ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan on Friday angrily rejected a report that the United States has accused Islamabad’s main spy agency of helping to plan a fatal bombing at India’s embassy in Kabul last month.
The New York Times report comes amid growing signs of a rift between Washington and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence that could affect efforts to tackle Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
Citing unnamed officials, the Times said intercepted communications had provided clear evidence that the ISI was involved in the July 7 suicide attack on the Indian mission, which killed around 60 people.
“It’s rubbish. We totally deny it,” foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq told AFP.
“This is a baseless allegation that the New York Times keeps on recycling using anonymous sources. These stories always die afterwards because there is no proof,” Sadiq said, speaking from a regional summit in Sri Lanka.
India and Afghanistan have already accused Pakistan’s shadowy spy agency, which backed the hardline 1996-2001 Taliban regime, of masterminding the embassy bombing.
Amid the rising tensions, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan are set to meet at the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit opening on Saturday.
The Times and Wall Street Journal reported that US officials believe the embassy attack was conducted by forces loyal to Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is tied to Al-Qaeda and based in Pakistan’s tribal belt.
“The Indians are absolutely convinced it’s true, and they’re right,” an unnamed US official told the Wall Street Journal.
The Times said intercepts had provided “the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.”
Officials also told the paper that the ISI was feeding militants in the tribal areas information about the US military efforts, helping them avoid missile strikes.
On Wednesday, the Times reported that a senior CIA official confronted Pakistani officials this month with evidence of ties between the ISI and Haqqani.
Pakistan’s army also denied that report, saying it was “unfounded, baseless and malicious.”
The ISI has long been accused by Kabul and New Delhi of maintaining ties to militant groups it supported during fights against the Soviets and India, while also helping the Americans with the occasional arrest of a top Al-Qaeda figure.
Any rift between the US and Pakistani intelligence agencies reflects deepening US frustration over Islamabad’s role in a worsening insurgency in Afghanistan, analysts said Thursday.
“We need to know whose side the army and the ISI really are on,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who has long experience with Pakistani intelligence, told AFP.
US officials would not specify what kind of assistance the ISI gave to the militants, but told the Times the moves might have been authorised by superiors.
The new intelligence “confirmed some suspicions that I think were widely held,” one State Department official told the Times of the intercepted communications. “It was sort of this ‘aha’ moment. There was a sense that there was finally direct proof.”
The paper said Pakistan was “no longer a fully reliable American partner” and that President George W. Bush on Monday confronted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani about the divided loyalties of the ISI.
According to the Times, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told a Pakistani television network that Bush asked Pakistani officials, “Who is in control of ISI?”