Neighbors / Who Needs the Taliban?

Pakistan, for one, which sees an alliance with the Islamist group as key to securing a foothold in Afghanistan

Cooperation between Pakistan and the Taliban dates back to the 1990s, when the Taliban gained contro

Can the tens of thousands of documents on the Afghan war revealed on the WikiLeaks website serve as evidence for putting the site's founder and director on trial? Could Julian Assange's revelations lead to the deaths of dozens of American and British intelligence agents? What are the legal ramifications of publishing material of this kind?

All of these questioned being posed recently are important, but distract from the main issue: What is America's actual policy in Afghanistan and will its policy toward Pakistan - which the United States considers a strategic asset and an ally - bring about victory?

The documents that were published reveal an open secret - the Pakistani security services are still cooperating with the Taliban. They reveal that the head of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, today the commander of that country's army, was responsible for the training and funding of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

Kayani, 58, is a Pakistani strongman and American ally who studied at two of the most prestigious military academies in the U.S., Fort Benning and Fort Leavenworth, and who won a great deal of acclaim from American generals for his struggle against the Taliban in Pakistan. But he is not exactly what the Americans had dreamed of.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron accused Pakistan of double-crossing on terrorism and called on its government to abstain from "exporting terror" to Afghanistan. His remarks led to angry protests in Pakistan where people took to the streets and called on their government to break off diplomatic ties with London.

Similar demands have not yet been voiced against the U.S., but Pakistani dissatisfaction with Washington is growing, particularly in view of America's intentions to withdraw some of its troops in July of next year. Washington, which will provide Pakistan this year with $2.5 billion worth of military aid and another $7.5 billion over the next five years in civilian aid, fears that some of the American taxpayers' money has not made it to its target, namely the war on terror, but is instead funding the training and arming of the Taliban.

During the rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Americans discovered that millions of their dollars had served similar objectives or had been used to bolster the political position of the military dictator.

Kayani, whose term as military chief of staff has been extended for another three years, is the one who to a large extent determines Pakistan's policy even though the country is headed nominally by President Asif Zardari, the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto considered the Taliban as potential allies through whom Pakistan could use its influence inside the country, and it can be assumed that her husband has "inherited" this same policy. The extension of Kayani's term may indicate that Pakistan's stance is unlikely to change, especially in view of America's intention to withdraw from Afghanistan.

The cooperation between Pakistan and the Taliban is not new. The two worked together as far back as the 1990s, when the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan and put an end to the tragic civil war that raged there after the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

The Taliban introduced a regime of religious terror but put an end to most of the rampant drug traffic and displayed the ability to impose order and stability in the country. They were so impressive in what they could do that even two American oil companies, Unocal and Enron, conducted negotiations with them about building gas pipelines. The Taliban representatives who went specially to Texas to discuss the details with Enron, set the condition that Washington must recognize the Taliban government for any deal to go through.

Enron went so far as to fund a center for training Afghani professionals at Nebraska University so that they would be able to do the maintenance work for the future gas pipeline. The deliberations ended as the result of tremendous public pressure in the United States.

But American public pressure had no bearing on the Pakistanis, a situation that continues today.

Thus Pakistan continued to strengthen its ties with Afghanistan and to pay for Taliban activities until the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, when, under heavy pressure from Washington, it changed direction and declared it would join ranks with the Americans in fighting terror.

The Pakistani government, which has to navigate carefully between liberal opposition elements and religious radicals, does not necessarily consider the Taliban an enemy, or at least not a strategic enemy.

A few weeks ago, Kayani declared to his officers that Pakistan's chief enemy was, and remains, India. Pakistan, which is geographically and politically locked between India and Iran, both of which are seen as threats, wishes to expand its strategic footprint and the natural direction for this is in the hinterlands of Afghanistan.

In a situation where the United States is planning to leave Afghansitan, it is clear to Pakistan that Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the main competitors for filling the vacuum that could be created.

This is also clear to Hamid Karzai, the Afghani president, who wishes first and foremost to stabilize his rule, which necessitates Taliban support. All of this is a guarantee that the Taliban will continue to be an extremely significant political force even if the Americans succeed in killing several hundreds or thousands more of their members before the drawdown.

And that is precisely what the Americans are planning to do. The previous military strategy of fighting the Taliban while engaging locals with funding, which went into effect only a few months ago, is not working.

The United States is now returning the familiar policy of targeted assassinations. The real fear is what kind of region it will leave behind.

Anyone who is wondering, can take a look at what is happening in Iraq.