KABUL, July 26, 2010 -- Perhaps the single most damming collection of data in a massive trove of secret documents from Afghanistan released by the website WikiLeaks is some 180 files that seem to show Pakistan's premiere intelligence service, the ISI, helping the Afghan insurgency attack American troops.
The United States provides more than a billion dollars to Pakistan each year for help in fighting terrorism, but the papers seem to link the ISI with major Afghan insurgent commanders; claim its representatives meet directly with the Taliban; accuse the agency of training suicide bombers; and indicts Pakistani intelligence officials on hatching up sensational ways to assassinate Afghan president Hamid Karzai and even poison the beer drunk by Americans in Afghanistan.
The United States has long been wary of the ISI's role in the Afghan war, and has occasionally accused the ISI of fomenting violence in Afghanistan, especially against Indian targets. And so in some ways, the allegations are not new. But taken as a whole, the documents present a far greater insight into exactly how the American military and Afghan intelligence see the ISI meddling inside Afghanistan than has ever been revealed.
The level of trust between the two countries has improved vastly since a low point in 2006, say American and Pakistani officials. And many of the documents released do reflect the suspicions of a time when the ISI and the countries' militaries and intelligence agencies viewed each other much more skeptically than they do now.
But some of the skepticism remains, and even after the documents were made public, the U.S. once again said it expects Pakistan to decisively turn against militants that, alongside the CIA, it once trained and funded in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's government, military and intelligence services "must continue their strategic shift against insurgent groups," said National Security Advisor James Jones in a statement on Sunday night, while also lauding Pakistani and U.S. cooperation against Al Qaeda and praising the Pakistani military for going on the offensive in Swat and South Waziristan.
The documents detail specific allegations against the ISI: that it sent sent 1,000 motorbikes an insurgent group in Pakistan to launch suicide attacks in Afghanistan; that it launched plans to attack Indian facilities and workers in Afghanistan; that it worked with members of al Qaeda to map out attacks; and that it helped organize Taliban attacks in eastern Afghanistan, where some of the single worst attacks on American troops occurred.
But much of the information in the documents comes from Afghanistan's premier spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, which has long been the ISI's number one enemy. Former commander of all Western troops Gen. Stanley McChrystal once quipped that the Afghans might blame the bad weather on the ISI. And so Pakistani officials dismissed the data as rehashed allegations that no longer reflect the relationship between the two countries -- and do not reflect recent campaigns by Pakistan against militants.
"From whatever little we have analyzed so far, it's the usual rhetoric and nothing new," a senior ISI official told ABC News, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Most of it seems to be initial reports from the ground and not corroborated."
"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," Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, told ABC News. "The documents circulated by WikiLeaks do not reflect the current on-ground realities."
Nonetheless, many of the documents do go into great detail about the ISI's connections to not only the Pakistani Taliban, but also al Qaeda. And some seem totally independent of any historic bias toward Pakistan from Afghanistan.
One document dated Christmas Eve 2006, for example, shows that NATO-led headquarters in Afghanistan believed a cell of suicide attackers was hoping to attack in Kabul. The person responsible for planning the attacks, the document says, "is an ISI member." The document goes on to detail that some of the suicide bombers would stay in the homes of the Afghan police and NDS, and concludes by specifically saying "this information must not be disseminated" to the Afghan government.
The documents seem to detail that one man in particular – Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, the former chief of the ISI – has worked tirelessly to maintain his connections to senior militant leaders after leaving the agency at the end of the Soviet-Afghan war. The documents quote intelligence sources saying Gul met with militant commanders in South Waziristan to hatch a plan to revenge a senior al Qaeda member killed by a drone strike. The plan involved sending a blue Mazda truck filled with explosives into eastern Afghanistan and sending 50 Arab and 50 Pakistani fighters into a separate eastern Afghan province.
Gul angrily denies any involvement with the insurgency, and says he has not been to South Waziristan since 1984.
"They are looking for a scapegoat. They have to pin the blame on someone for their defeat, and they are getting defeated," he told the BBC today. "I am exposing the deficiency in the generalship in Afghanistan. I am exposing the deficiency in their planning. I am exposing the deficiency in their intelligence, and it worries them lot, so they want to bash me."
Worried about the fallout from the leaks, senior members of the U.S. government briefed Pakistani officials about what to expect, according to a senior Pakistani government official, and the two capitals exchanged a "flurry of phone calls" before the release. The official said the United States wanted to ensure that Pakistan realized this was not an orchestrated leak, which might have "jeopardized improving cooperation."
Following the U.S. effort, the Pakistani foreign ministry released a statement Monday evening that was restrained, considering the anti-ISI rhetoric in the WikiLeaks documents, and pointed to Jones' earlier statement about U.S. and Pakistani cooperation.
"The Government of Pakistan has termed the documents posted on WikiLeaks as misplaced, skewed and contrary to the factual position on the ground," said the statement. "The people of Pakistan and its security forces, including the ISI, have rendered enormous sacrifices against militancy and terrorism. Our contributions have been acknowledged by the international community, in particular by the United States. As underlined by the US National Security Advisor in his statement on WikiLeaks yesterday, the ongoing counterterrorism cooperation between Pakistan and the US will continue with a view to defeating our common enemies."