x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Secret report links Pakistani spy agency to India attacks

Pakistani-American militant told interrogators that the ISI collaborated with Islamist terrorist group in organising 2008 Mumbai operation.

An Indian soldier aims his weapon at The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai during the terrorist attacks on November 29, 2008. Pero Ugarte / AFP
An Indian soldier aims his weapon at The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai during the terrorist attacks on November 29, 2008. Pero Ugarte / AFP

MUMBAI // Pakistan's top spy agency helped orchestrate the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, alleges a classified Indian report detailing a lengthy interrogation of a prominent Pakistani-American militant currently in US custody.

The 109-page report, obtained by the Associated Press and The Guardian newspaper, says the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) collaborated with an Islamist group, Lashkar-i-Taiba (LiT), in organising the attack by 10 Pakistani gunmen that left 166 people dead.

Indian officials have long accused the ISI of sponsoring terrorism in India, but this report relies specifically on the disclosures of David Coleman Headley, the 49-year-old son of a former Pakistani diplomat and an American woman who was arrested last year in Chicago and charged with scouting bombing targets in India as an LiT operative.

In June, four Indian investigators flew to Chicago, where they were allowed by US authorities to interrogate Headley for 34 hours.

During the interrogation, he described several meetings between Pakistani military officers, those of the ISI, and the LiT. At least two of his scouting missions in India were funded by the ISI, the report quotes Mr Headley as telling interrogators.

Mr G Parthasarathy, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, said the claim of ISI involvement in the Mumbai attack was "nothing new". The Pakistani government's repeated denials were belied by "Pakistan's own terrorism experts ... who have long asserted that the ISI's complicity is beyond doubt".

In addition, even before the report was leaked to the media, India's home secretary, GK Pillai, cited its findings in July in statements to Indian reporters. "It was not just a peripheral role... they [the ISI] were literally controlling and co-ordinating it from the beginning till the end," Mr Pillai said.

An ISI spokesman denied the latest revelation but refused further comment.

Hamid Gul, a former head of the ISI, called the allegation of ISI collaboration "preposterous". In a telephone interview from Pakistan, Mr Gul also rejected Headley's claim that he worked closely with an ISI major named Iqbal in making preparations for the Mumbai attack.

According to the report, Maj Iqbal gave Headley US$25,000 (Dh92,000) to fund his reconnaissance trips to India. He also received spy training from an instructor assigned to him by Maj Iqbal, the report quotes Headley as saying.

Mr Gul dismissed the claims. "The ISI's cardinal principle, even when I was in charge, is that it must never join hands with non-state actors to launch attacks on civilians in India," he said. "Why? Because that might incite communal passions [in India] and bring tremendous misery to the country's Muslim population."

That principle, Mr Gul said, has not changed since he his tenure as ISI chief ended 21 years ago.

Mehmal Sarfraz, the op-ed editor of the Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, said she was suspicious about the timing of the report's disclosure. It comes as Pakistani civilian and military leaders, including army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, are set to arrive in Washington this week for a strategic dialogue with the US government. Whoever leaked this report did so with the aim of "pressuring Pakistan to do more to wipe out militants hiding in the tribal areas of North Waziristan", Ms Sarfraz said.

Mr Gul said the US government was behind the leaking of the report, which he said was aimed at sowing further discord between the two South Asian neighbours.

"This allegation has an imperial design," he said. "If India and Pakistan coexisted peacefully, they [the US] will be denied a huge market for their weapons."

Mr Parthasarathy said the reported indicated that Washington had not shared valuable intelligence with India about Headley's involvement in the Mumbai terrorist plot.

Last week, US officials admitted that two spouses of Headley had warned US authorities in 2007 and 2008 of his connections with the LiT.

This week, in a press conference in Washington, when the State Department spokesman Philip Crowley was asked by reporters why intelligence furnished by Headley's wives was not shared with India, he replied that the information was not specific.

The US acted "irresponsibly", Mr Parthasarathy said. "The fact that he was able to visit India even after the Mumbai attack speaks volumes about US callousness towards Indian lives."

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