Last Updated: Wed Feb 01, 2012 13:46 pm (KSA) 10:46 am (GMT)

Islamabad rejects report it backs Afghan Taliban; Pakistan raid kills 20 militants

The Taliban, backed by Pakistan, are set to retake control of Afghanistan. (File photo)
The Taliban, backed by Pakistan, are set to retake control of Afghanistan. (File photo)

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that a leaked U.S. military report claiming Pakistan supported the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan can be “disregarded.”

“We can disregard this as a potentially strategic leak... This is old wine in an even older bottle,” she told reporters during an official visit to the Afghan capital Kabul.

The report carried out by the Times of London newspaper, citing a report compiled by U.S. forces, said that the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, are set to retake control over Afghanistan after NATO-led forces withdraw from the country.

The Times described the report as secret and “highly classified”, saying it was put together by the U.S. military at Bagram air base in Afghanistan for top NATO officers last month. The BBC also carried a report on the leaked document on its website.

Khar, whose visit was the first high-level meeting in months between officials from both countries, added that the neighbors should stop blaming each other for strained cross-border ties.

“We must start engaging in the end of blame games,” she said, according to Reuters.

A senior Pakistani foreign ministry official earlier said that accusations in a secret U.S. military report that Pakistan backs the Afghan Taliban were “frivolous.”

“We are committed to non-interference in Afghanistan,” the official told Reuters, responding to the document which Britain’s Times of London newspaper reported on.

Another senior security official condemned the leak, as reported by the BBC, which also broadcast a documentary “Secret Pakistan” last year accusing parts of Pakistan’s intelligence service of complicity with Taliban militants.

“The report is not available, leaks not worth commenting,” he told AFP.

“Many Afghans are already bracing themselves for an eventual return of the Taliban,” the Times said, quoting the report. “Once ISAF (NATO-led forces) is no longer a factor, Taliban consider their victory inevitable,” it quoted the report.

The document stated that Pakistan’s security agency was assisting the Taliban in directing attacks against foreign forces -- a charge long denied by Islamabad.

Its findings were based on interrogations of more than 4,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees, the Times said, adding however the document was scarce on identifying individual insurgents.

A State Department spokesman and Britain’s Foreign Office both declined comment on the report. NATO and Pakistani officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Despite the presence of over 100,000 foreign troops, violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed forces in 2001, according to the U.N.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says levels of violence are falling, according to Reuters.

Citing the same report, the BBC reported on its website that Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency knew the locations of senior Taliban leaders and supported the expulsion of “foreign invaders from Afghanistan.”

“Senior Taliban leaders meet regularly with ISI personnel, who advise on strategy and relay any pertinent concerns of the government of Pakistan,’ it said.

The Times, in its report, said the document suggested the Taliban were gaining in popularity, partly because the austere Islamist movement was becoming more tolerant.

It quoted the report: “It remains to be seen whether a revitalized, more progressive Taliban will endure if they continue to gain power and popularity. Regardless, at least within the Taliban, the refurbished image is already having a positive effect on morale.”

Pentagon officials said they had not seen the reports and could not comment on their specifics.

But Pentagon spokesman George Little said: “We have long been concerned about ties between elements of the ISI and some extremist networks.”

Little said U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “has also been clear that he believes that the safe havens in Pakistan remain a serious problem and need to be addressed by Pakistani authorities.”

Meanwhile, Pakistani warplanes pounded militant hideouts in the northwestern tribal area before dawn on Wednesday, killing at least 20 Taliban insurgents, security officials said, according to AFP.

The jets targeted hideouts in the tribal Orakzai district and at least four compounds were hit, they said, in the latest surge of fighting between government security forces and Islamist militants in the Afghan border areas.

“At least 20 Taliban militants were killed in the bombing,” a military official in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar said.

Local intelligence officials confirmed the air strikes.

The hideouts belonged to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders Mulla Tufan and Commander Moheyuddin, a security official said. There are reports that Moheyuddin may have been killed in the bombing, he said.

A military official in Peshawar said “four hideouts have been destroyed and the death toll may go up.”

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