October 12, 2001
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Pak had no role in creating
Taleban: Ex-ISI chief

A former spymaster has denied Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had any hand in creating the Taleban or arming the militia in Afghanistan.

General Javed Ashraf, who headed the ISI from 1993 to mid-1995 when the Taleban rose to prominence, firmly ruled out his former agency's involvement in mentoring, funding or arming the Taleban.

"We first came into contact with them after they took Kandahar and Herat. This is when we got in touch for the first time," he told SADA news agency. "We were curious about this new entity. They were unknown to us."

The former spy chief, who retired from the army in 1996 and is currently Pakistan's federal minister for communications, said Pakistani religious leaders who claim to have been involved with the Taleban from its inception were also introduced to the Taleban when its leaders visited Islamabad for the first time after seizing large swathes of southern Afghanistan.

The Taleban, Ashraf explained, comprised Afghan mujahideen (holy warriors) who were invalided out of the war because of physical disabilities sustained in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1988.

They became teachers at the Islamic seminaries operated by the mujahideen initially in the myriad refugee camps that had sprung up across Pakistan.

Ashraf said Pakistan did not supply arms to the Taleban, maintaining that 'these allegations were made by losing commanders' of the Northern Alliance who were being beaten back by what seemed to be a 'ragtag army'.

The Taleban, he said, acquired a huge cache of weapons from stockpiles that had been dumped both by the retreating Soviet forces and supplies abandoned by the US.

Under the concept of negative symmetry, both the Soviet Union and US-supplied weapons were supposed to be removed from Afghanistan after Moscow withdrew its forces.

But most of the weapons were left behind.

In May 1994, the Taleban took over the Spin Boldak ammunitions depot in what is accepted as a milestone in the Taleban's rise to power.

Ashraf said the Taleban took Spin Boldak by bribing the warlords holding it at the time. He said the Taleban acquired the entire arms stockpile stored in some 17 underground tunnels.

"From then on, defecting troops also brought their own weapons," he added. "The flow of weapons is in the reverse direction," he said.

The first contact, he said, came when Pakistan sought their help in rescuing a stranded Pakistani aid convoy that had been taken hostage by warring Afghan warlords in November 1994.

He said the then interior minister Naseerullah Babar met Taleban leaders for the first time during the operation.

In 1994, he said, Afghanistan had been plunged into a vicious civil war and ordinary Afghans were fed up with the excesses of the warlords when the Taleban started forming.

"The trickle became a stream and then a river. Local commanders started defecting to the movement," he said, attributing their success to support from a populace fed up with crime and civil war.

The only help the Taleban received from Pakistan was in the form of fuel and wheat, both of which they paid for, he said, adding that the Taleban later started buying fuel from Iran because of lower prices there.

The Taleban, which seized power in Kabul in 1996, is now facing an US military onslaught in retaliation for the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

The US has blamed Saudi renegade Osama bin Laden, who lives in Afghanistan, for the terrorist strikes.

Indo-Asian News Service

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