Pakistan on Wednesday dismissed the secret report of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which again flagged links between the ISI and the Afghan Taliban, as “old wine in an even older bottle”.
Interacting with journalists in Kabul after her meetings with the Afghan political leadership — including non-Pashtun leaders — Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar sought to disregard the reports on the ‘secret' NATO document, which appeared in a section of the British media just ahead of her departure for Afghanistan, as “potentially a strategic leak”.
Even as the report threatened to overshadow the visit — considered significant because it comes after months of bickering between the two capitals over Islamabad's alleged support to the Afghan Taliban — her meetings with the Afghan leadership were described by delegation members as “warm, candid and productive”.
Besides President Hamid Karzai, the Minister — the first woman politician from Pakistan to visit Afghanistan — reached out to the Afghan leadership of non-Pashtun ethnicities, many of whom were part of the Northern Alliance which had prevented a Taliban overrun of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. These included the deputy head of Rashid Dostum's party, the Uzbek Junbish-i-Milli, the Tajik-Pashtun Abdullah Abdullah and Panjshiri leader Ahmed Wali Massoud.
The meetings with the non-Pashtun leadership are being billed as an effort to mend fences with the Northern Alliance, which has always been suspicious of Pakistan and is perceived to be pro-Indian. That Pakistan has not done enough to reach out to the cross-section of Afghan leadership is something that is quietly acknowledged in diplomatic circles here.
Meanwhile, reacting to the NATO report, the Foreign Office described it as “frivolous”. Saying Islamabad is committed to non-interference in Afghanistan and expects all other states to strictly adhere to this principle, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said Pakistan had suffered enormously because of the long conflict in Afghanistan. “A stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in our own interest and we are cognizant of this. Our stakes in peace in Afghanistan are far higher than any other country.”
Based on interrogations of captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and foreign fighters, the NATO report claims that the Taliban has wide support among the Afghan people and documents a growing preference for the Taliban, primarily because of corruption in government. On Pakistan's role, the report states that “Pakistan's manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly. Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad.”