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'Modi's advisers are well aware of Pakistani army's double game'

January 06, 2016 12:50 IST

Security Expert Bruce Riedel, who in an interview with shortly after the Pathankot terror attacks began said that the attack underscored the determination of jihadist groups in Pakistan to sabotage any attempt at detente with India, writes in the Daily Beast that despite the US putting the Jaish-e-Mohammad on the terrorist sanctions list years ago, the outfit continues to coddle the Pakistani army.

Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence is behind the attack on Pathankot air base in Punjab using a terrorist group it created 15 years ago, a former top White House official has said.

Bruce Riedel, who worked in the National Security Council of the White House and was among the few present at the Bill Clinton-Nawaz Sharif meeting in 1999 during Kargil war, said the attack is designed to prevent any detente between India and Pakistan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surprise Christmas Day visit to Pakistan.

In an article in the Daily Beast, Riedel said the attacks in Pathankot and on the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan was the handiwork of Pakistani terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad which the ISI created 15 years ago.

"JEM was created in 2000 by Mualana Masoud Azhar... Azhar was captured in India in 1994 after taking western hostages in Kashmir. In December 1999, a group of terrorists hijacked an Air India jet flying from Nepal to India and diverted it to Afghanistan. They demanded the release of Azhar and his colleagues in return for the passengers and crew," he wrote for The Daily Beast.

"And they got it, thanks to help from the Pakistani intelligence service ISI and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to accounts of the hijacking based on the Indian officials who negotiated with the terrorists for the hostages' freedom," he said.

He quoted "well-informed press and other knowledgeable sources" for his assessment.

He said the ISI is under the generals' command and is composed of army officers, so the spies are controlled by the Pakistani army, which justifies its large budget and nuclear weapons programme by citing the Indian menace.

"Any diminution in tensions with India might risk the army's lock on its control of Pakistan's national security policy. The army continues to distinguish between 'good' terrorists like JEM and LET and 'bad' terrorists like the Pakistani Taliban, despite decades of lectures from American leaders," he said.

Riedel, a former CIA officer, said the Pakistani army has long distrusted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has advocated a detente with India since the 1990s.

Prime Minister Modi's visit was the first by an Indian prime minister in more than a decade. It was also Sharif's birthday and the birthday of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Jinnah.

"An army coup in 1999 sent him into exile in Saudi Arabia for a decade. His warm embrace of Modi on Christmas Day in his home in Lahore undoubtedly angered the generals," he said.

"So far New Delhi has not cancelled the planned talks. Modi's advisers are well aware of the double game the Pakistani army plays and the differences inside the Pakistani establishment... The Indians have accepted Prime Minister Sharif's public condemnation of the attack and promised to provide evidence of JEM's role to his government, including cell phones captured in the attack," he added.

He noted that the US put JeM on the terrorist sanctions list years ago -- but it continues to coddle the Pakistani army.

"Gen Raheel Sharif, the army's boss, got a warm embrace from the Pentagon last fall -- despite the ISI support for the Afghan Taliban's offensive against the Kabul government and despite the Pakistani military's backing of terror groups like JeM," he said.