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Interview: Rashid On 'Bad Timing' Of NATO Report On Pakistan And Taliban

Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in Kabul on February 1.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in Kabul on February 1.
Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and the well-respected author of several books on the Taliban and militant Islam, answers questions about the impact of a leaked NATO report that alleges that Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency is "intimately involved" with the Afghan insurgency. Rashid spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique.

RFE/RL: Is the revelation in this NATO report about Islamabad's support for the Taliban news to you?

Ahmed Rashid:
It's very well known amongst NATO militaries [and] amongst the U.S. military. I was told by senior American generals that they approached [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld back in 2005 about the support that the Taliban were getting from Pakistan. But it was ignored by Bush at that time.

So this is nothing new, I think, for anyone. But the fact that it should be leaked and that it should come in such language, I suppose, is going to create quite a furor.

Ahmed Rashid
Ahmed Rashid
RFE/RL: How do you read the timing of this leak, then, given that all sides are now pushing for a negotiated settlement?

Well, the timing obviously is very bad because this is precisely the time that Pakistan needs to be wooed and Pakistan needs to come on board this peace process with the Taliban, be it American or German or Qatari-led -- whatever.

Certainly, what you see now happening is that Pakistan is going to go its own way. It's not going to cooperate with the Americans or with NATO. And this kind of leak that has happened is going to make things much more difficult for Pakistan to accept an American negotiated end to the war.

RFE/RL: So, if they go their own way, does that mean we are back to square one?

Certainly, there is a danger of that. I think the timing could have been connected to the fact that today the Pakistani foreign minister was expected to visit Kabul and hold talks with [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai. So there will be a lot of suspicion in Islamabad that the Americans deliberately leaked this at this particular movement to perhaps sabotage Pakistan's effort [to reach an understanding with Afghanistan].

RFE/RL: There is a lot of uncertainty around the future of international efforts in Afghanistan. France, for instance, has already announced that they are going to leave a year early. Could something like this prompt others to follow suit?

There is an enormous diplomatic effort right now to try to persuade other NATO countries not to leave early. But the possibility, of course, exists that some countries with some of the smaller contingents of troops could decide to leave early.

Certainly, the Americans don't want to announce anything more until the NATO summit in Chicago in May, in which things might become clearer. And where you might see the Americans themselves bring the date forward for their exit from 2014 to perhaps a few months earlier.