April 28, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3792

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Accused of Supporting 'Test-Tube Politician' Imran Khan, Engaging Him in ISI's Peace Talks With Taliban

April 28, 2011
Afghanistan | Special Dispatch No. 3792

Imran Khan leads a one-man Tehreek-e-Insaf party

On April 25, 2011, in an unusually sharp criticism of the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, opposition leader in the National Assembly (the lower house of the Pakistani parliament), said that Pakistan intelligence agencies are providing support to a few political parties in the country.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who belongs to the Paksitan Muslim League (PML-N) party, alleged that the intelligence agencies are behind sit-ins and protests in the country. The reference was to a series of protests organized by Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician who leads the Paksitan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, in Peshawar on April 23 and 24 against the U.S. drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal region.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that he has made it clear to Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha, the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), that his party would not tolerate the army's role in politics, according to a report in the Urdu-language daily Roznama Jasarat.[1] He asked Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to take notice of the military-sponsored sit-ins and protests, or else his government would be in danger. The opposition leader also demanded of the government that the army be told to perform its role prescribed by the Pakistani constitution and not violate its limits by meddling in the country's politics.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan went on to say that a "test-tube politician" who could not win the seat of mayor in a small town is holding sit-ins in the country on a major scale, apparently with the support of the military. Although he did not mention any names, the reference to "test-tube politician" is clearly to Imran Khan. Annoyed by the ISI's move to support Imran Khan, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan urged the parliament to conduct an audit of the funds of the Pakistani intelligence agencies. The PML-N, a center-right party, is worried that the ISI's support to Imran Khan may undermine its own public support. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan went on to allege that some senior members of his own party are tied to these intelligence agencies and are conspiring against the democratically elected government in the country.

Now, a new report sheds light on the ISI's moves to foster reconciliation with the Taliban. A report titled "Imran Khan in Taliban Peace Spotlight" and published by the website of ARY News television channel ( notes that the military leadership of Pakistan has roped in the cricketer-turned-politician to engage the Taliban in peace talks. The report also notes that there are plans by the ISI to catapult Imran Khan to the prime minister of Pakistan by advancing the 2013 general elections. The report says: "While no formula was finalized, according to sources, general elections scheduled for February 2013 could be brought forward and a political alliance engineered [by the ISI] that would result in a simple majority under which Khan would be installed as prime minister. Another scenario would be for Khan to take the lead in an interim government."

The report follows the landmark April 16 talks in Kabul, where Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and Pakistani Junior Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar held talks with their counterparts in the Afghan government. The talks were led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha also participated in the talks. At the end of the day-long talks, it was agreed to set up a two-tier joint Afghanistan-Pakistan commission on which General Kayani and Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha will sit. United by their opposition to the United States, President Karzai and Pakistani leaders are forging bilateral relations, while the U.S. concerns over the ISI's support for the Taliban militants in Afghanistan remain ignored.

Following are excerpts from the report:[2]

"[Imran Khan] Can be Trusted in All Quarters – by the Taliban, Political Islamists, Liberal Secularists, Western Capitals, India, and Other Regional Players"

"Imran Khan, the former Pakistan cricket captain-turned-politician, is in the spotlight as Pakistan develops a roadmap for reconciliation with the Taliban that aims to close down the war theater inside its borders.

"Khan, who leads the opposition Tehrik-e-Insaf party, has emerged as a potential prime minister after the country's military oligarchs built a consensus that peace is unlikely in the absence of outside- the-box thinking and that an internationally credible person is needed to lead the process.

"Serving and retired military officers and academics, businessmen, and politicians sense that neither the current Pakistan military and political leadership, nor Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has the ability to deliver results. They believe the best hope lies in a person who can be trusted in all quarters – by the Taliban, political Islamists, liberal secularists, Western capitals, India and other regional players.

"Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani led an unprecedented entourage, including Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director general of the Inter-Service Intelligence [ISI], to Kabul last week [April 16] to officially inaugurate the peace reconciliation process with the Taliban under the auspices of Washington and London. The decision had already been made that the Afghanistan and Pakistan governments will occupy a central role in a reconciliation process that could bring the Taliban into the mainstream Afghan political process.

"Khan, 58, is leading a two-day sit-in outside Peshawar, capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, planned for Saturday and Sunday [April 23-24] to block supply convoys ferrying goods to North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan. People displaced by the war have vowed to join the protest, which is against United States drone attacks. Khan has been a fervent critic of the Pakistan government, claiming it is subservient to the United States in the region."

"[Several Months Ago] the Pakistan Military Establishment Began Preparations for Reconciliation [with the Taliban] and It was Agreed that Khan would Be Suitable for Leading the Peace Process"

"Several months before the leaders of the two countries met in Kabul [on April 16], the Pakistan military establishment began preparations for reconciliation [with the Taliban] and it was agreed that Khan would be suitable for leading the peace process.

"A prominent Urdu media commentator of right-wing leanings, who is close to both Khan and army chief Kayani, arranged a series of meetings between the two which eventually led to a consensus around Khan becoming the next leader of the country.

"While no formula was finalized, according to sources, general elections scheduled for February 2013 could be brought forward and a political alliance engineered that would result in a simple majority under which Khan would be installed as prime minister. Another scenario would be for Khan to take the lead in an interim government.

"Khan's leadership role has found favor across Pakistan's political spectrum, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the second-largest party in the ruling coalition and largest urban party in Sindh province. The Awami National Party (ANP), the largest Pashtun nationalist party, which governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, the two main Islamic parties, also back the role.

"ANP president Asfandyar Wali Khan, a strong critic of the U.S. drone attacks, has backed the process started in Kabul and said his party had always supported dialogue with 'saner elements' among the Taliban.

"Imran Khan's position has been lauded by the militants, and his popularity in Pakistani tribal areas is unparalleled. In 2007 in Afghanistan, Naseeruddin Haqqani, the son of legendary Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose Haqqani Network is regarded the most lethal network against the Western coalition in Afghanistan, met with Imran Khan and in that way Khan indirectly entered into a dialogue process with the Taliban…"

"Western Experts are Still at a Loss to Explain What Exactly Happened Between 2002 to 2006 to Bring the Defeated Taliban Back… with Some Claiming Pakistan's ISI is Backing [the Taliban]

"There is a long-held understanding within Pakistan's military that any reconciliation process with the Taliban would require a whole package dealing with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the affiliated groups on one side and another with the Western coalition, India and other regional players. The job requires credible leadership.

"Pakistan supported the Taliban [literally meaning 'students'] movement when it emerged in the mid-1990s. When the student militia formed its government in Kabul, Pakistan stood behind it in the face of global opposition. After Al-Qaeda attacked the United States on 9/11, Pakistan tried to explain to the world the difference between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and emphasized the need to engage with the Taliban…

"In 2006, the Taliban re-emerged as a powerful armed opposition group and stunned the world with organized attacks throughout southern Afghanistan. Within a few years… they had expanded their influence to over 80% of the country, and in several parts even established local rule.

"Western experts are still at a loss to explain what exactly happened between 2002 to 2006 to bring the defeated Taliban back as a major player in Afghanistan, with some claiming Pakistan's ISI backing amid a resurgence in Pashtun nationalism which supported the Taliban. However, it is likely due to a dialectic of Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. Al-Qaeda migrated into Pakistani tribal areas in 2002 and worked with different tribes, gradually succeeding in replacing Pakistan's tribal system with the Al-Qaeda affiliated structures in Pakistani tribal areas as well as in southeast Afghanistan.

"Al-Qaeda's strategy from 2002 was to regroup pro-Taliban factions and pitch them in Afghanistan's southwest in 2006 to support the Afghan Taliban. In early 2007, under a meticulous strategy, Al-Qaeda retreated into the tribal areas and in mid-year moved into Pakistani cities to pressurize Pakistan to stop supporting the American war in Afghanistan.

"It countered American moves in Pakistan for establishing a broadbased anti-Taliban alliance and assassinated Pakistan's former premier Benazir Bhutto, thwarted a peace reconciliation process which was inaugurated in Kabul in 2007 through opening a war theatre in Malakand-Swat and carried out so many attacks in Pakistani cities and tribal areas by the beginning of 2008 that they outnumbered insurgent attacks against occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"By the middle of 2008, Al-Qaeda's leadership receded into Pakistani tribal areas and then expanded operations across the world including Yemen, India, Somalia and Europe. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it is clear to the world community that dealing with the Taliban is not an open and shut case that ends in simply signing an agreement…"

"[Former ISI Chief] Hamid Gul… Began Working on a New Plan for the Future Leadership of the Country; He Chose Three Prominent Pakistanis… Imran Khan Agreed to Take a Political Role"

"Imran Khan captained the winning Pakistani cricket team in the 1992 World Cup in Australia and returned to Pakistan a national hero. He then pursued the cause of establishing a free cancer hospital in memory of his deceased mother Shaukat Khanum, who died of cancer.

"At the same time, Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul retired from the Pakistan Army and began working on a new plan for the future leadership of the country. He chose three prominent Pakistanis; namely, former governor, renowned social worker and reformer Hakim Mohammad Saeed, the social worker and philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, and Imran Khan. Saeed refused to take part in politics, and was gunned down in front of his clinic in 1998. Edhi left Pakistan in the mid 1990s, alleging that Pakistani intelligence was trying to force him into politics. Imran Khan agreed to take a political role.

"The transformation of an Oxford University political sciences graduate seen as a sex symbol in the West into a politician who penned articles in leading Urdu newspapers against the Western lifestyle and Westernized thinking in Pakistan stunned many.

"After the October 12, 1999 military coup [by General Musharraf], Khan jumped on Musharraf's bandwagon but by 2003 he had distanced himself from the president. The military establishment continued to engage him. However, Khan has remained a major campaigner against the Pakistan military's oppression of Islamic forces. Even in 2009, as all Pakistani politicians including Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Group [of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif] supported military operations in Swat, he insisted that they could only breed militancy…"


[1] Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan), April 26, 2011.

[2] (Pakistan), April 20, 2011. The text of the report has been lightly edited for clarity.

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