Leaked NATO Report Alleges Pakistani Support for Taliban

February 1, 2012

The BBC reports today that a leaked classified NATO report it obtained “fully exposes for the first time the relationship between the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) and the Taliban.”

The report is based on 27,000 interrogations with 4,000 suspected Taliban, Al Qaeda, foreign fighter and civilian detainees, and asserts that Pakistan knows the location of senior Taliban leaders.

“[If Pakistan chose to, it could] arrest us all in an hour” — an Afghan Taliban commander to FRONTLINE correspondent Stephen Grey

“ISI is thoroughly aware of Taliban activities and the whereabouts of all senior Taliban personnel,” read one excerpt from the report published by the BBC. “The Haqqani family, for example, resides immediately west of the ISI office at the airfield in Miram Shah, Pakistan.”

“Reflections from detainees indicate that Pakistan’s manipulation of Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly,” read another excerpt.

BBC correspondent Quentin Sommerville, who broke the story, said the document “seems to suggest that the Taliban feel trapped by ISI control and fear they will never escape its influence.” (Read more excerpts from the report here.)

News of the report broke as Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar arrived in Kabul. She said Pakistan has “no hidden agenda in Afghanistan” and slammed the report as “old wine in an even older bottle.”

The document has also stirred controversy because while it reportedly shows that Al Qaeda’s influence is diminishing in Afghanistan, it asserts that the Taliban’s influence is growing there. According to the BBC, the report alleges that in the last year there has been unprecedented interest among Afghans — even within the Afghan government — in joining the Taliban. This characterization challenges the claim made by President Obama in his State of the Union Address last week that “the Taliban’s momentum has been broken.”

NATO sought to downplay the report, with spokesperson Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings questioning the validity of the detainees’ assertions. “This document aggregates the comments of Taliban detainees in a captive environment without considering the validity of or motivation behind their reflections,” he told The New York Times. “Any conclusions drawn from this would be questionable at best.”

Alex Strick van Linschoten, an independent researcher based in Kabul who recently published a book about the Taliban also told The Times that “detainees are liable to exaggerate things, either to reduce their own culpability or play up the Taliban’s strength.” The report itself carried a disclaimer: “As this document is derived directly from insurgents it should be considered informational and not necessarily analytical.”

But others are not surprised by some of the the allegations.

“We have long been concerned about ties between elements of the ISI and some extremist networks,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby told the BBC, adding that the Defense Department had not yet seen the report.

Last year, FRONTLINE correspondents Martin Smith and Stephen Grey spent six months investigating The Secret War against insurgents operating from inside Pakistan. In the excerpt from the film embedded above, Grey meets with an Afghan Taliban leader outside the Pakistani capital, who tells him how dependent the Taliban is on sanctuary in Pakistan to wage war across the border. The program, which you can watch in full here, goes on to investigate the various claims made against Pakistan’s intelligence service and military, and its relationship with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, a group U.S. officials call the most deadly insurgent group in Afghanistan.

Dig Deeper:

“What Kind of an Ally Is Pakistan?” — As the U.S.-Pakistan relationship continued to descend to new, new lows over the past year, the U.S. has become increasingly vocal in expressing frustrations with its supposed ally in the fight against terror — and vice versa. Here are a few recent reports that explore the latest tensions in this troubled relationship.

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