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Despite a long history of using Pakistan as a safe haven, Taliban on the front lines of the insurgency say they have no loyalty to their neighbouring country.

A survey of 42 insurgents in Kandahar found most were critical about Pakistan, where they are reported to have headquarters and supply lines, and most were critical of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, often using the harshest language to describe him.

Some insurgents claimed they want to fight for the seizure of vast swaths of Pakistan's territory in the name of expanding Afghanistan to include the major cities of Quetta and Peshawar. Every fighter asked said those two cities belong inside Afghanistan, and all of them rejected the existing border as a legitimate boundary between the countries.

The Globe and Mail's modest sample of Taliban opinion may only reflect an effort by the insurgents to hide their sources of support in Pakistan, analysts say, or it may point to something more troubling: the growing indications that parts of the insurgency are no longer controlled by anybody.

"If they are supported by ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency], why are they attacking Pakistan?" said Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, after reviewing The Globe's raw video footage. "Why would the ISI want these kinds of activities in Pakistan? It's out of control. Nobody is able to control it."

"This is Afghan government propaganda, about the Pakistan government controlling the Taliban."

Few historians dispute that Pakistan's intelligence services played a decisive role in establishing the Taliban movement in 1994, and Islamabad appeared to retain a strong influence over the regime that seized Kabul two years later.

President Musharraf formally cut ties with the Taliban in 2001, but in recent years a growing number of observers have accused Pakistan's agents, or former agents, of continuing their assistance for the radical movement.

"With the collaboration of elements within one of Pakistan's ... intelligence services, the ISI, the Pashtun borderlands have become a safe haven for the Taliban," write Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason, of the Naval Postgraduate School in California, in a coming issue of the journal International Security.

The Afghan government strongly endorses that view, often helping journalists arrange interviews with captured insurgents who tell stories of training centres in Pakistan.

During one such interview session last year at the Kandahar Governor's Palace, an Afghan intelligence official paraded out a group of prisoners who described themselves as Pakistanis persuaded to wage jihad against foreign troops in Afghanistan after attending madrassas in Pakistan. They gave details of an informal training camp in Chaman, Pakistan, that suggested the insurgents were making little effort to hide their activities from local authorities.

If the Taliban are creatures of Pakistan, however, The Globe and Mail's survey suggests they are not a particularly obedient creation.

Some parts of the Taliban in particular, such as the recently created Pakistani Taliban group led by Baitullah Mehsud, have proven themselves more of a threat within Pakistan than anywhere else.

"The Islamist extremist Frankenstein is no longer confined to the whims of political power games," wrote Irm Haleem, a South Asian expert who teaches at New York's Seton Hall University, in an article this month that devoted itself to the comparison between the Taliban and Mary Shelley's mythical creature.

Every insurgent asked by The Globe researcher said huge parts of Pakistan belong to Afghanistan, but they offered varying ideas about how much territory should be claimed and how it is historically justified.

One fighter said that only half of Pakistan's provinces, Sindh and Punjab, rightfully belong in the country.

"Those areas of Pakistan were small," the fighter said. "In the time of Zahir Shah or someone else, then they made this line [the new border]." Another gave a similar explanation for the loss of Quetta and Peshawar: "The King Zahir Shah sold them, but when Mullah Omar was in Kandahar, he saw the contracts and the contracts were expired."

In fact, the Durand Line agreement established the southeastern border of Afghanistan in 1893, long before the reign of King Zahir Shah, which lasted from 1933 to 1973. Pakistan and Afghanistan still formally disagree about whether the agreement has expired.

Some of the Taliban seemed to be appropriating the nationalistic cause of reclaiming the Durand territory as part of the insurgency's agenda.

"They [Quetta and Peshawar] absolutely belong to Afghanistan, and if we become successful in our war we will take it back from Pakistan, because it is a part of our holy Afghanistan," one insurgent said.

"Unfortunately, at the moment, Afghanistan is in a big pressure: Non-Muslims are here," another fighter added. "But when the non-Muslims leave Afghanistan, then it [the Durand territory] can never be a part of Pakistan. We will erase the Durand line."

Others blamed the government of President Hamid Karzai for failing to raise the issue with Islamabad, implying that Mr. Karzai cannot take action because he is controlled by foreign powers.

One fighter, asked why Pakistan retains control of the territory, said, "Because there is no Islamic government, all of them are non-Muslims, and the government of Pakistan is also a non-Islamic government, and that's why."

"The British handed it over to them," another said. "Where is the government? It belongs to the Americans now."

"So the Americans don't want it to be a part of Afghanistan?" he was asked. "He [Mr. Musharraf] is also a son of the Americans, and Karzai is as well. So if he [President George W. Bush] takes it from one son and gives it to another, what does he gain here?"

Despite their talk about Pakistan's unfair seizure of the Pashtun lands, the Taliban were strongly reluctant to accept the idea of "Pashtunistan" as a separate country, a concept raised by some ethnic nationalists in the border region. Only four respondents said they favour the creation of a new country for Pashtuns.

These front-line fighters likely don't realize the close relationship between Pakistan's government and the insurgents, said one Western expert in Kandahar.

"How many idealists have been manipulated by Machiavellian masters who kept themselves hidden in world history?" the observer said. "They almost certainly are not aware of the Pakistan government's involvement in their movement."

A former Afghan intelligence officer, whose experience in Kandahar spans three decades, agreed that the Taliban are unaware of their masters.

"The ISI co-ordinates Taliban activities, for sure," the retired officer said. "But the ISI has a few members who are leading the Taliban and the Taliban don't always understand the Pakistan role behind them. If the Taliban were aware they are puppets, they would stop fighting."

During a long afternoon of discussion last year in Kandahar, a Taliban sympathizer chuckled at the idea of the insurgents as unwitting pawns.

"The Pakistanis have two faces," said the full-bearded man, with an ample belly and a quick laugh. "They're friends with Talibs and Americans at the same time. They are betrayers of Islam."

He continued: "Pakistan gets money from Americans and uses many tricks against the Taliban. They give the Taliban money, training and places to stay. On the other side, they arrest them and sell them. ... The small Taliban don't understand this."

The series

The Globe and Mail's groundbreaking six-part series probes the heart of the Taliban

insurgency in Afghanistan.

Based on video-recorded

interviews with 42 fighters

connected with insurgent groups in Kandahar province, the research provides a glimpse of who they are, their motivation and their goals.


A GlobeDocs video feature

accompanying each of the stories in the series.

Raw footage of 42 video

recordings of the Taliban fighters.



The Taliban defy conventional wisdom


What motivates the Taliban


The tribal clash underlying the conflict


The Taliban and Pakistan


What the Taliban know about

the outside world


Why the Taliban are embracing suicide bombing