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Context of 'October 2, 2001: US Intelligence Cables Review ‘Hidden Agenda’ of ISI Support for Taliban'

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In 1973 Afghan Prince Muhammad Daoud ousts the Afghan king with help from the Soviet Union, and establishes an Afghan republic. The CIA in turn begins funding Islamist extremists, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as a resistance movement opposing the Soviets. US allies Iran, with its intelligence agency SAVAK, and Pakistan, with its intelligence agency the ISI, play an important role in funneling weapons and other forms of assistance to the Afghan Islamist militants. After the pro-Soviet coup in April 1978, the Islamic militants with the support of the ISI carry out a massive campaign of terrorism, assassinating hundreds of teachers and civil servants. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 260 - 263)

Bin Laden first works for Maktab al-Khidamat from this building in Peshawar, a former British government guesthouse.Bin Laden first works for Maktab al-Khidamat from this building in Peshawar, a former British government guesthouse. [Source: PBS]Bin Laden moves to Peshawar, a Pakistani town bordering Afghanistan, and helps run a front organization for the mujaheddin known as Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), which funnels money, arms, and fighters from the outside world into the Afghan war. (Weaver 1/24/2000) “MAK [is] nurtured by Pakistan’s state security services, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, the CIA’s primary conduit for conducting the covert war against Moscow’s occupation.” (Moran 8/24/1998) Bin Laden becomes closely tied to the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and greatly strengthens Hekmatyar’s opium smuggling operations. (Maurus and Rock 9/14/2001) Hekmatyar, who also has ties with bin Laden, the CIA, and drug running, has been called “an ISI stooge and creation.” (Erikson 11/15/2001) MAK is also known as Al-Kifah and its branch in New York is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. This branch will play a pivotal role in the 1993 WTC bombing and also has CIA ties (see January 24, 1994).

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar.Mullah Mohammed Khaksar. [Source: Amir Shah / Associated Press]High-level Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Khaksar secretly meets with CIA officials to explore cooperating with them, but the CIA is not interested. Khaksar had been the Taliban’s intelligence minister, but he recently switched posts to deputy interior minister. He is friends with top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, has thousands of policemen under his command, and has solid links to intelligence sources within the Taliban. He secretly meets with US diplomats Gregory Marchese and Peter McIllwain in Peshawar, Pakistan. Marchese will later confirm the meeting took place. Khaksar says he fears the Taliban has been hijacked by the Pakistani ISI and al-Qaeda. He believes Mullar Omar has fallen under the influence of bin Laden and wants to oust him. Khaksar later claims he told them that he was worried about al-Qaeda because “one day they would do something in the world, but everything would be on the head of Afghanistan.” The diplomats pass his offer to Washington (though it is unknown if it was relayed to high-level officials or not). Khaksar soon receives a letter back rejecting his offer. The letter is later shown to the Associated Press, and states, in part, “We don’t want to make mistakes like we made in the holy war [in the 1980s]. We gave much help and it later went against us.” (Gannon 6/9/2002; Borger 6/11/2002) Khaksar later says he did provide the CIA with information on two or three other occasions before 9/11, but it is not known if this takes place before or after this meeting. Starting in 1997, he also keeps a regular secret dialogue with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The Northern Alliance’s foreign minister will note after 9/11 that Khaksar was in “constant contact” with Massoud until 9/11, giving him a steady stream of valuable information. (Raghavan 11/29/2001; Baker 11/30/2001) After 9/11, the US will show no interest in Khaksar’s intelligence about the Taliban (see Between September 12 and Late November 2001 and February 25, 2002).

The New Yorker reports that “a number of intelligence officials have raised questions about bin Laden’s capabilities. ‘This guy sits in a cave in Afghanistan and he’s running this operation?’ one CIA official asked. ‘It’s so huge. He couldn’t have done it alone.’ A senior military officer told me that because of the visas and other documentation needed to infiltrate team members into the United States a major foreign intelligence service might also have been involved.” (Hersh 10/8/2001) No specific service is named, but the ISI would be one likely candidate. In fact, one day after this article is published, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) cable indicates the ISI created the Taliban and has helped al-Qaeda extensively (see October 2, 2001).

An agent of the Defense Intelligence Agency sends two classified cables to various US government agencies detailing how Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) created the Taliban and helped al-Qaeda. The agent writes that during the Soviet-Afghan War, the “Pakistan government also had a hidden agenda… Pakistan decided to deliberately influence the outcome. Rather than allow the most gifted Afghan commanders and parties to flourish, who would be hard to control later, Pakistan preferred to groom the incompetent ones [because] they would be wholly reliant on Pakistan for support… Pakistan also encouraged, facilitated, and often escorted Arabs from the Middle East into Afghanistan. Eventually a special facility was constructed… with [ISI] funding.” When Ahmed Shah Mossoud captured Kabul in the early 1990s, “Pakistan could not accept this result and the fragile Afghan coalition began another civil war, with the Pakistan stooge (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) being backed to seize total power. In the end Pakistan was proved right about only one thing, Hekmatyar was incompetent. He was never able to wrest Kabul from Massoud, despite massive logistical and material (including manpower) support from Pakistan.” When Hekmatyar failed, “[Pakistan] created another force they hoped to have better control over than Hekmatyar’s rabble. It was called Taliban… To lead the Taliban Pakistan chose Mullah Mohammad (Omar), who was willing to do as he was told… Omar’s emergence is credited to Pakistan ISI actions… The fully supported (by Pakistan) Taliban prevailed over the unsupported legitimate government of Afghanistan…” (Defense Intelligence Agency 10/2/2001 pdf file; Defense Intelligence Agency 10/2/2001 pdf file)

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testifies before Congress that the security situation in Afghanistan is “deteriorating.” He estimates that the official Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai controls only about 30 percent of Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls 10 percent and the rest is controlled by various tribes and warlords. He says that the key to the Taliban’s success “is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan.” Karzai’s government denies McConnell’s claims. However, various think tank reports echo McConnell’s conclusions. One report headed by former NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones concludes that “urgent changes” are immediately required to “prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state.” (Walsh and Taylor 2/29/2008)


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