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Pakistan said to play both sides on terror war

Accusations from Mumbai to Kabul to London finger Pakistan's spy agency for backing terror and the Taliban.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 2, 2006


Indian officials pointed a warning finger at Pakistan this weekend, saying that Pakistan's top intelligence agency masterminded and funded July's train bombings in Mumbai (Bombay).

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The accusations continue the neighboring countries' decades-long pattern of blame and denial. This time, however, other nations are joining the chorus.

Last week, a think tank in Britain's Defence Ministry released an incendiary report saying that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency "has been supporting terrorism and extremism, whether in London ... or in Afghanistan or Iraq."

On top of that, Afghan President Hamid Karzai spent most of the past week condemning Pakistan for ignoring and even abetting extremism, while frustrated American military officials decried Paki- stan's inability to clamp down on the Taliban in its border territories.

Pakistan's contradictions in the war on terror have long been obvious: It is both a crucial American ally and a primary training-ground for terrorists. But events in recent weeks suggest that, for the moment at least, pressure on Pakistan is increasing as the United States and Britain seek solutions to problems in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The [Pakistani] Army's dual role in combating terrorism and at the same time promoting the MNA [a coalition of Islamist parties], and so indirectly supporting the Taliban through the ISI, is coming under closer and closer international scrutiny," said the British Defence Academy report.

It added: "Indirectly Pakistan, through the ISI, has been supporting terrorism and extremism whether in London on 7/7 or in Afghanistan or Iraq."

ISI plans attacks too, says India

But India's claims of ISI involvement break new ground. Indian officials have long accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism in India in order to foment communal riots and destabilize the nation. The Mumbai (formerly Bombay) blasts on July 11, which killed 187 people, were no different, say Mumbai police.

Yet Mumbai Police Commissioner A.N. Roy went further when he announced the findings of his investigation Saturday. In the past, Pakistan was accused only of helping terrorists by allowing them to train in the country. In this case, Mr. Roy said the leading July 11 terrorists were Pakistanis, and that ISI plotted the attack before handing over the execution to the terrorist group Lashkar-i-Tayyaba.

So far, police authorities have presented little evidence to support these claims, though officials say they hope their findings are strong enough to win convictions within two years.

Pakistan has denounced the accusations. "The reported statement by [the] Mumbai Police Commissioner is irresponsible and [it is the] repetition of baseless allegations," reads an e-mail statement by Pakistan's Foreign Office.

Yet Pakistan has frequently found itself on the defensive in recent weeks. Pakistan's truce with militant tribes has led to a threefold rise in attacks across the border in Afghanistan, according to US military officials. And Afghan President Karzai's repeated complaints about Pakistan's unwillingness to rein in radicals forced last week's meeting in Washington, where President Bush sought to soothe tempers between America's divided allies Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Perhaps the most surprising criticism, however, has come from Britain. The report from the Defence Ministry think-tank was so inflammatory that Prime Minister Tony Blair had to personally reassure President Musharraf that the leaked document was merely the work of some government analysts, not government policy.

And in a London court just a few days earlier, an accused terrorist testified that he had attended a terrorist training camp in Pakistan run by the ISI. Thereafter, he refused to give any further testimony, saying ISI agents had threatened his family.

If true, "this is quite sensational, because it is the first official confirmation of the involvement in terrorism of the ISI, an agency of a country which Washington and London has regarded as an ally, and Washington gives $3 billion in aid to," says M.J. Gohel, a terrorism expert at the Asia-Pacific Foundation in London.

A history of suspicion surrounding ISI