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Top ISI officers may be behind Kabul attack: Report

August 01, 2008 11:22 IST

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CIA confronts ISI for alleged links with militants

American intelligence agencies have for the first time directly linked the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul to Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence and indicated that it might have been authorised by the top officials as those involved in assisting militants were not renegades, a media report said in New York on Friday.

The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack on July 7 that left nearly 60 people, including two Indian diplomats, dead but intercepts were not detailed enough to issue any specific warning, the American officials told the New York Times.

The government officials, it said, were guarded in describing the new evidence and would not say specifically what kind of assistance ISI officers provided to the militants. They said the ISI officers had not been renegades, indicating that their actions might have been authorised by superiors.

Indian and Afghan officials had accused the ISI of orchestrating the attack within days, but this is first time that the American intelligence agencies have indicated they have evidence of the powerful Pakistani intelligence agency's involvement in the attack.

American officials, the Times said, believe that the embassy attack was probably carried out by members of a network led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose alliance with Al Qaeda [Images] and its affiliates has allowed the terrorist network
to rebuild in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The disclosure of the evidence about attack on the Indian embassy comes within three days of President George Bush [Images] confronting Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani with evidence during their meeting in Washington of connivance of ISI with the militants which is leading to increasing casualties among American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces.

"It confirmed some suspicions that I think were widely held," one State Department official with knowledge of Afghanistan issues said of the intercepted communications. "It was sort of this 'aha' moment. There was a sense that there was finally direct proof."

In this context, the Times noted that Pakistani troops had exchanged fire with Indian security forces along the Line of Control [Images] in northern Kashmir which, it said, threatens to "fray an uneasy ceasefire".

It said Pakistan has been concerned about India's growing influence inside Afghanistan, including New Delhi's [Images] close ties to the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Unnamed Indian officials were quoted as saying by the paper that they are equally worried about what is happening on the Pak-Afghan border because they say the militants active in Jammu and Kashmir [Images] and those targeting Afghanistan are related.

The Times says Pakistani agency is also actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in region.

US officials were also quoted as saying that there is new information showing that members of Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the US campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid the US missile strikes in tribal areas.

A top Central Intelligence Agency official had travelled to Pakistan this month to confront senior Pakistani officials with information about support provided by members of the ISI to militant groups, the paper said.

US officials were quoted by the Times as saying that the communications were intercepted before the July 7 bombing, and that Stephen R Kappes, CIA deputy director, had been ordered to Islamabad [Images] even before the attack.

The intercepts were not detailed enough to warn of any specific attack.

The information linking ISI to the bombing of the Indian embassy was described to the Times in interviews by several US officials with knowledge of the intelligence.

Some of the officials, the paper said, expressed anger that elements of Pakistan's government seemed to be directly aiding violence in Afghanistan that had included attacks on American troops.

Some American officials, it said, have begun to suggest that Pakistan is no longer a fully reliable American partner and to advocate some unilateral American action against militants based in the tribal areas.

The ISI has long maintained ties to militant groups in the tribal areas, in part to court allies it can use to contain Afghanistan's power.

There is concern in Washington, the paper says, that the civilian Pakistani leaders will be unable to end a longstanding relationship between members of the ISI and militants associated with Al Qaeda.

Spokesmen for the White House and the CIA declined to comment for the article. Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, did not return a call seeking comment, the paper said.

Further underscoring the tension between Pakistan and its Western allies, Britain's senior military officers were quoted as saying that an American and British programme to help train Pakistan's Frontier Corps in the tribal areas had been delayed while Pakistan's military and civilian officials sorted out details about the programme's goals.

Britain and the United States had each offered to send about two dozen military trainers to Pakistan later this summer to train Pakistani Army officers who in turn would instruct the Frontier Corps paramilitary forces.

But the British officer, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said the programme had been temporarily delayed.

"We don't yet have a firm start date," he told a small group of reporters. "We're ready to go."

When asked whether the ISI and the Pakistani military remained loyal to the country's civilian government, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff, sidestepped the question.

"That's probably something the government of Pakistan ought to speak to," Admiral Mullen told reporters at the Pentagon.

Jalaluddin Haqqani, the militia commander, battled Soviet troops during the 1980s and has had a long and complicated relationship with the CIA.

He was among a group of fighters who received arms and millions of dollars from the CIA during that period, but his allegiance with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the following decade led the United States to sever the relationship.

Haqqani and his sons now run a network that Western intelligence services say they believe is responsible for a campaign of violence throughout Afghanistan, including the Indian embassy bombing and an attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul earlier this year.

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