ISLAMABAD — 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 that current and former officials from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency have met directly with the Taliban to coordinate attacks in Afghanistan.
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.
In one report from March 2008, the ISI is alleged to have ordered Siraj Haqqani, a prominent militant based in northwestern Pakistan, to kill workers from archenemy India who are building roads in Afghanistan. In another from March 2007, the ISI is alleged to have given Jalaluddin Haqqani, Siraj's father, 1,000 motorcycles to carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan.
While these reports, and many of the other 91,000 released by Wikileaks, cannot be independently verified, the Haqqanis run a military network based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area that is believed to have close ties with the ISI.
Other reports mention former ISI officials, including Hamid Gul, who headed the agency in the late 1980s when Pakistan and the U.S. were supporting Islamist militants in their fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
In one report, Gul, who has been an outspoken supporter of the Taliban, is alleged to have dispatched three men in December 2006 to carry out attacks in Afghanistan's capital.
"Reportedly Gul's final comment to the three individuals was to make the snow warm in Kabul, basically telling them to set Kabul aflame," said the report.
Gul, who appeared multiple times throughout the reports, denied allegations that he was working with the Taliban, saying "these leaked documents against me are fiction and nothing else."
Some of the reports, which were generated by junior intelligence officers, do seem a bit far-fetched. One dispatch from February 2007 claims militants teamed up with the ISI to kill Afghan and NATO forces with poisoned alcohol bought in Pakistan.
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 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.
It said more than 180 intelligence files accuse the ISI of supplying, arming and training the insurgency since at least 2004. One of the reports even implicates the ISI in a plot to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said the newspaper.
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.
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, which the U.S. military considers the most dangerous militant group 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."
Associated Press writer Sebastian Abbot contributed to this report.