Pakistan denies BBC report on Taliban links
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan strongly denied Thursday a BBC report that alleged the Pakistani military, along with its intelligence arm, supplied and protected the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda.
A number of middle-ranking Taliban commanders detailed what they said was extensive Pakistani support in interviews for a BBC documentary series, the first part of which was broadcast Wednesday.
Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik, on a visit to Britain, criticized the program, telling a London news conference that the Taliban were trying to create a wedge between their adversaries by making such allegations.
"We are victims, victims of war, we have lost over 35,000 innocent people, including senior officers, policemen, and normal foot soldiers. I think doubting us is really heartbreaking ... We have stood in the front line," Malik said, referring to Pakistan's fight against militant groups.
"We are facing daily these suicide bombers. If they had been trained by us, we should not be getting ourselves killed," he said.
A former Afghan intelligence head also told the BBC that Afghanistan gave former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf information in 2006 that Osama bin Laden was hiding in northern Pakistan, but the intelligence was not acted on. The al Qaeda leader was killed in the same area by U.S. special forces in May this year.
Pakistan's military denied the BBC report.
"We consider that this report is highly biased, it is one-sided, it doesn't have the version of the side which is badly hit or affected by this report," Major General Athar Abbas, spokesman for the Pakistani military, told Reuters.
"So therefore, other than that, it's factually incorrect."
One Taliban commander, Mullah Qaseem, told the BBC that Pakistan had played a significant role in providing supplies and a hiding place for Afghan Taliban fighters.
Abbas denied this, questioning Qaseem's credibility.
He said the head of Pakistan's spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had already said "not a single bullet or financial support" had been given to groups named in the BBC report.
The United States has long suspected Pakistan, or elements within the ISI, of supporting militant groups in order to increase its influence in Afghanistan, particularly after NATO combats troops leave in 2014.
In September, Admiral Mike Mullen, then the top U.S. military officer, accused Pakistani intelligence of backing violence against U.S. targets including the U.S. embassy in Kabul. He said the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, blamed for a September 13 embassy attack, was a "veritable arm" of the ISI.
Pakistan denies the U.S. allegations.
Malik said that "if Pakistan has recruited some people for intelligence purposes," that did not mean it supported them.
He suggested the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Britain's security service also had connections with the Haqqani group or other militants because they were hunting for intelligence and recruiting sources.
Pakistan supported the Afghan Taliban before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. It was one of only three countries to have diplomatic relations with the Islamist group.
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