ISI PROTECTING Haqqani NETWORK
Mullah Nasrullah, a Taliban commander, made what has become a routine trek from his guerrilla base in Afghanistan across the jagged peaks intoPakistan last month. His destination: the headquarters of his patron and supplier, the powerful insurgent leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. A genial young man in his late 20s or early 30s with a bushy black beard, Haqqani leads the bloody Taliban insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, where American casualties are highest. Interviewed by NEWSWEEK on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Nasrullah refused to specify the reason for his meeting with Haqqani, though it's likely he was looking for more suicide bombers, explosive vests, weapons and money to use against U.S. and NATO forces.
Once inside Pakistan, Nasrullah says, he traveled between insurgent camps. He rode in a new four-wheel-drive vehicle with a towering radio antenna fixed to the front bumper, followed by four pickup trucks filled with militants. Yet their convoy sailed through Pakistani military checkpoints. Whenever they neared one, the jihadists would hail someone named "Col. Niazi" on the radio, who would arrange their safe passage. Nasrullah believes this was a Pakistani Army officer and possibly an operative in the military's premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. "He seems to feel invulnerable," Nasrullah says of his patron, Haqqani. "The ISI protects him."
Washington seems to agree. Combating Haqqani fighters has become one of the top priorities for American commanders in Afghanistan. But U.S. officials who would speak only on condition of anonymity when discussing sensitive matters say they have evidence that some elements of Pakistan's ISI are protecting or even helping the Haqqani network. That's helping to drive a far more aggressive U.S. strategy in the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where the Haqqanis and other Taliban groups have established a network of safe havens and training camps for their own and Al Qaeda fighters. And it's raising tensions between America and Pakistan, supposed allies in the war against terror, to levels not seen since September 11.