Wednesday, 1 February 2012

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Posted: 01 Feb 2012 05:54 AM PST

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Pakistan dismisses Nato report on Afghan Taliban links

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 04:34 AM PST

Pakistan's foreign minister says her country has no hidden agenda in Afghanistan, in response to a leaked secret Nato report on Islamabad's links to the Afghan Taliban.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul with her Afghan counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar said allegations in the report were "old wine in an even older bottle".

The report says the Taliban are helped by Pakistani security services.

It claims the insurgents remain defiant and have wide support among Afghans.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says the report is painful reading for international forces and the Afghan government.

It follows a denial by the Taliban that they planned to hold preliminary talks with the Afghan government in Saudi Arabia.

"There is no truth in these published reports saying that the delegation of the Islamic Emirate [Taliban] would meet representatives of the Karzai government in Saudi Arabia in the near future," said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement.
'Blame game'
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image of Aleem Maqbool Aleem Maqbool BBC News, Islamabad

Pakistan is finding it harder to convince outsiders it is not helping the Afghan Taliban and giving safe haven to its leaders.

In effect, the accusation is that Pakistan is betting on the insurgents being the strongest power in Afghanistan and most likely ally once Nato leaves - something Islamabad of course strenuously denies.

The leak of this report comes at a particularly sensitive time. Pakistan is already blocking the supply route to coalition forces in Afghanistan, following a Nato attack in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed.

With increasing pressure being heaped on Pakistan, public support here for formally ending co-operation with the West simply grows.

Ms Khar said the leaked Nato report could be dismissed.

"We can disregard this as a potentially strategic leak," she said, adding that Pakistan and Afghanistan should stop blaming each other for cross-border problems.

"These claims have been made many, many times. Pakistan stands behind any initiative that the Afghan government takes for peace," she said.

"We consider any threat to Afghanistan's independence and sovereignty as a threat to Pakistan's existence."

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul said there could be no peace without regional co-operation.

"Pakistan plays a key role in Afghan peace process. I hope Ms Rabbani's visit is the beginning of a good relationship between our two countries," he said.

However, our correspondent says the report - on the state of the Taliban - fully exposes for the first time the relationship between Pakistan's ISI intelligence service and the Taliban.

The report is based on material from 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters and civilians.

It notes: "Pakistan's manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly."

It says Pakistan is aware of the locations of senior Taliban leaders.

"Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad," it said.

And the Taliban's second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was captured in a raid on a madrassa near Karachi nearly two years ago.

"We have long been concerned about ties between elements of the ISI and some extremist networks," said Pentagon spokesman Capt John Kirby, adding that the US defence department had not yet seen the report.
Front page of the report The report comes at a sensitive time in Pakistan-Nato relations

Adm Mike Mullen, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has explained Pakistan's closeness to the Afghan Taliban by pointing to infiltration of its army by the religious right. But he also says it is part of a grand strategy to increase leverage in the region via "proxies".

Despite Nato's strategy to secure the country with Afghan forces, the document details widespread collaboration between the insurgents and Afghan police and military.

Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, said the document was "a classified internal document that is not meant to be released to the public".

"It is a matter of policy that documents that are classified are not discussed under any circumstances," he said.

The report also depicts the depth of continuing support among the Afghan population for the Taliban, our correspondent says.

It paints a picture of al-Qaeda's influence diminishing but the Taliban's influence increasing, he adds.

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In a damning conclusion, the document says that in the last year there has been unprecedented interest, even from members of the Afghan government, in joining the Taliban cause.

It adds: "Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governance over the Afghan government, usually as a result of government corruption."

The report has evidence that the Taliban are deliberately hastening Nato's withdrawal by reducing their attacks in some areas and then initiating a comprehensive hearts-and-minds campaign.

All private banks to handle govt businesses as agents: RBI

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 04:22 AM PST

MUMBAI: The Reserve Bank said all private sector banks will now be eligible to handle central and state government business as agents of the central bank, at par with public sector banks.

So far, the facility was limited to only three private sector -- ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank.

"... it has been decided that all private sector banks will now be considered eligible to handle any Central/State Government business (where RBI pays agency commission) at par with public sector banks," RBI said in a circular.

It said the decision is aimed at enhancing the quality of customer service in government business through more competition.

The move will improve customer convenience by increasing the number of customer service outlets and broad basing the revenue collection and payments mechanism of governments, the central bank said.