November 23, 2001
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Taleban fall triggered by ISI withdrawal?

Pakistan's intelligence agency pulled the plug on the Taleban just 48 hours before the regime collapsed and its forces fled Kabul, intelligence and diplomatic sources said on Friday.

The Taleban, which was often said to be the creation of Pakistan, was like a house of cards that collapsed when the Inter-Services Intelligence withdrew support, the sources told SADA news agency.

The move came after President Pervez Musharraf, apparently embarrassed by the publication of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden's interview in the Dawn newspaper, ordered every ISI member to leave Afghanistan at once.

Sources in Islamabad said that mid-level army officers working in the Afghanistan Cell of ISI had been transferred to new assignments. A brigadier, who headed the section along with commissioned officers, including two colonels and three majors, had been reassigned, they confirmed.

A high-ranking intelligence official pointed out that the content of the Laden interview, in which the world's most wanted man claimed that he possessed nuclear weapons, was less important than the context and timing of the story.

Musharraf left Pakistan on November 7 on a very sensitive four-nation tour covering Iran, Turkey, Britain and the US. He addressed the United Nations General Assembly on November 10, the same day that Laden's interview appeared in print and was picked up by virtually all international news organisations.

"Musharraf was not happy," a senior diplomat said. Even after Pakistan's president had announced unconditional support to the US-led war against terrorism, the ISI continued to support the Taleban in complete defiance of his orders, intelligence sources said.

The sources were also questioning a fire that broke out in the Pakistan Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on October 10. The army officials attributed the fire to a short circuit. Some "stationery" had been burnt, an official said.

The sources, however, claimed that the papers burnt on October 10 were not "stationery", but classified ISI documents on Afghanistan.

Independent sources in Islamabad confirmed that "sensitive and classified" documents were regularly burnt after being shredded. "We don't have new technologies. We work with old shredders and burn the remains," an official confirmed.

"It was a desperate attempt to destroy the paper trail leading to ISI's involvement with the Taleban," claimed one intelligence source.

"It was the work of General Mahmoud's men, who feared exposure of their past," he said.

Lt Gen Mahmoud Ahmed, who was head of the highly secretive ISI, was transferred from his position just three days before the fire and, perhaps coincidentally, on the same day the US began its air campaign over Afghanistan.

Intelligence officials and diplomats said Musharraf's resolve and resourcefulness had stunned them. "No one in Pakistan has been able to control ISI the way Musharraf has," a diplomat told SADA.

Sources claimed that Musharraf would introduce changes in the ISI structure to ensure closer military monitoring of its activities, an uphill challenge, which many had tried.

ISI -- frequently described as a state within the state -- had strengthened its grip on power in the past few decades. For half of its 54 years of independence, Pakistan had been ruled by the military with small intervals of democratic governments, which looted billions from state coffers. As would-be democratic reformers and military regimes came and went, ISI remained entrenched in its hitherto unassailable position.

Indo-Asian News Service

America's War on Terror: The Complete Coverage
The Attack on US Cities: The Complete Coverage

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