Pakistan's most powerful spy agency on Monday lashed out against a trove of leaked U.S. intelligence reports that alleged close connections between it and Taliban militants fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan, calling the accusations malicious and unsubstantiated.
The reports, which were released by the online whistle-blower Wikileaks, raised new questions about whether the U.S. can succeed in convincing 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 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 Pakistan allows representatives of its Inter-Services Intelligence agency to meet directly with the Taliban to organize militant networks that fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders, according to The New York Times.
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.
Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, spokesman for Pakistan's army, was not reachable for comment Monday on the intelligence reports. The ISI is under the command of the army.
Hamid Gul, a former head of the spy agency who is mentioned many times throughout the more than 91,000 intelligence reports released, also denied allegations that he was working with the Taliban.
"These leaked documents against me are fiction and nothing else," said Gul.
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 also 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.
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, an al-Qaida-linked group that the U.S. military considers the most dangerous 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 it could be a useful ally 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."
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., said the documents "do 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.
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