Washington: US intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly 7 July bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to US government officials.
The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack, the officials said, providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining US efforts to combat militants in the region.
ISI’shand? The scene after the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on 7 July, which killed 54 people. (Photo: Reuters / Pajwak News Agency)
The US officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the US campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid US missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Concerns about the role played by Pakistani intelligence has not only strained relations between the US and Pakistan, a long-time ally, but has also fanned tensions between Pakistan and India. Within days of the bombings, Indian officials accused the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of helping to orchestrate the attack in Kabul, which killed 54, including an Indian defence attache.
This week, Pakistani troops clashed with Indian forces in Kashmir, threatening to fray an uneasy ceasefire that has held since November 2003.
The New York Times reported this week that a top Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official travelled to Pakistan in July to confront senior Pakistani officials with information about support provided by ISI members to militant groups. It had not been known that US intelligence agencies concluded that elements of Pakistani intelligence provided direct support for the attack in Kabul.
US officials said that the communications were intercepted before the 7 July bombing, and that the CIA emissary, Stephen R. Kappes, the agency’s deputy director, had been ordered to Islamabad even before the attack. The intercepts were not detailed enough to warn of any specific attack.
The government officials were guarded in describing the new evidence and would not say specifically what kind of assistance the ISI officers provided to the militants. They said that the ISI officers had not been renegades, indicating that their actions might have been authorized by superiors.
“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.”
The information linking ISI to the bombing of the Indian embassy was described in interviews by several US officials with knowledge of the intelligence. Some of the officials expressed anger that elements of Pakistan’s government seemed to be directly aiding violence in Afghanistan that had included attacks on US troops. Some US officials have begun to suggest that Pakistan is no longer a fully reliable American partner and to advocate some unilateral US action against militants based in the tribal areas.
ISI has long maintained ties with militant groups in the tribal areas, in part to court allies it can use to contain Afghanistan’s power. In recent years, Pakistan’s government has also been concerned about India’s growing influence inside Afghanistan, including New Delhi’s close ties with the government of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.
US officials say they believe that the embassy attack was probably carried out by members of a network led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose alliance with Al Qaeda and its affiliates has allowed the terrorist network to rebuild in the tribal areas.
US and Pakistani officials have now acknowledged that President George W. Bush on Monday confronted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani about the divided loyalties of ISI.
Pakistan’s defence minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, told a Pakistani television network on Wednesday that Bush asked senior Pakistani officials this week, “‘Who is in control of ISI?’” and asked about leaked information that tipped militants to surveillance efforts by Western intelligence services. Pakistan’s new civilian government is wrestling with these very issues, and there is concern in Washington that the civilian leaders will be unable to end a longstanding relationship between members of ISI and militants associated with Al Qaeda.
Spokesmen for the White House and CIA declined to comment for this article. Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, did not return a call seeking comment.
Further underscoring the tension between Pakistan and its Western allies, Britain’s senior military officer said in Washington on Thursday that a US 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 US 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.”
The bombing of the Indian embassy helped to set off a new deterioration in relations between India and Pakistan.
Indian and Pakistani soldiers fired at each other across the Kashmir border for more than 12 hours overnight Monday, in what the Indian Army called the most serious violation of a five-year-old ceasefire agreement. The battle came after one Indian soldier and four Pakistanis were killed along the border between sections of Kashmir that are controlled by India and by Pakistan.
Indian officials say they are equally worried about what is happening on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border because they say the insurgents, who are facing off with India in Kashmir and those who target Afghanistan are related and can keep both borders burning at the same time.
India and Afghanistan share close political, cultural and economic ties and India maintains an active intelligence network in Afghanistan, all of which has drawn suspicion from Pakistani officials.
© 2008/The New York Times
David Rohde in New York and Somini Sengupta in New Delhi contributed to this story.