US endorses some allegations against Pakistan: Website blows the whistle on Afghan game
By Anwar Iqbal
WASHINGTON: The mysterious release of tens of thousands of classified US documents related to the Afghan war on a whistleblowers’ website Wikileaks has put the United States and many other western countries in a highly awkward situation, with authorities in Pakistan also struggling hard to defend the country’s premier intelligence agency against allegations of its close links with hardened Taliban elements, particularly the Haqqani network.
Since the publication of reports in a number of newspapers, Washington has condemned the leak of classified and secret documents on the ground that it may have compromised its military operations in Afghanistan. There has also been strong reaction in Britain, Germany and a number of other countries.
However, none of them has denounced part of the report in which Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been accused of clandestinely supporting the Taliban in carrying out strikes inside Afghanistan. It was left for Pakistan and its military to refute the allegations.
The leak kicked off a political storm here on Monday, with the White House stepping forward to defend Islamabad but in a manner that leaves much to be desired.
On Sunday evening, US National Security Adviser James Jones defended America’s ‘deepened’ and ‘important’ relationship with Pakistan and pledged to continue the strategic partnership with Islamabad, calling Islamabad a key ally in the war against terror.
But earlier, a White House official told reporters that the situation along the Pak-Afghan border was ‘unacceptableÂ’ and presence of alleged militant safe havens in Pakistan posed an Â“intolerable threat” to the US.
And on Monday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also confirmed some of the allegations in the leaked documents.
“We have certainly known about safe havens in Pakistan,” he said. “The last time Gen David Petraeus testified in front of the Senate, there was a fairly robust discussion about the historical relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence services.”
Mr Gibbs noted that in March 2009, President Barack Obama had made it clear that “there was no blank cheque for Pakistan; that Pakistan had to change the way it dealt with us; it had to make progress on safe havens”.
The White House press secretary noted that Pakistan had made some progress in the fight against militants, particularly in Swat and in South Waziristan.
“But at the same time, even as they make progress, we understand that the status quo is not acceptable and that we have to continue moving this relationship in the right direction,” he added.
Earlier, Gen Jones assured Islamabad that “these irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people”, he said.
More than 180 intelligence files displayed on a private Website called Wikileaks detail accusations that Pakistan’s premier spy agency has been supplying, arming and training the insurgency since at least 2004.
The data gives a graphical record of the war from January 2004 to December 2009, detailing thousands of US military operations. The leaks contain ‘cables’ filed by US units, often within a couple of hours of a combat.
The reports also claim high-level cooperation between the ISI and militants, from training to supporting plots to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
One report claims that former ISI head Hamid Gul met three presumed Al Qaeda representatives in South Waziristan to plan a suicide bombing against US forces.
Much of this reporting, however, comes from single informants and Afghan officials hostile to the ISI and fails to provide convincing evidence of ISI complicity in aiding the insurgency.
Hours after the leak, Siamak Herawi, a government spokesman in Kabul, demanded US action against the ISI. “There should be serious action taken against the ISI, which has a direct connection with the terrorists,” he said.
The Obama administration did not challenge the veracity of the files, but said that while Pakistan was making progress against extremism, “the status quo is not acceptable”.
The accusations against the ISI in the war logs range from outrageous to lurid — training legions of suicide bombers, smuggling surface-to-air missiles into Afghanistan, attempting to assassinate President Karzai and poison western beer supplies.
But despite the startling allegations the files yield little convincing evidence behind Afghan accusations that the ISI is the hidden hand behind the Taliban.
Much of the intelligence is unverifiable, inconsistent or obviously fabricated, and the most shocking allegations, such as the Karzai plot, are sourced to the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s premier spy agency, which has a history of hostility towards the ISI.
Diplomatic observers in Washington noted that the allegations chimed with recent US media reports that level similar allegations against Pakistan and the ISI and pointed to a consistent campaign to malign both.
The leaked documents also report clashes between US and Afghan troops and Pakistani soldiers deployed on the other side of the border.
The war logs detail hundreds of cross-border clashes along the Pak-Afghan border, far more than previously reported. The most violent salvos came from US troops disregarding Pakistani sovereignty to fire on Taliban fighters sheltering in its tribal belt.
But the most heated and heretofore hidden exchanges occurred between Afghan and Pakistani troops who have traded fire as part of a border grudge match that has often forced the Americans to intervene.
The reports note that much of the tension has arisen from a longstanding dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan over the Durand Line, the 117-year-old colonial boundary they still contest.
During one confrontation in September 2005, 120 Afghan troops massed on the border in Khost, threatened to attack Pakistani troops on the far side unless they abandoned a disputed checkpoint.
In January 2007, the friction exploded into combat when a Pakistani helicopter flew across the border and touched down near an Afghan village. Afghan border police opened fire with 82mm mortars and a machine-gun. It got back to Pakistan unscathed.
The files record dozens of cases of frustrated American troops in Afghanistan firing howitzer guns or sending Apache helicopters into Pakistan, either in response to Taliban rocket fire from there or in pursuit of fighters who had attacked them and then slipped back into their tribal belt sanctuaries.
In December 2005, a US Special Forces team supported by A-10 Warthog warplanes and a B-52 bomber attacked militants “attempting to egress into Pakistan”.
The Warthogs fired 722 rounds and the B-52 dropped two J-dam bombs, killing six militants. No Americans were hurt.
The war logs reveal American generals gave Pakistan secret intelligence dossiers detailing the whereabouts of top Taliban leaders in PakistanÂ’s tribal belt, urging Pakistani agents to capture or kill them.
During a visit to the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in October 2006, American officers handed over the details of Commander Zanzir who was attacking coalition forces from his safe haven in the Pakistani border village of Angoor Adda. The files show Zanzir was still at large one year later.