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Camps Thrive in Pakistan, India Charges

Asia: Spy agency says Islamabad won't dismantle 17 terrorist training complexes.

January 11, 2002|PAUL WATSON and SIDHARTHA BARUA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEW DELHI — While pressure mounts on Pakistan to take tougher action against terrorism, India's top spy agency charges that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has done nothing to dismantle what it says are at least 17 terrorist training camps in territory under his control.

India's equivalent of the CIA, the Research and Analysis Wing, has identified the training camps in Pakistani-controlled areas of the disputed Kashmir region and Pakistan proper. The camps are used to train fighters for three Pakistan-based groups battling to end Indian rule in Kashmir, a senior Indian intelligence source said, speaking on condition he not be identified because of the clandestine nature of his work.

At least two of the three groups have links to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network, according to the RAW, which answers directly to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Although Musharraf insists publicly that he is determined to end all forms of terrorism, there is no evidence that his government has tried to shut down the camps, the Indian intelligence official said.

"He is incapable at this point in time to move against these camps physically. And he knows it," the official said. Referring to Musharraf's role in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, he said, "Beyond a point, Washington cannot pressure Musharraf because the entire strategy of sustaining him then gets distorted.

"We accept that he requires time. But at this point, I would say he has not done anything that reflects sincerity in the anti-terrorism campaign that Islamabad is embarking on."

On Thursday, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said the anti-terror crackdown will continue.

"Pakistan is taking certain actions," he said in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. "Pakistan will continue to take actions against terrorism."

Musharraf is expected to announce stricter measures against at least some Kashmiri separatist groups, and may even ban the most extreme, when he makes a much-anticipated speech to his nation in the next few days.

India, which has heard Pakistani leaders promise to help root out international terrorism before, will want to see any promises of a new policy quickly followed by significant action, such as the closing down of the alleged training camps.

After the first bombing of New York's World Trade Center in February 1993, the Clinton administration threatened to put Pakistan on a list of states sponsoring terrorism.

But the following July, the State Department removed Pakistan from a watch list after Washington received assurances that the Pakistani government would cooperate. More than eight years later, India insists that Pakistan has done little to keep its word.

Camps Can Easily Be Moved, India Says

If Musharraf closes down some or all of what India claims to be terrorist bases, New Delhi will then want to make sure that they aren't reopened somewhere else.

"In our assessment, a camp is just a kitchen, a shooting area, a small training ground and maybe barracks," the Indian source said. "It can easily be moved. It can easily be restructured."

Most of the camps India wants shut down are in villages and towns in the roughly one-third of Kashmir under Pakistani control. They include Barakot, Bhimber, Kotli, Chilas, Astor, Gilgit, Skardu and Muzaffarabad, according to Indian intelligence sources.

But India claims that there is also a training camp in Swat, in Pakistan's lawless North-West Frontier province.

India believes that three groups operate from the camps--in most cases, sharing them--and suspects that most of the camps are used by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the most feared guerrilla force in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The other two guerrilla forces are Harkat Moujahedeen and Hizbul Moujahedeen.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, or Army of the Pure, is a chief suspect behind the Dec. 13 terrorist attack on India's Parliament, in which 14 people died, including the five gunmen.

The Indian spy agency has what it says is proof that all five attackers were Pakistani citizens, including tape recordings of cell phone calls that two of the gunmen made to their homes in Pakistan before the assault.

The calls, recordings of which have been given to the CIA, lasted about four minutes on the evening before the assault on Parliament.

"They were conversations with their families along the lines of: 'We are planning something. Don't worry about us.' The tension in the voice and tenor of speech all gave away a lot of things," the intelligence official said.

Police later found more than 10 pounds of RDX plastic explosive in the men's car, which had failed to explode. Investigators say it is also clear that the RDX came from Pakistan because, they claim, it is stamped with the city of origin: Lahore.

Lashkar-e-Taiba is the militant wing of the Markaz al Dawa Wal Irshad, or Center for Preaching, which has its headquarters in Muridke, about 30 miles from Lahore in eastern Pakistan, a second Indian intelligence official said.

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