Pak Generals concerned their ranks may have been penetrated

US and western nations have long accused Pakistan`s ISI of playing a double game.

Updated: May 29, 2011, 00:42 AM IST

Washington: Pakistani military Generals
are concerned that their ranks have been penetrated by
Islamists who are aiding militants in a campaign against the
state.

Even the powerful Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani
was so shaken by the discovery that terror mastermind Osama
bin Laden was sheltering so close to the Pakistani capital
that he told US officials in a recent meeting that his first
priority was "bringing our house in order", the Washington
Post reported on Saturday quoting senior Pakistani intelligence
officers.

"We are under attack, and the attackers are getting
highly confidential information about their targets," said the
official, who cited a personal conversation with Kayani.

US and Western nations have long accused Pakistan`s
military Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) of playing a double
game by fighting militants who are threatening the country,
but protecting those fighting US forces in Afghanistan and
destabilising neighbouring countries.

Pakistan`s top military brass claimed to have purged
the ranks of Islamists shortly after the September 11, 2001,
attacks. Since then, the nation`s top officials have made
repeated public assurances that the armed forces are committed
to the fight against extremists and that Pakistan`s extensive
nuclear arsenal is in safe hands.

But US officials have remained unconvinced, and they
have repeatedly pressed for a more rigorous campaign by
Pakistan to remove elements of the military and intelligence
services that are believed to cooperate with militant groups.

It is unclear how authentically committed Kayani and
other top military leaders are to cleansing their ranks. US
officials and Pakistani analysts say support by the nation`s
top military spy agency for insurgent groups, particularly
those that attack in India and Afghanistan, is de facto
security policy in Pakistan, not a matter of a few rogue
elements.

But Kayani now, the Washington Post quoted officials
as saying, is under profound pressure, both from a domestic
population fed up with the constant insurgent attacks and from
critics in the US government, who view the bin Laden hideout
as the strongest evidence yet that Pakistan is playing a
double game.

US officials say they have no evidence that top
Pakistani military or civilian leaders knew about bin Laden`s
redoubt, though they are still examining intelligence gathered
during the raid.

Some say they doubt Kayani or Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja
Pasha, head of the ISI, had direct knowledge; others find it
hard to believe they did not, particularly because Kayani was
head of the ISI in 2005, when bin Laden is believed to have
taken refuge in Abbottabad.

"I think he was in protective custody," one former US
official who worked closely on Pakistan issues said of bin
Laden.

Pakistan strenuously denies that. But military
officials acknowledge that members of the services have
cooperated with militants.

One senior military official said military courts have
in recent years convicted several soldiers for roles in
attacks on security installations convictions that have not
been made public.

Four naval officers previously arrested on suspicion
of links to militants were questioned this week in connection
with the assault on the naval base in Karachi, another
security official said.

The senior military official said belief in militant
jihad long glorified in the national education curriculum
is prevalent in the rank and file, making screening for it a
daunting task that the military has been loath to perform.

The ISI is believed to have an entire branch known
as the "S Wing" devoted to relationships with militant
organisations. Some analysts believe the wing operates with
relative independence, whether by design or default, that
gives top brass plausible deniability when cooperation between
the spy service and insurgents comes to light.

US officials, for example, say they do not believe
Pasha or Kayani knew about Pakistani militants` plans to
attack Mumbai in 2008. But federal prosecutors have implicated
the ISI in a trial underway in Chicago, where the star witness
has said he was paid by the spy agency to help arrange the
siege.

US officials have emphasised since the bin Laden raid
that billions of dollars in US assistance could end if
Pakistan is found to have harboured the al Qaeda leader.

Pakistani officials said that pressure has included demands
that the military purge Islamists in its ranks and identify
agents connected to bin Laden.

"We take the Pakistanis at their word that they`re
committed to an aggressive fight against militants and to the
investigations they`ve announced. But it`s way too early to
say that their actions are honouring their stated
commitments," one US official said.

PTI