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ISI paid Omar's legal fees, says Pak official

ISI paid Omar's legal fees, says Pak official

Author: Chidanand Rajghatta
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 3, 2002

In a remarkably candid disclosure, a Pakistani official has implicated the spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for covertly aiding terrorist suspect Sheikh Omar Saeed during his incarceration in India on charges of kidnapping western tourists.

The Washington Post, citing an unnamed Pakistani official, said in a report from Islamabad on Friday that when Saeed faced the kidnapping charges in 1994 his attorneys were paid by ISI. Specifically, the ISI station chief in Pakistan's London embassy paid the legal fees, the official disclosed to the paper. The ISI operative was not named.

Sheikh Omar Saeed is long suspected to have ISI links, but this is the first time Pakistan officials have confirmed the fact. When Saeed emerged as a suspect in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl case, he surrendered voluntarily to Ejaz Shah, a former top ISI official who is now home secretary of Punjab province.

The episode raised eyebrows in Washington because the surrender was not disclosed for nearly a week until Gen Musharraf met President Bush in the White House. Shortly before the meeting Islamabad announced that it had "captured" Omar.

Pakistan has never clearly explained why his surrender was kept a secret and what transpired during the time he was in custody. At the same time, Musharraf has implied several times that Pearl was caught up in intelligence matters.

One possible explanation for the unexpected disclosure implicating the ISI now is that there is a struggle going on within the Pakistani establishment with one section trying to cleanse the spy agency of rogue elements. This section has been periodically leaking stories to the media against the ISI.

The Indian government has long charged that the ISI has been promoting and protecting terrorists in India, but this the first time it has had the good fortune of Pakistani officials themselves confirming it. The fact that Saeed was being held on charges of kidnapping western tourists while the ISI was trying to bail him out could put the widely-reviled agency into further trouble.

More recently, there have been some articles in the Pakistani media suggesting that the ISI was being unfairly targeted and it is not as sinister an organisation it is made out to be. There have also been conflicting reports as to whether General Musharraf is completely in command of the agency and whether the purges he is said to have instituted have worked.

While the Bush administration has not publicly taken up the issue of Omar Saeed's mysterious surrender and secret custody, some US experts and lawmakers have questioned Washington's kid glove treatment of ISI's involvement in terrorist activity. They say the administration's reluctance to press Pakistan to end terrorism in Kashmir while forcing its hand in Afghanistan could come back later to haunt the United States because the two fronts are essentially the same.

"Musharraf has created a double standard where he fights against terrorism globally, but winks at terrorist activity locally," says New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone. "There is no accountability for terrorist activity in Pakistan or Kashmir. Musharraf is reversing his crackdown on terrorists, and terrorist groups that formerly existed are now rejoining other groups under new names."

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