By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 27, 2008
KABUL, June 26 -- Pakistan on Thursday sharply denied that its powerful intelligence agency was behind an attempt to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai in April, saying the accusations by Afghan officials were politically motivated.
Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said the allegations against the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, were "untrue and baseless."
"The ISI is a professional organization and it doesn't interfere in the affairs of any other state," Mukhtar said in a telephone interview, adding that the accusations were an attempt to bolster Karzai's political standing in Afghanistan, which has long had strained relations with Pakistan.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry also vigorously denied charges of ISI involvement, saying that Pakistan had already publicly condemned the attempt to kill Karzai. The spokesman, Muhammad Sadiq, said his government had received information that the assassination attempt was part of a plot hatched by Afghan security officials, and called the incident "a massive intelligence and security failure" on the part of the Afghan government.
The sharp rebuke from Pakistan came one day after a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security said investigators with his office had uncovered evidence of ISI involvement in the plot. The spokesman, Sayed Ansari, said the Pakistani intelligence agency had been linked to the attack through evidence extracted from suspects arrested in connection with the incident, the Reuters news service reported.
"The documents from the suspects and their confession clearly show that Pakistan terrorist organization ISI was behind the attack," Ansari said.
Afghan security forces rounded up more than 100 suspects in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Karzai. Sixteen Afghans, eight of them government employees, have admitted involvement in the attack and about 20 government employees have been suspended, according to the Reuters report.
Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have flared in recent weeks as Taliban insurgents have increased violent attacks on both sides of the countries' shared 1,500-mile-long border. Relations between the two uneasy neighbors soured further after Karzai publicly vowed this month to strike at Taliban insurgents operating in Pakistani territory.
The Afghan president made his remarks during a news conference in the Afghan capital a little less than two months after insurgents opened fire and launched missiles at him and several other dignitaries during an open-air military ceremony in central Kabul. Three people were killed in the April 27 attack, including a 10-year-old boy. Eleven others were injured in what was the fourth failed attempt on Karzai's life since he took power in 2002.
The would-be assassins fired on the president from a third-story window of a nearby hotel. A senior Afghan official familiar with details of the probe said investigators suspect the hotel's owner and staff of being complicit in the plot. The Afghan official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is ongoing, said hotel staff nailed shut the door of the room from which the shooters launched the attack, and dissuaded security officials from entering the room during a routine check of the building a few days before the ceremony.
Afghan investigators learned through cellphone records that two of the would-be assassins had links to Pakistan's volatile tribal areas, according to this official. The official said investigators suspect one shooter tried to call his supervisor in Pakistan from the hotel to ask for instructions because he could not get a clear shot at the president.
The senior official said Afghan investigators believe the plot was fomented under the direction of Jalaluddin Haqqani, one of the Taliban's top leaders in Pakistan.
Haqqani forged links with Pakistani intelligence agencies in the 1980s during the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan. During those years, Haqqani received millions in military aid and materiel and established strong ties with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Although Pakistan officially severed ties with the Taliban after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many analysts and senior Western diplomats and military officials contend that ISI agents continue to support Islamist insurgents in the region.
A senior Western military official experienced in Pakistani affairs said in an interview that there was little evidence the agency's central leadership maintained links to the Taliban. But the official also said there was strong reason to believe that some rank-and-file ISI agents still support the group. "I do believe there are individuals at the lower field levels who are maintaining ties with extremists and the Taliban and maybe al-Qaeda on their own, or are in the cahoots with one or two other people like that."
Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad contributed to this report.