- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2011

The assassination of Afghanistan’s former president was plotted in Pakistan, the government said Sunday, increasing pressure on its neighbor that already is facing heat from the Obama administration about its ties to recent terrorist attacks.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office said it had handed over evidence and information on the plotters to the Pakistani government.

“Documents and evidence together with the biography, address and phone numbers of suspects involved in the incident have been submitted to the government of Pakistan in order to arrest and hand [suspects] over,” Mr. Karzai’s office said, citing a special commission investigation into former President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s death.

It said the attack was plotted in the Pakistani city Quetta and carried out by a Pakistani citizen. The Pakistani Taliban’s top leaders are based in Quetta.

An Afghan official in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said “evidence” of Pakistan’s role in the attack was provided by a senior Taliban official Hamidullah Akhund, who was arrested after Rabbani’s assassination.

The Afghan official said Mr. Akhund “directed the terrorists to Kabul.” He didn’t attend the meeting with Rabbani.

On Saturday, Afghan Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi told parliament in Kabul that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had a role in Rabbani’s assassination.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry described the accusation as “baseless allegations.”

“Instead of making such irresponsible statements, those in positions of authority in Kabul should seriously deliberate as to why all those Afghans who are favorably disposed toward peace and toward Pakistan are systematically being removed from the scene and killed,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Rabbani was assassinated Sept. 20 at his home in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood by a suicide bomber who had concealed a bomb in his turban.

The former president headed the High Peace Council, a government-appointed body that has been tasked with making peace with the Taliban. The process has had negligible success.

Last week, Mr. Karzai described the peace efforts as futile, and said negotiations with Pakistan are key to ending the violence.

In Senate testimony last month, Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused the ISI of helping terrorists plot and conduct attacks in Afghanistan, including one on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and a NATO base south of the Afghan capital.

U.S. officials say the Haqqani Network of terrorists carried out the attacks, and Adm. Mullen described the terrorist network as a “veritable arm” of the ISI.

Afghan and Western officials say calls from cellphones found on the bodies of the terrorists who attacked the U.S. Embassy on Sept. 13 have been traced to Quetta.

Pakistani officials deny any role in the attacks, as well as in Rabbani’s assassination.

The Haqqani Network, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, operates from safe havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border.

Pakistani analysts say the media in Pakistan has fueled tensions with the U.S.

“When you put on the TV, it seems we’re about to go to war,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an Islamabad-based political analyst and columnist.

The war of words between Washington and Islamabad has strengthened the hands of the hard-liners in Pakistan.

“The rhetoric from the U.S. has ignited similar rhetoric on the Pakistani side and this has weakened the hands of anyone who wants to talk peace with the U.S.,” Ms. Siddiqa said.

Last week, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper published a photograph of President Ronald Reagan with a bearded White House guest who the paper erroneously identified as Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Haqqani Network leader. The photograph accompanied an article with the headline: “U.S. will suffer if it tries to attack Waziristan, says Haqqani.”

The man in the photograph was in fact Mohammad Younis Khalis, a senior Afghan mujahedeen commander. Khalis died in 2006.

Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, himself a former journalist, highlighted the error in a post on his Twitter feed.

Kamran Shafi, a columnist for Express Tribune in Pakistan, describes the media coverage in Pakistan as “a lot of saber rattling.”

“Our media are the deep state’s hand maidens and tend to be even more loyal than the king,” he said.

A Pakistani official in Islamabad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the media coverage as worrisome.

“We would like to see things resolved between our two countries. The U.S. needs Pakistan and Pakistan needs the U.S.,” he said in a phone interview.

Despite escalating pressure from the U.S., few believe Pakistan will sever links to the Haqqanis.

Mr. Shafi said there is lot of soul-searching in Pakistan about its relationship with terrorists, but at the end of the day these ties are likely to remain intact. The ISI and Pakistan’s military see these groups as proxies that safeguard their interests in the region.

“I don’t think our deep state is in the mood right now to roll back these associations because they think American withdrawal [from Afghanistan] is imminent and they want to be in a position to control Afghanistan,” he said.

The Islamabad-based Pakistani official appeared to confirm this belief.

“If there is a reconciliation effort [with the Taliban] in Afghanistan, both [the U.S. and Pakistan] have to take care of their interests,” he said.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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