The news that a secret NATO report, based on the interrogations of thousands of Taliban prisoners, claims that Pakistan's intelligence services are helping the Afghan Taliban is hardly surprising, although its other main conclusion - that the Taliban are set to retake control over the country - may be more controversial.
The classified report, drawn up by the US military at Bagram Airbase for top NATO officials in January, notes: "Pakistan's manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly". It says that Pakistan is aware of the locations of senior Taliban leaders: "Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad". It adds: "Senior Taliban leaders meet regularly with ISI personnel, who advise on strategy and relay any pertinent concerns of the government of Pakistan."
It also quotes a senior al-Qaeda detainee as saying: "Pakistan knows everything. They control everything. I can't piss on a tree in Kunar without them watching." He adds: "The Taliban are not Islam. The Taliban are Islamabad."
In its damning conclusion the report says that interest in the Taliban has been growing, even amongst members of the Afghan government, also adding that "Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governance over the Afghan government, usually as a result of government corruption."
The Taliban tactic is to reduce attacks in some areas and then initiate a comprehensive hearts-and-minds campaign. In areas were ISAF forces have withdrawn, Taliban influence has increased, often with little resistance from government forces, who have often sold weapons to the insurgents.
The leaking of the report to the BBC and The Times appears to have been designed to embarass Pakistan, whose foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, is currently in Kabul for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The issue of whether or not the Taliban is growing in popularity is open to question. A report published by the Asia Foundation in November, Afghanistan in 2011: A survey of the Afghan People, found that support for the Taliban among Afghans has steadily declined in recent years. It found that 82 per cent of those surveyed back reconciliation and reintegration efforts with insurgent groups. The number of people who said they sympathized with the aims of the Taliban had dropped to 29 per cent compared to 40 per cent in 2010 and 56 per cent in 2009.
However, a lack of security was identified as the biggest problem in the country by 38 per cent of those polled, followed by unemployment and corruption. Seventy-one per cent of respondents said they feared travelling from one part of the country to another. Most of these problems can easily be placed at the door of the Karzai government and the Taliban can play upon its promises to restore order in the country. The survey was conducted among 6,348 adults in July 2010 in all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, excluding some dangerous areas.
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