x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Pakistan scrambles to explain alleged meddling

Government officials vehemently denied yesterday that its military spy service had maintained close contacts with Taliban militants.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistani government officials vehemently denied yesterday that its military spy service had maintained close contacts with Taliban militants and helped to co-ordinate attacks against US and Nato troops inside Afghanistan. Inter-Services Intelligence, often described as a state within a state, termed as "baseless" the US military reports on the war in Afghanistan that were leaked on the internet and stated otherwise.

"These are mere allegations and part of the usual ISI bashing. However, we are still analysing the report and its contents," a senior ISI official said. "Once we are done with analysing the contents, we would be able to make a comment." The leaked documents sparked a media frenzy and have administrations in Islamabad and Washingtion scrambling to answer questions. The source said it was too early to offer an official comment.

Pakistani television news channels, which are known for their boisterous news coverage, remained conspicuously silent over the reports. Hourly news bulletins hardly mentioned the reports or the rebuttals by Pakistani government officials. Instead, rebuttals from the Pakistani government and Washington's criticism were played up. "We are under severe pressure not to report on the documents. We are trying to fight it," an owner of the one of the leading television news networks said while requesting anonymity.

However, Geo, the country's most popular television network and the only one to broadcast analyses on the report, denied there was any pressure. The ISI source asserted his agency is continually targeted by the West even though the ISI and Pakistan army have co-operated with the United States. "Pakistan has suffered more than anyone else in terms of human lives." Major Gen Athar Abbas, the spokesperson of Inter-ServicesPublic Relations, the media wing of the military, could not be reached for comment.

Pakistani officials reiterated that the reports would not affect ties between Islamabad and Washington but expressed disappointment over their contents. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, rejected the reports as counter to what was actually happening in the Afghanistan war and said they reflected nothing but rumours. "Leaking of unprocessed reports from the field is irresponsible. These reports reflect nothing more than single-source comments and rumors, which abound on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and are often proved wrong after deeper examination," Mr Haqqani was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency.

He said Pakistan's government under the leadership of the president, Asif Ali Zardari and Yusaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, is following a clearly laid-out strategy to fight and marginalise terrorists. "Our military and intelligence services are effectively executing that policy. The documents circulated by WikiLeaks do not reflect the current on ground realities. "The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan are strategic partners and are jointly endeavoring to defeat al Qa'eda and its Taliban allies militarily and politically," Mr Haqqani said.

Pakistani analysts also criticised the reports. "This is part of the campaign by certain lobbies in the United States who want to defame the ISI and the United States. They are upset with the pre-eminence that the Pakistani military has gained in context of Afghanistan. So, the leaking of such reports fits into an old pattern that aims to portray the ISI as a rogue institution," Talat Masood, a retired general and military and political analyst, said.

Mr Masood said the reports "undermine the Pakistan-United States relationship and is detrimental to the US interests in the region" and that such reports would further give a handle to nationalists in Pakistan who want to add distance from the United States. foreign.desk@thenational.ae