Spies' sympathy for Taliban noted

The Baltimore Sun

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Stung by U.S. allegations that elements in its premier spy agency colluded with Islamic militants in last month's bombing of the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan, Pakistan acknowledged yesterday that Taliban sympathizers "probably" were within the ranks of its powerful intelligence establishment.

The Pakistani government, which denied reports of its involvement in the bombing as soon as they surfaced, reiterated that there was no evidence that members of its Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence had aided Taliban militants in the attack in the Afghan capital, Kabul, which killed about 60 people.

By yesterday evening, senior Pakistani officials were offering a more nuanced response to U.S. intelligence officials' allegations of spy agency complicity in the July 7 bombing, which was first reported Thursday by The New York Times.

"There is no proof of ISI involvement" in the attack in Kabul, said Information Minister Sherry Rehman, who is close to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and accompanied him on an official visit to Washington this week.

"There are probably still individuals within the ISI who are ideologically sympathetic to the Taliban and act on their own in ways that are not in convergence with the policies and interests of the government of Pakistan. ... We need to identify these people and weed them out."

Earlier, Pakistan's military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, called the report "unfounded, baseless and malicious." He said the spy agency is a highly disciplined organization that has played a key role in combating Islamic militancy.

U.S. officials, however, think the agency has financed, supported and possibly trained members of the Taliban-linked extremist network headed by Afghan tribal warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, and that his network was responsible for the embassy attack and others. The uneasy relationship between Pakistan's four-month-old government with its influential intelligence establishment became an unwelcome focal point of Gillani's visit to Washington, his first as prime minister.

Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, a member of Gillani's entourage, said President Bush had informed the Pakistani leader that U.S. intelligence agencies were reluctant to share sensitive information out of concern that the spy agency was passing it on to militants.

Laura King writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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