- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2010

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has advocated a gradual approach in trying to shut down anti-India militant groups fighting in Kashmir, noting the popularity of such groups among Pakistanis.

Speaking at the Atlantic Council this week, Mr. Musharraf also praised the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba’s (LeT) charitable wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, for having done the “best job” in relief operations after the 2005 earthquake in the part of Kashmir claimed by Pakistan and an “excellent job” in the aftermath of the recent floods.

Mr. Musharraf said militant groups like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen are popular in Pakistan because they oppose India’s military. “When they go and fight in Kashmir, it is very popular with the people of Pakistan. They are mujahedeen, and they are fighting the Indian army,” he said.

He added that successive Pakistani governments have been reluctant to shut these groups down because they are so popular.

According to U.S. and Indian intelligence agencies, LeT was behind the 2008 Mumbai attack in which 166 people, including six Americans, were killed.

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The Obama administration has been pressing the Pakistani government to sever ties to terrorist groups, including LeT and JeM. In a meeting in Washington last month with Pakistan’s chief of the army staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, President Obama sought to censure Pakistani tolerance of or support for terrorism.

Mr. Obama conveyed his concerns about “ticking time bombs” that could spell catastrophe for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, said Bruce Riedel, who conducted a review of U.S. policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan for Mr. Obama, at the New America Foundation this week.

Mr. Riedel described the two time bombs as “a mass-casualty terrorist attack inside the U.S. postmarked Pakistan” and LeT carrying out “another 26/11 somewhere in India.”

India refers to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which began on Nov. 26, as 26/11.

In the past several months, potentially devastating acts of terrorism have been foiled, including failed attempts to bomb Times Square in New York and place bombs on Washington’s Metro transit system. Pakistani Americans were involved in both cases.

As president, Mr. Musharraf had banned some militants groups, but they continued their activities under new names. Shutting down the groups “is easier said than done,” he said.

But Islamabad does not abet the creation of safe havens for militants, Mr. Musharraf said, adding that the U.S. needs to develop a better understanding of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency before blaming them for sheltering insurgents.

Western intelligence officials say Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are being provided safe haven in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt, especially around the cities of Quetta and Peshawar.

“While these refugee camps may be a safe haven for any kind of activity, it is not government-sponsored,” Mr. Musharraf said. “There is no safe haven created or no abetting with the Taliban to come and stay there.”

Mr. Musharraf said there are a dozen such refugee camps in Pakistan. “Terrorists must be coming and staying in these camps, there must be people who are harboring them,” he said.

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