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War papers leak shock Afghans, upset Pakistan

An Afghan National Army soldier carries an RPG

An Afghan National Army soldier carries an RPG on patrol outside COP Nolen, in the volatile Arghandab Valley in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (July 26, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan government said Monday it is “shocked” that 91,000 U.S. military documents on the war were leaked, especially those about civilian casualties and the role of Pakistan’s intelligence service in destabilizing activities inside Afghanistan.

In Islamabad, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency lashed out against the trove of leaked papers that alleged close connections between it and the Taliban militants who are fighting U.S., Afghan and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The ISI called the allegations, which have been repeated for years, unsubstantiated.

The documents, which were released by the online whistle-blower Wikileaks, raised new questions about whether the U.S. can persuade Pakistan to sever its historical links to the Taliban and deny them sanctuary along the Afghan border — actions that many analysts believe are critical for success in Afghanistan.

“The war on terrorism will not succeed unless we address the root causes ... the role forces behind the borders of Afghanistan play in destabilizing activity here in Afghanistan,” Waheed Omar, the spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told reporters.

In a clear reference to Pakistan, Omar said the Afghan government has repeatedly told its international partners over the years: “We will not be able to defeat terrorism in the villages of Afghanistan unless we pay attention to the places where terrorism has been nurtured — where terrorists are kept, where they are given sanctuary, where they are given ideal motives to carry out their attacks in Afghanistan.”

The U.S. has given Pakistan billions in military aid since 2001 to enlist its cooperation. But the leaked reports, which cover a period from January 2004 to December 2009, suggest current and former ISI officials have met directly with the Taliban to coordinate attacks in Afghanistan.

A senior ISI official denied the allegations, saying they were from raw intelligence reports that had not been verified and were meant to impugn the reputation of the spy agency. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with the agency’s policy.

In one report from March 2008, the ISI is alleged to have ordered Siraj Haqqani, a prominent militant based in northwestern Pakistan, to kill workers from archenemy India who are building roads in Afghanistan. In another from March 2007, the ISI is alleged to have given Jalaluddin Haqqani, Siraj’s father, 1,000 motorcycles to carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan. The Haqqanis run a military network based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area that is believed to have close ties with the ISI.

Other reports mention former ISI officials, including Hamid Gul, who headed the agency in the late 1980s when Pakistan and the U.S. were supporting Islamist militants in their fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. In one report, Gul, who has been an outspoken supporter of the Taliban, is alleged to have dispatched three men in December 2006 to carry out attacks in Afghanistan’s capital.

“Reportedly Gul’s final comment to the three individuals was to make the snow warm in Kabul, basically telling them to set Kabul aflame,” said the report.

Gul, who appeared multiple times throughout the reports, denied allegations that he was working with the Taliban, saying “these leaked documents against me are fiction and nothing else.”

Wikileaks released the documents, which include classified cables and assessments between military officers and diplomats, on its website Sunday. The New York Times, London’s Guardian newspaper and the German weekly Der Spiegel were given early access to the documents.

The Guardian expressed skepticism about the allegations in the documents, saying “they fail to provide a convincing smoking gun” for complicity between the ISI and the Taliban. It said more than 180 intelligence files accuse the ISI of supplying, arming and training the insurgency since at least 2004. One of the reports even implicates the ISI in a plot to assassinate Karzai, said the newspaper.

The Afghan presidential spokesman said that while the Afghan government was “shocked” that such a large number of documents were leaked, Karzai’s immediate reaction was that “most of this is not new,” Omar said. The issue of civilian casualties has been repeatedly raised with coalition forces, he said.

“Luckily we have had over the past one and half years a reduction in the civilian casualties,” he said. “Certain procedure were put in effect that helped reduce civilian casualties.” He said the issue of civilians killed in fighting “is something we will continue to press hard on.”

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., also noted that many of the documents were dated and did not “reflect the current on-ground realities.”

The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan are “jointly endeavoring to defeat al-Qaida and its Taliban allies militarily and politically,” he said.

But the U.S. has had little success convincing Pakistan to target Afghan Taliban militants holed up in the country, especially members of the Haqqani network, which the U.S. military considers the most dangerous militant group in Afghanistan.

Pakistan helped the Taliban seize power in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Although the government renounced the group in 2001 under U.S. pressure, many analysts believe Pakistan refuses to sever links with the Taliban because it believes they could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

White House national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones defended the partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan in a statement Sunday, saying “counterterrorism cooperation has led to significant blows against al-Qaida’s leadership.” Still, he called on Pakistan to continue its “strategic shift against insurgent groups.”

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