- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2008

EXCLUSIVE:

U.S. officials said Wednesday that they are pressing Pakistan to change the primary mission of its intelligence services from preparing for war with India to actively helping the fight against Islamic extremists, some of whom have been linked to last week’s attacks in Mumbai.

That is the message Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael G. Mullen are delivering to President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad this week, the officials said. Adm. Mullen was in Pakistan on Wednesday and Miss Rice was expected there Thursday.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and parts of its military have been accused of being too close to militant groups that have staged numerous attacks in both Pakistan and neighboring India.

“The ISI has been geared up for years to fight its neighbor next door,” a senior U.S. official said in reference to India. “It’s supportive of the Taliban in Afghanistan; it’s skeptical of the war on terror and thinks it’s a war against Islam. That has to change.”

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, which killed at least 170 and wounded hundreds, “the situation has changed dramatically, and Pakistan has to follow every lead” to get to the bottom of the plot, he said.

“Otherwise, the Indians might decide that Pakistan cannot be counted on to be a partner in the war on terror,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he was discussing sensitive private exchanges with the nuclear-armed rivals.

Indian security forces are holding the only Mumbai attacker to be captured alive, and officials there say he has admitted to being a Pakistani and a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist group thought by some to have ties to current and former ISI members.

The U.S. official said the real war is with militants along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Some Pakistani officials have suggested that they may need to move troops from that border to the Indian border if tensions rise further. But the U.S. official said there are “no signs that India will move additional forces” to the border.

To make sure the Indians give Pakistan no excuse to transfer troops, Miss Rice visited New Delhi on Wednesday. She said that any response by India “needs to be judged by its effectiveness in prevention and also by not creating other unintended consequences or difficulties.”

At the same time, Miss Rice said Pakistan “has a special responsibility” to help India investigate the Mumbai attacks. “Pakistan needs to act with urgency and with resolve and cooperate fully and transparently,” she said.

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said during a press conference with Miss Rice that India’s actions “will depend on the response we have from the Pakistan authorities.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the Pakistanis “have said the right things, but now it’s time to act.”

Mr. Zardari said on Tuesday that the Pakistani state was not involved in the attacks, and that they were carried out by “non-state actors.” He promised to act, but asked for tangible proof of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s involvement.

During his meetings Wednesday, Adm. Mullen “encouraged Pakistani leaders to take more, and more concerted, action against militant extremists elsewhere in the country,” the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said.

Nadeem Kiani, a spokesman of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, said his country already has 110,000 troops in the tribal border areas with Afghanistan. “We are very much focused on fight against terrorism, and our intelligence agencies are acting on that front,” he said.

He said his government is doing everything it can to fight Lashkar-e-Taiba and other groups. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Mr. Zardari’s wife, “was killed by those very groups,” Mr. Kiani said.

U.S. officials, however, criticized the “different approach” Mr. Zardari took in dealing with militants, referring to his willingness to negotiate with them rather than confront them, as his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, had done under pressure from Washington.

Vijay Prashad, director of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., said he doubts Mr. Zardari “has full control over the ISI” because “the process of bringing it under civilian control will take time.” He also suggested that the problem is not the ISI, “but a shadow ISI - decommissioned officers who continue to work on the old agenda.”

Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, said the best outcome of the current crisis would be for the Pakistani government to take meaningful action against Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“One important lesson the Bush administration learned after the last war scare between India and Pakistan, when the Indian Parliament building was attacked [in December 2001], was the importance of high-level emissaries to reinforce diplomacy and to postpone military options,” he said.

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Wednesday that FBI agents are working with Indian police to provide assistance and gather evidence about the events in India’s financial capital. He said the United States has jurisdiction in the case, because six Americans were killed.

Police discovered leftover explosives hidden in a bag in Mumbai’s main train station Wednesday, wire reports said. A bomb squad defused the 8-pound bombs, said Assistant Commissioner of Police Bapu Domre, but it was not immediately clear why the bombs hadn’t been found earlier.