REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Captured Taliban fighters have consistently expressed confidence that their movement will again rule Afghanistan, according to a report prepared by NATO forces, but military officials cautioned Wednesday that the document reflected the opinions of committed insurgents and not the alliance’s view.
The report also suggests a significant degree of command and control over the Taliban emanating from Pakistani officialdom, by the fighters’ own account -- a narrative sharply contested by Pakistan’s foreign minister during a visit to Kabul.
Also Wednesday, a Taliban spokesman denied reports that the movement has agreed to engage in talks in Saudi Arabia with the Afghan government.
Separate contacts between Taliban representatives and U.S. officials have been taking place in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. Confidence-building measures, including the prospective transfer of five Taliban detainees now being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being discussed as a prelude to any formal negotiations.
The NATO report, based on thousands of interviews with Taliban fighters captured on the battlefield and in pinpoint raids by special forces, reflects a strong belief on insurgents’ part that they will ultimately prevail in their fight against the West, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Times of London, which obtained copies of the document. A Western official who was briefed on the report’s contents confirmed its broad outlines.
However, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said the report did not reflect military analyses of the state of the insurgency, only the views of “ruthless, highly motivated” detainees speaking defiantly to their captors.
“It’s strictly a matter of their opinions, and you have to take it all with a really big grain of salt,” said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
The report’s leak came at a sensitive time: at the beginning of a visit to Afghanistan by Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Speaking to reporters in Kabul, the Afghan capital, she dismissed the claims of official Pakistani aid to the insurgency as “old wine in an even older bottle.”
“Pakistan has no hidden agenda in Afghanistan,” she said. “Pakistan wants peace and stability in Afghanistan, and contrary to hypotheses that do the rounds the world over, Pakistan prefers and considers it vital to have a stable Afghanistan.”
Earlier, Pakistani officials in Islamabad denied allegations that its security services secretly aid the Taliban. “This is frivolous, to put it mildly,” said Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit.
Allegations of collusion between Pakistan’s intelligence community and the Afghan Taliban and its affiliates have repeatedly surfaced in recent years. Last year, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, shortly before he stepped down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. Pakistan angrily contested that contention.
The Haqqani network is an offshoot of the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied that the movement was preparing to meet with representatives of the government of President Hamid Karzai, which it has denounced as a “puppet regime.” Reports have circulated that these preliminary talks would take place in Saudi Arabia.
“We see Saudi Arabia with respect, because it is the center of Islam,” Mujahid’s statement said. “However, as to reports that representatives of the [Taliban] will meet with an Afghan government delegation, that is not true.”
Also Wednesday, Afghan and NATO officials confirmed the death of a member of the NATO force in a shooting by an Afghan soldier a day earlier. It was the fourth such instance in just over a month of a member of the Afghan police or army firing on Western allies.
Afghan authorities in Helmand province said the victim was a U.S. Marine, but that it was not yet clear whether the shooting was accidental or intentional.
-- Laura King. Times staff writer Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad contributed to this report.
Photo: Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar talks to journalists during a news conference Wednesday in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: S. Sabawoon / EPA