- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pakistan provided support and training for militants to fight in India in an attempt to focus world attention on Kashmir, the country’s former president said in a recent magazine interview.

“The [Islamabad] government turned a blind eye because they wanted India to discuss Kashmir,” Pervez Musharraf told the German magazine Der Spiegel in a rare admission.

The support continued even as the Musharraf government pocketed billions of dollars in U.S. reimbursement for its efforts in the war against extremists.

Describing Kashmir as a “core issue” for Pakistan, Mr. Musharraf accused the West of ignoring the mountainous border region over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars since 1947.

Asked whether that gave Pakistan the right to train militants, he replied, “Yes, it is the right of any country to promote its own interests when India is not prepared to discuss Kashmir at the United Nations and is not prepared to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner.”

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led a review for President Obama of U.S. policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, described Mr. Musharraf’s candor as “refreshing.”

Pakistan continues to have intimate ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba and other terror groups,” said Mr. Riedel, currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Stephen Tankel, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that many of Pakistan’s anti-India “militant outfits, including Lashkar, are now involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan as well.”

The U.S. has designated Lashkar-e-Taiba as a terrorist group, and counterterrorism officials say it rivals al Qaeda in its activities.

Since 2001, the U.S. has given Pakistan more than $7 billion in reimbursement for some of the costs incurred while conducting counterinsurgency operations.

Despite U.S. pressure on Islamabad to sever ties with the militant groups, linkages persist between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

U.S. and Indian officials say Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out the November 2008 attack in Mumbai that left more than 160 people dead, including six Americans.

“LeT is responsible for the deaths of Americans in Mumbai and Afghanistan, so these connections are very disturbing,” Mr. Riedel said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Musharraf cautioned the West against trying to negotiate with the Taliban, saying there is no such thing as “moderate Taliban.” He added that the “worst blunder” would be for coalition forces to leave Afghanistan without winning.

Having seized power in a 1999 coup, Mr. Musharraf was forced to resign in 2008 and currently lives in London.