My photographer, Akhtar Soomro, and I were followed over several days of reporting in Quetta by plainclothes intelligence officials who were posted at our respective hotels.Carlotta Gall's offense? She was asking questions like: Are Pakistani intelligence agencies promoting Islamic insurgency?
That is not unusual in Pakistan, where accredited journalists are free to travel and report, but their movements, phone calls and interviews are often monitored.
On our fifth and last day in Quetta, Dec. 19, four plainclothesmen detained Soomro at his hotel in the downtown area and seized his computer and photographic equipment. They raided my hotel room that evening, using a key card to open the door and then breaking through the chain that I had locked from the inside. They seized a computer, notebooks and a cellphone.
One agent punched me twice in the face and head and knocked me to the floor. I was left with bruises on my arms, temple and cheekbone, swelling on my eye and a sprained knee. One of the men told me that I was not permitted to visit Pashtunabad, a neighborhood in Quetta, and that it was forbidden to interview Taliban members.
The government of Pakistan vehemently rejects the allegation and insists that it is fully committed to helping U.S. and NATO forces prevail against the Taliban militants who were driven from power in Afghanistan in 2001.The "signs" consist of anecdotal evidence, told in fearful whispers:
But Western diplomats in both countries and Pakistani opposition figures say that Pakistani intelligence agencies — in particular the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence — have been supporting a Taliban restoration, motivated not only by Islamic fervor but also by a longstanding view that the jihadist movement allows them to assert greater influence on Pakistan's vulnerable western flank.
More than two weeks of reporting along this frontier, including dozens of interviews with residents on each side of the porous border, leaves little doubt that Quetta is an important base for the Taliban.
There are many signs that Pakistani authorities are encouraging the insurgents, if not sponsoring them.
At Jamiya Islamiya, a religious school here in Quetta, Taliban sympathies are on flagrant display, and residents say students have gone with their teachers' blessings to die in suicide bombings in Afghanistan.The history goes way back.
Three 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. Local people say dozens of families have had sons die as suicide bombers and fighters in Afghanistan.
One former Taliban commander said in an interview that he had been jailed by Pakistani intelligence officials because he would not go to Afghanistan to fight. He said that, for Western and local consumption, his arrest had been billed as part of Pakistan's crackdown on the Taliban in Pakistan. Former Taliban members who have refused to fight in Afghanistan have been arrested — or even mysteriously killed — after resisting pressure to re-enlist in the Taliban, Pakistani and Afghan tribal elders said.
"The Pakistanis are actively supporting the Taliban," declared a Western diplomat in an interview in Kabul. He said he had seen an intelligence report of a recent meeting on the Afghan border between a senior Taliban commander and a retired colonel of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence.
The Pakistani military and intelligence services have for decades used religious parties as a convenient instrument to keep domestic political opponents at bay and for foreign policy adventures, said Husain Haqqani, a former adviser to several of Pakistan's prime ministers and the author of a book on the relationship between the Islamists and the Pakistani security forces.Some of the evidence is much more visible:
The religious parties recruited for the jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan from the 1980s, when the Pakistani intelligence agencies ran the resistance by the mujahedeen and channeled money to them from the United States and Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Haqqani said.
In return for help in Kashmir and Afghanistan the intelligence services would rig votes for the religious parties and allow them freedom to operate, he said. "The religious parties provide them with recruits, personnel, cover and deniability," Haqqani said in a telephone interview from Washington, where he is now a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The Inter-Services Intelligence once had an entire wing dedicated to training jihadis, he said. Today the religious parties probably have enough of their own people to do the training, but, he added, the Inter-Services Intelligence so thoroughly monitors phone calls and people's movements that it would be almost impossible for any religious party to operate a training camp without its knowledge.
"They trained the people who are at the heart of it all, and they have done nothing to roll back their protégés," Haqqani said.
Hamid Gul, the former director general of Pakistani intelligence, remains a public and unapologetic supporter of the Taliban, visiting madrasas and speaking in support of jihad at graduation ceremonies.Big surprise! The civilians who dared to speak with Carlotta Gall have been visited by Pakistani intelligence, according to this report:
It has become clear that intelligence agents copied data from our computers, notebooks and cellphones and have tracked down contacts and acquaintances in Quetta. All the people I interviewed were subsequently visited by intelligence agents, and local journalists who helped me were later questioned by Pakistan's intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence.Of course the obvious question is:
[Photographer Akhtar] Soomro has been warned not to work for The New York Times or any other foreign news organization.
If Pakistan is not providing assistance to the Taliban, why would ISI agents assault a reporter who asked questions about the relationship, and why would they intimidate anyone who dared to speak to her?
A report from The Times of India contains a few additional details: Civilians on the border fear ISI
Carlotta Gall, a New York Times correspondent, who was manhandled and punched on December 19 by Pakistani agents who broke into her hotel room in Quetta, said Pakistanis and Afghans interviewed on the frontier — frightened by the long reach of Pakistan's intelligence agencies, spoke only with assurances that they would not be named. Even then, they spoke cautiously.How about that?
Despite this, they were visited by the ISI because the goons who broke into her hotel room copied data from the computers, notebooks and cellphones they seized, and tracked down her contacts and acquaintances.
They have been lucky not to have been killed so far because the ISI has a built a hideous reputation for bumping off people they see as being inimical to hardline Pakistani interests.
Some months back, Hayatullah Khan, a Pakistani journalist who exposed as lie the Pakistan military's claim of an attack on a terror camp (which was actually conducted by the US) was killed in cold blood. Several other journalists have been killed since the trend began with the unsolved murder of Daniel Pearl.
Gall also wrote that a dirty war is building between Afghan and Pakistani intelligence agencies. An Afghan intelligence official told her that one of its informers in Pakistan was recently killed and dumped in pieces in Peshawar. Gall's story quoted the brother of a Pakistani jehadi saying, "All Taliban are ISI Taliban. It is not possible to go to Afghanistan without ISI help."
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry denies everything but provides no information: Taliban Chief Said Likely in Afghanistan
Taliban leader Mullah Omar is likely based in southern Afghanistan and leading the resurgent Islamic militia from there, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said Monday. A spokeswoman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said that Omar's exact whereabouts remain unknown.And there's more here: Fugitive Mullah Omar leaves only a trail of devotees
"But generally the likely scenario is that he is in Kandahar, from where he is marshaling his troops," spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said at a news conference, referring to a city in southern Afghanistan.
Aslam's comments follow claims by Afghan officials that a captured spokesman for the Taliban militia told interrogators that Omar was living in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta and that he was protected by Pakistan's ISI intelligence service. The purported Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Hanif, was arrested last week in eastern Afghanistan.