US is focused on Haqqani.
India-Pakistan Strife May Hurt U.S. in Afghanistan
Regional JockeyingIs Blamed in ISI,
Al Qaeda Dealings
By JAY SOLOMON
August 2, 2008; Page A6
WASHINGTON -- Officials in the Bush administration say renewed tensions between India and Pakistan could be damaging U.S. efforts to conquer the Taliban and achieve stability in Afghanistan.
These concerns surfaced Thursday when the U.S. charged that Pakistan's intelligence agency helped militants carry out an attack last month on the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed 58 people.
Taliban militants in eastern Afghanistan, a region where attacks on NATO forces have increased significantly this year. U.S. officials say tension between India and Pakistan may be making the problem worse.
U.S. officials said Thursday they concluded that elements of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, aided the attack, based on telecommunications intercepts linking Pakistani intelligence officials to Afghan insurgents. The U.S. officials said India's security services drew similar conclusions based on their own telecommunications intercepts and intelligence.
Pakistan's government Friday said it needs to purge Taliban sympathizers from its intelligence service, but denied that the ISI helped militants in the July 7 bombing, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. intelligence officials have voiced concerns for years that Pakistan's rivalry with India could destabilize Afghanistan.
The Pakistani government has historically pursued a policy of "strategic depth" in Afghanistan, supporting their Pashtun allies in the country to guard against India or Iran encircling Pakistan on its western border. During the 1990s, the ISI built up the Taliban in support of this strategic policy.
But since the collapse of the Taliban regime in the U.S.-led war that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S., India and Iran have expanded their own influence in Afghanistan.
India has built a network of diplomatic missions and played a role in overseeing new infrastructure projects. Iran, meanwhile, has enjoyed especially close ties with President Hamid Karzai's government, thanks to Tehran's own role in funding aid and development projects.
Some U.S. officials say they are concerned that the growing roles of Pakistan's rivals in Afghanistan are feeding the ISI's desire to support the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The officials say a better U.S. policy would have been to limit India's high-profile activities inside Afghanistan. They also say Washington may again need to play a more active role in mediation between Islamabad and New Delhi to stabilize Afghanistan and the broader South Asian region.
"Having the Indians running around Afghanistan was sure to invite retaliation," said a U.S. intelligence official with extensive experience in Afghanistan. "We may need to play a more direct role in calming things down."
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama proposed just that in an interview last week. "If one of the central concerns of Pakistan is its security posture towards India, then we need to put that on the table for discussion as we try to solve the problems in Afghanistan," he said.
The U.S. has had increasing difficulty in quelling the insurgency in Afghanistan. Roadside bombs killed five North Atlantic Treaty Organization soldiers and a civilian Friday in eastern Afghanistan, an area where the number of insurgent attacks has increased 40% this year, compared with the same period in 2007, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. and Afghan officials charge that most of the militants in the area use Pakistan as a base. The issue was discussed during President George W. Bush's meeting this week with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani. The Central Intelligence Agency sent its No. 2 official, Steve Kappes, to Islamabad last month to discuss concerns over the border areas.
A string of bombings in India in recent weeks has raised concerns in New Delhi about possible ISI involement. On July 26, a string of explosions in the western city of Ahmedabad killed more than 45 people, one day after explosions in the high-technology center of Bangalore killed at least one person. In May, coordinated bombings killed 63 people in the tourist city of Jaipur.
New Delhi alleged the ISI played a role in a 2001 attack on India's parliament building, which nearly led the two countries to an all-out war. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, conducted months of shuttle diplomacy between New Delhi and Islamabad to avert a possible nuclear confrontation.
U.S. officials believe the militants who carried out the Indian embassy attack in July are linked to the Haqqani Network, an insurgent grouping headed by the Afghan mujahadeen commander, Jalaluddin Haqqani. Mr. Haqqani is based out of the tribal-region district of North Waziristan, and U.S. military and intelligence officials believe he works closely with both al Qaeda and the Taliban in coordinating suicide attacks against Afghan and NATO troops inside Afghanistan.
Mr. Haqqani has maintained close links to the ISI dating to the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviet Union. The CIA also forged ties to Mr. Haqqani during the war, providing financing and arms to the Pashtun commander.
"Haqqani has been at the center of the insurgency for the past three years," said a U.S. official. "But he's become even more active in recent months."
The CIA and ISI have debated in recent years what to do with Mr. Haqqani. The ISI has argued that the commander could potentially be integrated into the Kabul government's security apparatus, potentially winning additional support for President Karzai's government from Afghanistan's sizable Pashtun population. The U.S. has concluded that Mr. Haqqani and his son, Siraj Haqqani, have grown too close to al Qaeda to be part of any reconciliation process.
Write to Jay Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org