close links to the Haqqani network[50] and contribute heavily to their funding.[51] U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in 2011 called the Haqqani network (the Afghan Taliban's most destructive element) a "veritable arm of Pakistan's ISI".[41] He further stated:

"Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers."[41]

—Former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen2011

Mullen said, the U.S. had evidence that the ISI directly planned and spar-headed the Haqqani 2011 assault on the U.S. embassy, the June 28 Haqqani attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and other operations.[41] It is widely believed the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul was also planned with the help of the ISI[52][53] A report in 2008 from the Director of National Intelligence stated that the ISI provides intelligence and funding to help with attacks against the International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan government and Indian targets.[54]

Al Qaeda[]

Besides supporting the Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ISI in conjunction with Saudi Arabia strongly supported the faction of Jalaluddin Haqqani (Haqqani network) and allied Arab groups such as the one surrounding financier Bin Laden, nowadays known as Al-Qaeda, during the war against the Soviets and the Afghan communist government in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In 2000, British Intelligence reported that the ISI was taking an active role in several Al Qaeda training camps from the 1990s onwards.[55] The ISI helped with the construction of training camps for both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.[20][55][56] From 1996 to 2001 the Al Qaeda of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri became a state within the Pakistan-supported Taliban state.[57] Bin Laden sent Arab and Central Asian Al-Qaeda militants to join the Taliban's and Pakistan's fight against the United Front (Northern Alliance) among them his Brigade 055.[57]

It is believed that there is still contact between Al-Qaeda and the ISI today.[58]

File:Osama bin Laden making a video at his compound in Pakistan-2.jpg

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was reportedly killed by a U.S. Special Forces commando in his hide-out in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in very close proximity to the Pakistan Military Academy. The U.S. military did not notify their Pakistani counterparts of the operation beforehand because they say they feared bin Laden would have been tipped off.

The former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh has repeatedly stated that Afghan intelligence believed and had shared information about Osama Bin Laden hiding in an area close to Abbottabad, Pakistan, four years before he (Bin Laden) was killed there. Saleh had shared the information with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf who had angrily brushed off the claim taking no action.[59] In 2007, the Afghans specifically identified two Al-Qaeda safe houses in Manshera, a town just miles from Abbottabad, leading them to believe that Bin Laden was possibly hiding there. But Amrullah Saleh says that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf angrily smashed his fist on a table when Saleh presented the information to him during a meeting in which Afghan President Hamid Karzai also took part.[59] According to Saleh, "He said, 'Am I the president of the Republic of Banana?' Then he turned to President Karzai and said, 'Why have you brought this Panjshiri guy to teach me intelligence?'"[59] A December 2011 analysis report by the Jamestown Foundation comes to the conclusion that "in spite of denials by the Pakistani military, evidence is emerging that elements within the Pakistani military harbored Osama bin Laden with the knowledge of former army chief General Pervez Musharraf and possibly current Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Former Pakistani Army Chief General Ziauddin Butt (a.k.a. General Ziauddin Khawaja) revealed at a conference on Pakistani–U.S. relations in October 2011 that according to his knowledge the then former Director-General of Intelligence Bureau of Pakistan (2004–2008), Brigadier Ijaz Shah (retd.), had kept Osama bin Laden in an Intelligence Bureau safe house in Abbottabad."[60] Pakistani General Ziauddin Butt said Bin Laden had been hidden in Abbottabad "with the full knowledge" of Pervez Musharraf.[60] But later Butt denied making any such statement.[61]

Assassination of pivotal Afghan leaders[]

The ISI has been involved in the assassination of major Afghan leaders which have been described as pivotal for the future of Afghanistan. Among those leaders are the main anti-Taliban resistance leader and National Hero of Afghanistan Ahmad Shah Massoud and the prominent Pashtun anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance leader Abdul Haq. The ISI has also been accused of having been involved in the murder of former Afghan president and chief of the Karzai's administration High Peace Council Burhanuddin Rabbani and several other anti-Taliban leaders. In the case of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed by two Arab suicide bombers two days before September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001 ("9/11"), the Arab suicide assassins - supposed journalists - were granted with multiple entry visas valid for a year in early 2001 by Pakistan's embassy in London. As author and Afghanistan expert Sandy Gall writes such multiple visas for a year are "unheard of for journalists normally". The ISI subsequently facilitated the two men's passage through Pakistan over the Afghan border into Taliban territory.[47] Afghan journalist Fahim Dashty says, "Al-Qaida, the Taliban, other terrorists, the Pakistan security services -- they were all working together ... to kill him."[62]

Abdul Haq, who was killed by the Taliban on October 26, 2001, enjoying strong popular support among Afghanistan's Pashtuns wanted to create and support a popular uprising against the Taliban - also dominantly Pashtuns - among the Pashtuns. Observers believe that the Taliban were only able to capture him with the collaboration of the ISI.[9] Ahmad Shah Massoud had been the only resistance leader able to defend vast parts of his territory against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani military and was sheltering hundreds of thousands of refugees which had fled the Taliban on the territory under his control. He had been seen as the leader most likely to lead post-Taliban Afghanistan.[62] After his assassination, Abdul Haq was seen as one of the main contenders for that position. He had private American backers which had facilitated his re-entry into Afghanistan after 9/11.[9] But journalists reported about tensions between the CIA and Haq.[63] Former CIA director George Tenet reports that, at the recommendation of one of Haq's private American lobbyists Bud McFarlane, CIA officials met with Abdul Haq in Pakistan but after assessing him urged him not to enter Afghanistan.[64]

Both leaders, Massoud and Haq, were recognized for being fiercely independent from foreign especially Pakistani influence.[3] Both, two of the most successful anti-Soviet resistance leaders, were rejecting the Pakistani claim of hegemony over the Afghan mujahideen. Abdul Haq was quoted as saying during the anti-Soviet period: "How is that we Afghans, who never lost a war, must take military instructions from the Pakistanis, who never won one?"[3] Massoud during the Soviet period said to the Pakistani Foreign Minister who had asked him to send a message to the Russians through the Pakistanis who were conducting talks "on behalf of our Afghan brethren": "Why should I send a message? Why are you talking on our behalf? Don't we have leaders here to talk on our behalf?"[3] Khan replied "This is how it has been and how it will be. Do you have a message?"[3] Massoud told the foreign minister that "nobody who talks on our behalf will have any kind of result."[3] Consequently, neither Massoud nor Abdul Haq were consulted before and neither participated in the Battle of Jalalabad (1989) in which the ISI tried but failed to install Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as the post-communist leader of Afghanistan.[3]

Allegations of drug running[]

It is alleged that the ISI have control over opium production and refining and also control all smuggling operations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.[65] Wendy Chamberlin in testimony before the United States House of Representatives International Relations Committee stated that the ISI involvement in the drug trade was substantial.[51]

See also[]


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