LONDON (AFP) -An angry Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said he would complain to British Prime Minister Tony Blair about allegations that Pakistan’s intelligence service backed terrorism.
In media interviews ahead of the London meeting, Musharraf denied the allegations in a British defence ministry policy paper, and also said that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was alive and hiding in Afghanistan.
“Absolutely, 200 percent, I reject it,” Musharraf told the BBC in an interview Wednesday to address the allegations before he traveled to London on Thursday.
The British broadcaster cited a policy paper written by an unnamed senior official in the British defence ministry as charging that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, supported terrorism.
“Indirectly, Pakistan, through the ISI, has been supporting terrorism and extremism, whether in London on 7/7 (the July 7, 2005 bombings on London’s transport network) or in Afghanistan or Iraq,” the report reads.
The paper proposes using military links between British and Pakistani armed forces to persuade Musharraf to step down as leader of the country, accept free elections, withdraw the army from civilian life and dismantle the ISI.
Pakistan’s military ruler responded angrily to the suggestions, saying: “I would like to tell this Ministry of Defence spokesman to say the Ministry of Defence maybe should be dismantled before the ISI is dismantled.”
He said the ISI was a “disciplined force” which “won the Cold War for the world”, adding: “We don’t like anybody advising us to dismantle ISI, least of all the (British) Ministry of Defence.”
The report was described as being written by a senior military official linked to Britain’s foreign intelligence service MI6, and part of a fact-finding mission to Pakistan in June.
“I take exception seriously, and I would like to talk about it Prime Minister Tony Blair when I meet him…”
The two leaders are to meet Thursday afternoon in London, after Musharraf arrives from the United States, a spokesman in Blair’s office said.
A spokeswoman for the British defence ministry said the paper “in no way represents the views of either the MoD or the government.”
She said the author of the report “suspects that (it has) been released … precisely in the hope that (it) would cause damage to our relations with Pakistan.”
Criticism of Pakistan has risen recently, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai charging Wednesday in a CNN interview that fugitive Taliban militia chief Mullah Omar was in Pakistan, and that Islamabad needed to do more against Islamic religious schools that “are training extremists full of hatred for the rest of the world.”
Musharraf, who was in Washington along with Karzai to jointly meet with US President George W. Bush, said he believes bin Laden is alive and hiding in Afghanistan, in an interview with The Times published on Thursday.
“It’s not a hunch,” Musharraf said, speaking from a hotel in New York.
The newspaper, without directly quoting Pakistan’s military ruler, said he believed bin Laden was hiding in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar.
“Kunar province borders on Bajaur Agency. We know there are some pockets of Al-Qaeda in Bajaur Agency. We have set a good intelligence organisation,” he told The Times.
Musharraf also said he had nothing to confirm reports bin Laden may have died from typhoid fever that emerged from a French intelligence memo citing Saudi sources that was leaked to a newspaper at the weekend.
“I don’t know” about bin Laden having died, he said. “Unless I am sure I never say anything.