Major surprises expected in talks with Taliban: ISI

Islamabad: The leadership of the Inter- Services Intelligence agency has told a Pakistani parliamentary panel that some "major surprises" are expected in Islamabad`s peace talks with the Taliban, according to a media report today.

The revelation was made by ISI officials during a three- hour briefing behind closed doors for the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production on Thursday. ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha and his deputies briefed the lawmakers.

Pasha and his deputies confirmed that talks with the "Taliban, mainly homegrown militants, were at an advanced stage and some major breakthrough was expected over the next few months", The Express Tribune quoted its sources as saying.
The ISI officials were confident that there would be some "big surprises" on this front, an unnamed lawmaker was quoted as saying.

According to the ISI officials, the overall dimension of the situation in Afghanistan is rapidly changing. "We continue to review our policy with a holistic approach to correspond with changes in the policy of major players," another parliamentarian quoted the ISI officials as saying.

In recent weeks, senior leaders like Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik have denied that talks are being held with the Pakistani Taliban. The briefing focussed on the ISI`s role in the war against terror.

The policy for the campaign is going through a "holistic review" to correspond with changes in the US plans in Afghanistan, the ISI officials said. Around five members of the Senate committee, which is headed by former ISI chief Lt Gen (retired) Javed Ashraf Qazi, were briefed on the spy agency`s role.

Two key members of the panel, Raza Rabbani of the Pakistan People`s Party and Khurshid Ahmad of the Jamaat-e-Islami, boycotted the briefing, saying the spy agency`s officials should have come to parliament.

Two members were out of the country while another was unable to attend because of ill health. Lawmakers who attended the briefing shared very little information of the in-camera session that lasted from 10 am to 1 pm, the daily reported. "After the ISI officials briefed the participants about the functions of their agency, members posed various questions before the agency officials to clarify the myths and reality associated with the ISI," a participant said.

Some participants were curious about the ISI`s modus operandi in terms of the country`s political affairs. However, ISI chief Pasha opted to skip such questions, the report said.

One ISI official denied that the spy agency plays any role in political affairs, an unnamed lawmaker was quoted as saying. Another lawmaker claimed that Pasha admitted to the agency`s involvement but said the ISI simply does what is asked of it by the government, be it civilian or military. "They (ISI officials) said, `We have been doing what the government of the time asks us to do…these days there are no such directions from this civilian government,`"a lawmaker was quoted as saying.

Asked about Osama bin Laden`s presence in the country, one senator said ISI feels the episode was not solely the agency`s failure but was also a failure on the CIA`s part and that of spy agencies of other allied countries. There was no discussion on the alleged memo that sought US help to prevent a military takeover in Pakistan after the killing of bin Laden in May, the senators claimed.

One lawmaker from a military background said he was not only satisfied with the briefing but also paid accolades to the ISI. "The ISI is the best spy agency in the world. It has been succeeding in its mission. Bashing of the ISI and the army by the people of Pakistan is unfortunate… they do not know the real functions of this agency," he said.