Leaked Nato report proves American anger at Pakistan
By Rob Crilly February 1st, 2012
At first glance there is nothing desperately surprising in the leaked State of the Taliban report. To seasoned observers of Afghanistan's protracted wars, the headlines make for routine reading.
It is hardly the first time that Pakistan's intelligence services have been accused of backing militants. We know that much of Pakistan's foreign policy is based on the concept of "strategic depth" – ensuring that allies rise to prominence in Kabul in order to keep India, an arch-rival, on the fringes. There are no new details and no smoking gun evidence.
More alarming, but no less surprising, is the stark analysis of Taliban strength:
“Though the Taliban suffered severely in 2011, its strength, motivation, funding and tactical proficiency remains intact,” the report says. “Many Afghans are already bracing themselves for an eventual return of the Taliban.”
Anyone who has covered the extraordinary series of attacks in the past year - including one on the US embassy and a neighbouring Nato base – will not be surprised to learn that Afghans fear the withdrawal of international troops in 2014 and that militants are well placed to stage a comeback.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about the leak is its timing, emerging hours before Pakistan's foreign minister arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan leaders. It was supposed to be a day of fence mending, patching up relations between two countries that share a common goal of regional stability but which eye the other with suspicion. In recent months many observers believe Islamabad has begun to play a more positive role – or at least a less negative one.
So instead of discussing how Pakistan might help broker talks with Taliban leaders holed up in its border regions, Hina Rabbani Khar will have spent her meetings fending off reheated allegations that her country's ISI intelligence agency is up to its old tricks, meddling in Afghanistan's conflict.
With US-Pakistan relations already at a historic low, it is not difficult to see where the leak came from. American commanders on the ground are furious that their men are dying at the hands of militants who can cross back into Pakistan at will. Their senior officers have lashed out at Islamabad repeatedly, accusing Pakistan of exporting terror. Now a Nato report, pointing the finger at Pakistan for Afghanistan's troubles, has been leaked at a hugely embarrassing moment.
The report tells us a little about the state of the Taliban. The leak tells us a lot about American anger at Pakistan.
Analysis from Media
After NATO attack on Salala post when attacking forces withdrew on one and reappeared to fire again on other order, Once again an example of differences between state department, US military and CIA not only as departments but differences in elements within departments.
- Publication of the report put NATO officials on the defensive, and on Wednesday they issued an unusually detailed rebuttal. A spokesman for the NATO-led coalition played down the findings and emphasized that NATO analysts did not necessarily accept the views of the Taliban detainees as valid.
- “This document aggregates the comments of Taliban detainees in a captive environment without considering the validity of or motivation behind their reflections,” said Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. “Any conclusions drawn from this would be questionable at best.”
- “It is important not to draw conclusions based on Taliban comments or musings,” Colonel Cummings said. “These detainees include some of the most motivated and ruthless of the insurgents, who are inspired to play up their success. It is what they want us to believe they think.”
- In Washington, the State Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said the report reflected a limited assessment of detainees’ attitudes and would not alter American efforts to repair the badly strained relationship with Pakistan, particularly after a mistaken border attack on Pakistani troops in November.
- “It was not designed for any purpose other than to help those in the field understand what Taliban detainees were saying,” Ms. Nuland said. “So it was in no way designed to impact on our ongoing efforts to be back on track with Pakistan.”
- One former Obama administration official speculated that the American military might have been behind the leak. “The mood in Kabul is that the U.S. military are very critical of Pakistan,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of military rules about discussing classified material. “They think the problem is not the Taliban, but the ISI,” the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan’s spy agency.