Pakistan dismisses Nato report on Afghan Taliban links

Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar: Allegations are "old wine in an even older bottle"

Pakistan's foreign minister says her country has no hidden agenda in Afghanistan, in response to a leaked secret Nato report on Islamabad's links to the Afghan Taliban.

Speaking alongside her Afghan counterpart in Kabul, Hina Rabbani Khar said allegations in the report were "old wine in an even older bottle".

The report says the Taliban are helped by Pakistani security services.

It claims the insurgents remain defiant and have wide support among Afghans.

The report - State of the Taliban - is based on material from 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters and civilians.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says the document is painful reading for international forces and the Afghan government.

Start Quote

Front page of the report

Senior Taliban representatives... maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters”

End Quote Nato report

It follows a denial by the Taliban that they planned to hold preliminary talks with the Afghan government in Saudi Arabia.

A spokesman for Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), Brig Gen Carsten Jacobson, cautioned: "It is a compilation of investigations, of interrogations straight after detainment so we cannot really put that high a value on what they are saying, as they are talking about their perception of the campaign, what they believe, how the campaign is going and what they want us to believe how the campaign is going."

He added that there was "no reason for Isaf or the coalition to believe that there is anything to be changed" and that the insurgency remained "clearly on the back foot".

'Blame game'

Our correspondent says the report fully exposes for the first time the relationship between Pakistan's ISI intelligence service and the Taliban.

It notes: "Pakistan's manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly."

It says Pakistan is aware of the locations of senior Taliban leaders.

"Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad," it said.

And the Taliban's second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was captured in a raid on a madrassa near Karachi nearly two years ago.

Ms Khar said the leaked Nato report could be dismissed.

Analysis

The report lays bare the structure and the abiding confidence of the Taliban. Despite 10 years of war, the insurgents are undiminished, well-funded and far from ready to surrender.

If Afghanistan collapses, the Taliban will guarantee Pakistani influence in a country which it sees as a buffer to its rival India.

And for the Taliban, they need the protection of Islamabad to tackle Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

Nato said the report reflected only the Taliban perspective. But it also paints a picture of increasing disenchantment among Afghans with corruption in the Afghan government, which is driving people closer to the Taliban cause. Many Afghans haven't decided which side to take.

"We can disregard this as a potentially strategic leak," she said, adding that Pakistan and Afghanistan should stop blaming each other for cross-border problems.

"These claims have been made many, many times. Pakistan stands behind any initiative that the Afghan government takes for peace," she said. "We have no hidden agenda in Afghanistan.

"We consider any threat to Afghanistan's independence and sovereignty as a threat to Pakistan's existence."

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul said there could be no peace without regional co-operation.

"Pakistan plays a key role in Afghan peace process. I hope Ms Rabbani's visit is the beginning of a good relationship between our two countries," he said.

Adm Mike Mullen, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has explained Pakistan's closeness to the Afghan Taliban by pointing to infiltration of its army by the religious right. But he also says it is part of a grand strategy to increase leverage in the region via "proxies".

Despite Nato's strategy to secure the country with Afghan forces, the document details widespread collaboration between the insurgents and Afghan police and military.

The report also depicts the depth of continuing support among the Afghan population for the Taliban, our correspondent says.

It paints a picture of al-Qaeda's influence diminishing but the Taliban's influence increasing, he adds.

In a damning conclusion, the document says that in the last year there has been unprecedented interest, even from members of the Afghan government, in joining the Taliban cause.

It adds: "Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governance over the Afghan government, usually as a result of government corruption."

The report has evidence that the Taliban are deliberately hastening Nato's withdrawal by reducing their attacks in some areas and then initiating a comprehensive hearts-and-minds campaign.

When foreign soldiers leave, Afghan security forces are expected to take control.

Follow BBC Kabul correspondent Quentin Sommerville on Twitter @mrsommerville

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