"I cannot tell you that we have seen decisive changes in the areas in which we're working, but I remain very well-engaged with my partner to ensure that we are moving forward" said Gen. Joseph L. Votel

by Bill Gertz

Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of the Central Command, disclosed in congressional testimony this week that despite a new U.S. policy of pressuring Pakistan, the Islamabad government is still supporting the Taliban terrorist group in the border region with Afghanistan.

Asked during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday if Pakistan is continuing to back terrorist activity in Afghanistan, Gen. Votel said the U.S. pressure campaign has produced some “positive indicators” of a shift.

However, on the question of continued Pakistani support, Gen. Votel noted: “I cannot tell you that we have seen decisive changes in the areas in which we’re working, but I remain very well-engaged with my partner to ensure that we are moving forward on this.”

Asked about a recent surge of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan and whether they were linked to support from Pakistan, Gen. Votel said: “Having sanctuary in Pakistan or having support from other actors in the region certainly is an aspect of the Taliban’s success here.”

An intelligence source close to the Afghan border region said Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service is continuing its covert support for the Taliban in the border region. The source said ISI is providing both protection and material support to the Taliban in areas between Quetta and the Afghan border.

Both the Pakistan military and ISI operatives are working with the Taliban in Pashtun ethnic areas of Balochistan province in the northwestern part of the country.

“In Pashtun areas which are close to Quetta, religious groups are operating madrasas” — Islamic schools, the source said. “Among these groups, the Jamiat Ulema-e-islam is most active. Under Sami ul Haq’s leadership, madrasas are creating new soldiers for Taliban in Balochistan’s Pashtun belt.” Maulana Sami ul Haq is a Pakistani cleric regarded as “the father of the Taliban.”

Taliban terrorists from Afghanistan travel freely to a Pakistani army garrison in Quetta where they meet with military and ISI officials.

“We believe top Taliban leadership are operating from Pashtunabad, Gulistan and surrounding areas,” the source told Inside the Ring.

Another area where the Taliban is working with the ISI is a small border district called Killa Abdullah, about 44 miles from Quetta, capital of Balochistan. Within that district, an area known as Chaman that borders Afghanistan is a Taliban hub, where terrorists operate openly and are known to local residents as Talibs.

Taliban fighters have been spotted along the road from to Kuchlak “with automatic weapons either in motorbikes, or [in] four-by-four vehicles along with two to five companions,” the source said.

ISI also conducts security patrols in facilitating Taliban transit along the main highway to Kuchlak, using a Toyota SUV that according to the source is owned by the ISI. The ISI security is an open secret in the region.

Local police are not permitted to stop the Taliban from traveling from Afghanistan to Pakistan and the fighters refuse requests at checkpoints for identification by simply stating they are Talibs.

“These people freely travel in Quetta, Chaman and all surrounding areas,” the source said. “Civilian [police] forces cannot intervene because they work under ISI and military apparatus. The police are also powerless and are afraid for their own security.”

Other key Pakistan redoubts for the Taliban include Guldara Baghicha, near Chaman city, that is also houses a Pakistani paramilitary garrison. Guldara Baghicha is said to be a major residence for families of the Taliban.

Local police are banned by the ISI and Pakistan’s Frontier Corps from entering or patrolling that area.

Another area nearby, Kili Jahangir, includes restricted zones because Taliban families live nearby.

Still another Taliban hub in the border region is Jungle Piralizia, south of Chaman. The source described this location as a Taliban “resting place after their campaigns in Afghanistan against Western forces.”

The region has been scene of clashes between local police and Taliban fighters, who are known to retaliate against local police who try to arrest them, in one case blowing up a police vehicle and killing several policemen.

“In such cases, the Taliban are arrested by local police, then the ISI intervenes immediately and promptly releases them,” the source said.