October 2001 News

ISI used Al-Qaeda bases to train Kashmiri militants: US

29 October 2001
The Indian Express

New York: Pakistan''s ISI has had an indirect but longstanding relationship with Osama bin Laden''s al-Qaeda and even used the terrorist outfit''s camps in Afghanistan to train covert operatives for militant activities in Kashmir, American officials say. The ISI had turned a blind eye for years to the growing ties between bin Laden and his harbourers, the Taliban, but since the September 11 attacks on the US, Pakistan''s military government has withdrawn its support to al-Qaeda as well as the militia, they said. American fears over the intelligence agency''s dealings with Kashmiri militant groups and the Taliban regime grew so much last year that the US Secret Service opposed a planned trip by President Bill Clinton to Pakistan out of concern of his safety, the New York Times quoted the officials as saying. There was fear that the Pakistani security forces were badly penetrated by terrorists and hence extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, would learn of the President''s travel route from sympathisers within the ISI and try to shoot down his plane. Clinton overruled the Secret Service and went ahead with the trip, prompting his security detail to take extraordinary precautions. An empty Air Force One was flown into the country, and the President made the trip in a small unmarked plane. Later, his motorcade stopped under an overpass and Clinton changed cars, some former US officials were quoted as saying. The NYT quoted unnamed US officials as saying that the Pakistan''s intelligence agency maintained direct links with the Kashmiri militants as part of the country''s continuing efforts to put pressure on India. ISI''s reliance on bin Laden''s camps for training came to light in August 1998, when the US launched a Cruise missile attack against al-Qaeda bases near Khost, Afghanistan, in response to the bombings of two American embassies in East Africa. In the attack, the American officials said, the casualties included several members of a Kashmiri militant group supported by Pakistan. Written in the wake of the US embassy bombings, a memorandum from Michael A Sheehan, State Department''s counter-terrorism coordinator, urged the Clinton administration to step up efforts to persuade Afghanistan and its neighbours to cut off financing to bin Laden and end the sanctuary and support being offered to al-Qaeda. Sheehan''s memo outlined a series of actions the US could take toward Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen to persuade them to help isolate al-Qaeda, the NYT said. The document called Pakistan the key, had suggested that the administration make terrorism the central issue in ties between Washington and Islamabad. It also urged the administration to find ways to work with the countries to curb terrorist money laundering, and recommended that the US go public if any of the governments failed to cooperate. But the plan ''landed with a resounding thud,'' one former official said. ''Sheehan couldn''t get anyone interested.'' As the threat from al-Qaeda and bin Laden grew and the US began to press Pakistan harder to break its ties with Taliban, the Pakistanis ''feigned'' cooperation but did little, the NYT said quoting current and former American officials. One former official told the paper that the CIA ''fell for'' what amounted to a stalling tactic aimed at fending off political pressure. The CIA equipped and financed a special commando unit that Pakistan had offered to create to capture bin Laden. ''But this was going nowhere,'' the former official said. ''ISI never intended to go after bin Laden. We got completely snookered.''


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