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TEXT: TAMPA, FLORIDA, is a long way from South Asia, but in mid-2011 I was there to attend a conference on Pakistan at the headquarters of the US Central Command as a guest of General David Petraeus, the US commander in Afghanistan. I was to review Pakistan’s role in supporting the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

Only 25 years ago the United States had fought a war against the Soviets in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s help. President Ronald Reagan enjoyed Pakistan’s support and won the war. Now, in the twenty-first century, America and Pakistan are on opposite sides in the Afghan civil war. It’s a lot harder to envision success.

In December 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Gen Zia immediately turned to Saudi Arabia for help and assistance and dispatched General Akhtar, his ISI Chief, to Riyadh with an urgent message for the king: Zia wanted Saudi assistance to strengthen the mujahedeen, the anti-communist rebels in Afghanistan.

According to Prince Turki, King Fahd agreed immediately, and the ISI and Turki’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID) began cooperating to aid the mujahedeen. In addition, the Saudi-Pakistani partnership would soon acquire another partner, the CIA. Gen Zia also turned to Pakistan’s other longtime ally, China, and China responded with arms and advisers.

Bill Casey, President Reagan’s CIA Chief, traveled repeatedly to Islamabad. On his first visit, he was shown a map of Afghanistan with a red triangle superimposed on it, pointing in the direction of the Indian Ocean, just three hundred miles from the Afghan-Pakistani border. This map was shown to many subsequent visitors.

Pakistan was the real battlefield and Moscow’s real objective was access to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, the Pakistanis believed. Gen Zia and Gen Akhtar were determined to keep Moscow from getting a warm-water port on the Indian Ocean. As Casey’s deputy for operations in Afghanistan would later recount, Gen Zia and Gen Akhtar were believers. Without them, there would have been no Afghan war, and no Afghan victory.

The ISI set up training camps along the Durand Line, and Afghans began learning more sophisticated tactics and skills to help them wage jihad. The ISI included instructors from Pakistan’s own special forces, the Special Services Group (SSG), an elite fighting force within the army. Overall, the ISI trained at least 80,000 to 90,000 Afghans in its camps.

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