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Shadow of Taliban on arrested Pakistanis

New Delhi, Nov. 30: Four Pakistani officials have been arrested by Afghan authorities on suspicion of collaborating with the Taliban in Spin Boldak in Afghanistan.

The arrests of the officials, suspected to be ISI agents , bolsters the belief that Islamabad is extending covert aid to the ousted Islamic hardliners.

The incident, which took place on October 12 but details of which have only begun coming out, has come as an embarrassment for Pakistan, which has been crying itself hoarse against having any role in the regrouping of the Taliban along its border with Afghanistan. The arrests, however, point at not only the involvement of Pakistani personnel, but also their presence in Afghanistan.

Sources said the four Pakistanis, arrested with their identity cards, apparently worked in different departments of the Pakistan government. But the Afghan government suspects they are from the military, the Inter-Services Intelligence and the identity cards were provided as cover.

From the ID cards, the four have been identified as:

• Shah Gilani, son of Mansoor Haider. Date of birth 6.11.1971. Captain of the National Highways and Pakistan Motorways Police

• Irfan Ahmed, son of Mohammad Hayat. Date of birth 21.2.1970. An officer of Sindh police

• Muhammad Rehan Iqbal, son of Muhammad Iqbal. Born in 1977, also an officer of Sindh police

• Khalid Bashik, son of Mohammad Bashik. Senior accountant of the Quetta Treasury Office, Government of Balochistan

Islamabad has begun damage control, projecting the arrested persons as Pakistani businessmen. It has alleged that they were “kidnapped” by the Afghan secret agency, Khad, which demanded a ransom for their release.

Under US pressure, the Khad has handed over the four to Pakistani authorities.

The Pakistani media, quoting government officials, have claimed that the four are Karachi-based traders who were kidnapped from Wash in Spin Boldak district by the Khad.

English daily Dawn identified them as Irfan, Mansoor Ahmed, Mohammad Rehan and Mohammad Rahim. The names of two — Irfan and Mohammad Rehan — are the same as on the seized identity cards, but the other two differ.

Earlier, several reports have emerged from Pakistan — some written by leading journalists — detailing the level of support Taliban members trying to regroup were receiving from Pakistani authorities.

The US-backed administration in Afghanistan has been complaining about Pakistan aiding the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai has cautioned Islamabad that its efforts could easily recoil on itself. “If you harbour a scorpion in the hope that it would bite me, do not be too sure that it won’t bite you,” he had said in a public speech.

The capture of the four Pakistanis proved what Karzai was hinting at — that Pakistan is still deeply involved in fomenting trouble in Afghanistan.

At another level, Pakistan has been lobbying that a section of the Taliban comprises “moderates” who need to be accommodated in the government as they “represent” the majority Pushtuns. The Americans have sent out feelers to the Taliban through Mullah Muttawakil, who was released from captivity to arrange meetings of US officials with the so-called moderate Taliban.

Observers said Pakistan’s manoeuvres show it wants “strategic depth” in Afghanistan by having a pro-Islamabad government — preferably the Taliban — in power in Kabul.

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