U.S. sees Pakistani link to Taliban attack on embassy
American authorities believe that members of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service assisted the Taliban militants who bombed the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan last month, killing 60 people, a U.S. official confirmed Thursday.
The assessment that at least some elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped those responsible for the July 7 bombing has significantly deepened U.S. concerns over whether Pakistan can be trusted unequivocally as an ally in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism, according to the official.
That U.S. official and several U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism authorities said in recent days that the subject of ISI support for the Taliban, affiliated extremists and even parts of Al Qaeda was a central issue in visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani’s meetings this week with President Bush and other top administration officials.
The Taliban and other extremists operate out of tribal regions in Pakistan along the Afghan border, and Washington believes that the ISI in some cases helps provide them a haven there from which to plot and launch attacks.
The U.S. official would not say whether electronic intercepts linked the ISI to the embassy bombing in Kabul.
But, he said, “there are indications that elements of the ISI provided support to those who eventually carried out the attack.”
In recent weeks, the Afghan and Indian governments have publicly accused the ISI of assisting in the attack. A Pakistani Foreign Ministry official angrily denied the allegations this morning.
The New York Times reported U.S. fears about ISI involvement on its website Thursday.
U.S. intelligence officials also believe that the ISI has financed, supported and perhaps even trained members of the Taliban-linked extremist network headed by Afghan tribal warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, and that he was responsible for the embassy blast and other attacks in Afghanistan.
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that U.S. officials believe Pakistan’s intelligence agency has bolstered ties to the Taliban and others recently to use them to counter archrival India’s growing presence in Afghanistan.
A U.S. official who just returned from a fact-finding trip to South Asia said Pakistan is particularly perturbed about India’s growing ties to the Afghan government and its establishment of as many as five consular offices in the country, which it believes are being used as intelligence hubs.
“The Indians set up one of these missions in Kandahar, just across its border, and that one is really driving the Pakistanis crazy,” the official said.
U.S. intelligence documenting the growing ties between the ISI and the militants also prompted the CIA to dispatch its No. 2 official, Stephen Kappes, to Islamabad last month to confront Gillani, President Pervez Musharraf and other officials.
One senior Pakistani official in town this week for Gillani’s visit said he believed the CIA was leaking information about the ISI, some of it outdated or inaccurate, as part of a lobbying campaign to send U.S. forces into the tribal areas of Pakistan to attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements.
But the senior Pakistani official also confirmed that some of the U.S. assertions were true and that recent U.S. intelligence shown to the Islamabad government documents specific instances of support. He said Islamabad was now investigating those links and had promised to weed out any Islamist sympathizers within the ISI.
All of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the diplomatic sensitivity of the assertions.