- The Washington Times - Monday, July 26, 2010

The disclosure of classified military documents revealing close ties between Pakistan’s intelligence service and militants fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan has prompted calls on Capitol Hill to rethink U.S. policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement late Sunday that the Obama administration needs to fine-tune U.S. policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan after the online publication of more than 90,000 reports of U.S. military field reports by Wikileaks, a website that publishes confidential government documents.

Among the reports were documents revealing new ties between Pakistan and the Taliban.

“However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Mr. Kerry said.

“Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent,” he added.

Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, said the documents “underscore what we already knew the policies we have been pursuing in the region under both the Bush and Obama administrations are based on a deeply flawed strategy.”

Mr. Feingold, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the documents also highlight what he described as a “fundamental strategic problem,” namely “that elements of the Pakistani security services have been complicit in the insurgency.”

Wikileaks provided the documents to the New York Times, the British newspaper the Guardian and the German weekly Der Spiegel — access to 92,000 secret military reports covering a period from January 2004 through December 2009.

The reports were written by military and intelligence officers, according to Wikileaks.

The documents reveal that Pakistan permitted officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to meet with Taliban leaders and plot attacks on U.S. troops and the assassinations of Afghan leaders.

One of the documents from August 2008 identified a colonel in the ISI working with a Taliban official on a plot to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The documents also report that Pakistani Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, who ran the ISI from 1987 to 1989, remained a key contact with the Taliban after his retirement and was active in supporting the militants.

Reports made public on Sunday also reveal a program by ISI officers to direct and support suicide bombers in Afghanistan in 2006.

Pakistani officials deny that these linkages still exist.

“The documents circulated by Wikileaks do not reflect the current on ground realities,” Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement.

He said the 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.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the documents do not raise any doubts about Pakistan’s reliability as a key ally in the war against terrorism.

“I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed … for quite some time,” Mr. Gibbs said.

The U.S. has “certainly known about safe havens in Pakistan,” Mr. Gibbs said. “We have been concerned about civilian casualties for quite some time. And on both of those aspects, we’ve taken steps to make improvements.”

Mr. Gibbs said there was “no doubt” that the leak of the data “is a concerning development in operational security. … [I]t poses a very real and potential threat to those that are working hard every day to keep us safe.”

In a strongly worded statement, White House National Security Adviser James L. Jones said the disclosure of the documents would put the lives of “Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.”

“The documents posted by Wikileaks reportedly cover a period of time from January 2004 to December 2009. On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al Qaeda and Taliban safehavens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years,” Mr. Jones said.

Since 2009, “the United States and Pakistan have deepened our important bilateral partnership. Counter-terrorism cooperation has led to significant blows against al Qaeda’s leadership,” Mr. Jones said. However, the statement made no mention of reports of the ISI’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Feingold have raised concerns repeatedly about ties between elements of the Pakistani security services and the Taliban.

Mr. Kerry was a key architect of legislation last year that provides $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid to Pakistan over the next five years.

A congressional aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the unauthorized disclosure of the documents “reiterate concerns that have existed, but it is not helpful that a lot of the intelligence is raw and unconfirmed.”

Noting the fragile state of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, the aide said the disclosures had created “unintended diplomatic consequences.”

“The Obama administration has understood the nature of Pakistan’s connections to the Taliban from its first days in office,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led a presidential review of U.S. policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Like India, the U.S. administration understands there is no alternative to engagement with Pakistan,” said Mr. Riedel, currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Mr. Riedel noted that a former Afghan intelligence chief had confirmed that the ISI’s connections to the Taliban are still in place, that the Taliban leadership is based in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, and that the ISI has tremendous influence in the Taliban.

But Pakistan is still viewed as an indispensable ally in the U.S.-led. war in Afghanistan.

Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, acknowledged as much at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month.

He told lawmakers the U.S. government “reorganized to reflect the fact that you cannot succeed in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s involvement.”

Mr. Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador, said Pakistan’s government is following “a clearly laid out strategy of fighting and marginalizing terrorists and our military and intelligence services are effectively executing that policy.”

Some lawmakers remain unconvinced that Pakistan and the United States are on the same page when it comes to Afghanistan.

At a hearing in February, Mr. Feingold asked Dennis C. Blair, then the national intelligence director, about Pakistan’s “continued support for militant proxies and about the assistance provided by some of those groups to al Qaeda.”

Senators are expected to raise similar concerns Tuesday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on reconciliation options in Afghanistan.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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