U.S. cites Pakistan spy agency's ties to militants

/ Source: The Associated Press

The CIA has confronted senior Pakistani officials with evidence showing that members of the country's spy service have deepened their ties with some militant groups responsible for a surge of violence in Afghanistan, possibly including the suicide bombing this month of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, The New York Times reported.

A top CIA official traveled to Islamabad this month with new information about ties between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and militants operating in Pakistan's tribal areas, the newspaper said on its Web site late Tuesday. Its sources were American military and intelligence officials it did not identify.

The Times said the CIA assessment pointed to links between the ISI and the militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, which American officials believe maintains close ties to senior figures of al-Qaida in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The CIA has depended heavily on the ISI for information about militants in Pakistan despite long-standing concerns about divided loyalties within the Pakistani spy service, which had close relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Pakistan PM rejects charges
The visit to Pakistan by the CIA official, Stephen R. Kappes, the agency's deputy director, was described by several American military and intelligence officials in interviews in recent days, the Times said. Some of those who were interviewed made clear that they welcomed the decision by the CIA to take a harder line toward the ISI's dealings with militant groups.

Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, is in Washington meeting with Bush administration officials. In an interview broadcast Tuesday on PBS television show "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," Gilani said that to say that some in the ISI are "sympathetic to the militants, this is not believable. ... We will not allow that."

CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf refused to comment on the Times report late Tuesday.

The newspaper said it was unclear whether CIA officials have concluded that contacts between the ISI and militant groups are blessed at the highest levels of Pakistan's spy service and military or are carried out by rogue elements of Pakistan's security apparatus.

Kappes made his secret visit to Pakistan on July 12, joining Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for meetings with senior Pakistani civilian and military leaders, the Times said.

The meetings took place days after a suicide bomber attacked the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing dozens. Afghanistan's government has publicly accused the ISI of having a hand in the attack.

Clashes in Swat valley
Meantime, fierce fighting erupted between militants and Pakistani troops in a restive valley Wednesday, reportedly killing dozens and undermining the new government's disputed strategy of offering peace deals to pro-Taliban insurgents.

The army announced an indefinite, round-the-clock curfew throughout the northwestern valley of Swat on Wednesday, a day after militants there abducted at least 25 police and paramilitary troops. Clashes Tuesday also left two troops and two militants dead.

The army said security forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, had been exchanging fire with militants since early Wednesday morning.

In one incident, security forces clashed with militants in Sar Banda, about 12 miles from Mingora, the valley's main town, an army spokesman said on condition of anonymity.