- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Any allied attempt to infiltrate Afghanistan will run up against an elaborate Taliban spy network ranging from the agents of the former Soviet-era network who tracked eight detained Western aid workers, to young children who are taught to inform on their parents.

Afghan analysts believe it was this nationwide spy network that tripped up Abdul Haq, America's brightest hope for a Pashtun-led revolt against the Taliban, who was discovered in Afghanistan and executed by the regime last Friday.

"The Taliban knew what he was going to do even before he left his house in Peshawar," said a former Pakistani intelligence officer.

"By the time he'd crossed the mountains, they were already sweeping the area. The Taliban intelligence on both sides of the border is good, mainly because the locals support them."

Another longtime Afghan observer said: "One thing the Taliban have invested in is intelligence. You can't do anything in secret there; there are informers everywhere, including children."

Children, some as young as 5, have become spies for the Taliban regime. Many are recruited among war orphans, the ragged tribes of street beggars or students of madrassas, religious schools where destitute families send their children for food, shelter and religious training.

Aid agencies estimate there are several thousand of these child-agents spying for the Taliban in Afghanistan's main cities.

"The Taliban are using these children to inform on their parents, to tell them who they're supporting, and to tell them if there are weapons hidden in houses," said Fataneh Gilani, head of the Afghan Women's Society, a Peshawar-based aid agency.

"But because they are children they often get things wrong. A lot of innocent people have been betrayed by children."

Afghanistan's children long recognized as effective spies because they can be trained to scour the urban landscape, clamber through rambling family compounds and go unnoticed in the company of adults were first used by the KHAD, the immense Soviet-era Afghan spy agency.

At its peak in the 1980s, the KHAD coordinated up to 30,000 professional spies and about 100,000 informers, including some children.

When the Taliban captured Kabul in September 1996, the bureaucratic structure of the defeated Soviet-backed government of President Najibullah was largely left intact.

Ministers and department heads were replaced with black-turbaned mullahs loyal to the Taliban. The KHAD was renamed Istakh Barat and a cleric, Qari Amadullah, was appointed as its head.

Little is known about Mr. Amadullah or his agency, but a Western aid worker in Afghanistan described its Soviet-trained staff as "professional and efficient."

Istakh Barat spies tracked down eight Western aid workers, including two Americans, associated with Shelter Now International who are currently in prison in Kabul facing trial on charges of preaching Christianity.

Since the September 11 terror attacks, Istakh Barat agents, mostly concerned with foreign intelligence, have tailed and interrogated at least two Western journalists who entered Afghanistan illegally.

Although no one knows how many spies are employed by the Taliban, Afghan analysts estimate that several hundred thousand are somehow involved in what one termed "a system of fear and control."

Another notorious arm of that network is the black-turbaned religious police from the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who, armed with rubber whips, act as street-enforcers of the Taliban's harshest edicts.

The ministry, which is run by Mullah Qalamuddin, has admitted using informers in government ministries, hospitals, the military and aid agencies.

The Taliban also depends on a vast informal patchwork of ordinary Afghans in cities, towns and villages where one person is employed in each residential block to report unusual movements. In the countryside, the Taliban relies on villagers and local mullahs.

Even before September 11, foreign journalists visiting Kabul were closely chaperoned by Taliban-appointed "translators" and had to stay in the Taliban-run Intercontinental Hotel. Elsewhere in the country, they could expect to be tailed by spies.

"In the area of Kabul in which I live, there's someone in each block who reports on who comes to the house as a guest," said an Afghan who recently arrived in Peshawar. "The Taliban have also asked village mullahs to report the presence of strangers to the secret police."


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