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Pakistan and NATO officials downplay Taliban report

NATO and Pakistan leaders were scrambling to downplay a leaked report Wednesday featuring testimony by Taliban detainees who claim they are winning the war in Afghanistan, and poised to take over again once international forces leave, thanks in large measure to help from Pakistan’s security services.

NATO officials confirmed the existence of the report, called the State of Taliban, was which obtained by the BBC and The Times of London and is based on 27,000 interrogations of 4,000 Taliban prisoners. 

Claims that Pakistan’s top spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, commonly known as the ISI, support the Taliban in Afghanistan are not new, but the report can still be regarded as a damning assessment of the war dragging into its 11th year.

So it was not surprising to see myriad responses to the allegations – not just from NATO and Pakistani leaders, but Taliban sources, too.

Here are some of the responses to the report compiled by NBC News reporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan on Wednesday:

Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, Spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan
“The classified document in question is a compilation of Taliban detainee opinions based on interviews and comments they have made while detained.  It’s not an analysis, nor is it meant to be an analysis of the current operational situation.”

Siamak Herawi, Presidential Hamid Karzai’s Deputy Spokesman
"This is not something new, we have said many times in the past that groups inside of Pakistan are helping terrorist organizations."

BBC: Secret report reveals Pakistan-Taliban ties

Taliban commanders:
Three senior Taliban field commanders in Afghanistan's troubled provinces Paktika, Khost and Kunar told NBC News they could neither confirm nor deny any support from Pakistan.

They said only that they received support in the form of financing, weapons, and fighters from "various Islamic countries" to continue their "jihad." They said financing and the availability of weapons were no longer problems for them.

The Taliban leaders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said seizing control of Afghanistan will be easy once foreign forces withdraw from the country.

"There are pro-mujahedeen Islamic countries and a large number of kindhearted people who have been supporting us in this jihad against the non-Muslims who had invaded our homeland," one commander based in Paktika, near the border with Pakistan, told NBC News.

The mujahedeen refers to Islamic fighters who fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

The Taliban stopped trusting Pakistan after it joined U.S. and helped remove them from power, the Paktika commander said.

Another Taliban commander in Kunar's Watapur areas said the United States has lost the war against Taliban and was now coming up with excuses to explain its defeat.

"We are back in power now because of our sacrifices and support of mujahedeen from all over the world, including Europe. Even the Afghan government and those influential Afghans who had earlier supported Americans in their occupation of Afghanistan had accepted us as the next rulers of the country. We had set up sharia (Islamic) courts in Kunar and Nuristan and have our own police and governors.  The Afghan police and government officials are referring cases to us," the Kunar commander said.

Another Taliban leader, known as explosives expert, said "gone are the days when Taliban suffered from shortages of resources and weapons to fight against their enemy."

The group had now developed good contacts with "mujahedeen groups and their sympathizers" in every corner of the world, he claimed.

"The Americans are leaving soon and that's why they started financing and strengthening all groups that are against us. The Americans wanted to create the same situation that emerged after Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and all former mujahedeen groups indulged in internal fighting and caused heavy losses to the Afghan people," he added.

Pakistan's response 

The report was revealed at an inopportune time for Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar who was in Kabul on a diplomatic visit on Wednesday. "I can disregard this as a potentially strategic leak ... This is old wine in an even older bottle," she told reporters in Kabul, reiterating Pakistan's denials it backs militant groups.

Three Pakistani security officials tell NBC News that without having seen the report, they would be unable to comment in any detail. None, however, said that they were surprised by the nature of the leaked information.

"The theme of the article is not new," said one senior Pakistani security official, referring to the BBC report. "So, what's new?" said another, when asked about the NATO report.

There is a widely-held belief among Pakistan's security establishment that their country has played the role of scapegoat for what they see as a failed U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and today's news seemed to fit that pattern, to many.

"The report has not been made available," said Pakistan Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. "And leaks are not worth us commenting on."

Khalid Pashtoon, member of Afghanistan’s parliament
“I thought this had been leaked ages ago!” he laughed at the NATO report stating that these findings are nothing new.

“[NATO] reiterated again the ISI involvement with Taliban.  Everyone obviously knew that ISI is supporting the Taliban.”

“ISI is not just supporting them but they are controlling them.  Everything we see and hear from the Taliban is organized and written by the ISI. This is something pretty obvious and this has been going on since 1994.”

“Right now, there is a huge rift between the Taliban.  The Taliban who are fighting inside of Afghanistan are against reconciliation.  And they’re angry at their leadership.”

Pashtoon said this is good news for stability.  He says that Taliban fighters feel betrayed by their leaders and the ISI for supporting peace talks after they have shed so much blood fighting for the cause.

Afghan Foreign Ministry: “NO COMMENT.”

NBC News’ Atia Abawi contributed to this report from Kabul, Afghanistan. Amna Nawaz and Fakhar Rehman contributed to this report from Islamabad and Mushtaq Yusufzai contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.

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