Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said U.S. concerns about collusion between members of his nation’s intelligence agency and terrorists are being taken seriously and “will be resolved.”

In an interview with reporters and editors of The Washington Times, Mr. Gilani said he had seen no evidence to support allegations that Pakistan´s Inter-Services Intelligence, known as ISI, is compromised.

Asked whether he was confident that the ISI contained no pockets of Taliban sympathy, Mr. Gilani said, “I’m pretty sure about it.” But he added, “We still have to look into [the accusations]. … It will be resolved.”

Top CIA and U.S. military officials traveled to Pakistan this month in part to complain about ties between Pakistani officials and Taliban insurgent groups that may have contributed to a rise in attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The prime minister confirmed the visit in mid-July of CIA Deputy Director Stephen R. Kappes and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael G. Mullen. According to the New York Times, Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, visited Pakistan’s tribal areas on Monday.

A U.S. official told The Washington Times that “not enough is being done” by Pakistan to combat growing problems in the country’s remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including Taliban and al Qaeda sympathizers within government agencies.

“In Pakistan, you have both real counterterror cooperation and real concerns about terrorism,” said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the subject. “[The concerns] coexist.”

“Plainly there is a problem in the tribal areas, and that problem is not being addressed adequately at this point,” the official said. “The tribal areas and the terror activities pose a threat to Pakistan, South Asia and regions beyond.”

Mr. Gilani said the best way to combat the Taliban and al Qaeda is through extensive education and economic aid.

“The root cause of the problem in the tribal areas and Afghanistan is poverty,” he said. “People are turning to those militants because they bribe them, give them money and protection. And they use them for their own benefit.”

Mr. Gilani spoke after meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, to discuss legislation approved by the committee to commit up to $15 billion in development assistance to Pakistan over the next 10 years.

Mr. Gilani took office four months ago after parliamentary elections that diminished the power of President Pervez Musharraf, who seized control in a 1999 coup.

A soft-spoken politician who spent five years in prison for his political opposition to the Musharraf regime, Mr. Gilani is not considered a strong figure compared with prior Pakistani leaders, said Karl F. Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs.

“Gilani has multiple problems,” Mr. Inderfurth said. “There is no strong political leadership, and the government is divided from within. Gilani is not a particularly strong leader.” Mr. Inderfurth said Mr. Gilani was also undermined by the fragility of the Pakistani economy.

“This government is in a perfect storm right now” with 19 percent inflation,” Mr. Inderfurth said. “What they really need is food aid.”

The Bush administration has promised Pakistan an emergency infusion of $115 million, primarily to compensate for rising food prices.

In addition to economic aid, Mr. Gilani said, intelligence sharing is key to solving the problems in the FATA, an area populated by Taliban insurgent groups, criminal organizations and al Qaeda training camps, as well as ordinary villagers. Many of the residents are members of Pashtun tribes with relatives across the sparsely monitored border.

“We want to have more intelligence sharing with Afghanistan and NATO, so if there’s credible, actionable intelligence, it will be passed to us,” he said.

Mr. Gilani said Pakistani security forces now could be trusted because “the army chief [Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani] is highly supportive of democracy and is not ambitious,” unlike his predecessor, Mr. Musharraf.

However, U.S. concerns about Taliban sympathizers within the ISI have made the Bush administration reluctant to pass on such intelligence and prone to take unilateral action against terrorism suspects.

The ISI nurtured the Taliban movement to stabilize Afghanistan after the Soviet army retreated in 1989 and to counter Russian, Indian and Iranian-backed militant groups.

The fight against terrorism is personal for the prime minister, whose party leader, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated last year.

“This is not ‘Charlie Wilson’s War,’” said Mr. Gilani, referring to a popular book and movie about U.S. support for the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s. “This is Benazir Bhutto’s war.”

“Now [the Taliban] have become monsters for both of us,” said Mr. Gilani, referring to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities and Afghan intelligence officials who have spoken to The Washington Times have said that a Pakistani militant, Baitullah Mehsud, who lives in the FATA region, is accused of planning the Bhutto killing.

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