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THE WORLD

India Seeks U.S. Check of Camps on Pakistani Soil

Conflict: Verification of suspect sites' closure is seen as key to ending militants' infiltration.

June 07, 2002|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW DELHI — Insisting that separatist fighters continue to cross into Kashmir, India has quietly asked the U.S. to help settle the debate by inspecting suspected terrorist camps in Pakistani-held territory.

"In a very informal sense, we have conveyed to the Americans that if they verify the camps are closed, we are going to believe them," a senior Indian intelligence officer said Thursday.

Pakistan insists that there are no terrorist camps in areas under its control and that infiltrations into Jammu and Kashmir state, the portion of Kashmir held by India, have stopped.

The Pakistani government says it gives political and moral support to a broad range of groups it considers home-grown freedom fighters operating in the region.

But India is equally adamant in its claim that Pakistan continues to support "cross-border terrorism."

Deciding who is right and ensuring that Pakistan shuts down suspected militant training camps and infiltration routes are key to defusing the confrontation between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which have deployed 1 million troops along their border.

The intelligence official's comments Thursday reflect the Indian government's frustration over what it sees as Washington's failure to make Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cooperate completely in the war against terrorism.

With FBI and CIA agents and U.S. Special Forces troops already hunting for Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Pakistan, it would be logical to visit training camps that Indian intelligence has identified, the intelligence officer argued.

"For us, this is terrorism. And there can never be half a campaign against terrorism," he added. "It must be complete. Only then will it be effective."

New Delhi has long maintained that, because Pakistan was a close U.S. ally, Washington failed to heed Indian warnings that previous Pakistani governments were turning South Asia into a breeding ground for international terrorism.

India sees the same mistakes being repeated, with Musharraf aiding the U.S. search for primarily foreign terrorism suspects while Pakistani extremists are either released after brief detentions or held in comfortable government rest houses.

To support the claim of Pakistani duplicity in the war against terrorism, a second Indian intelligence source provided detailed descriptions of what he said are training camps run by three militant groups.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage will receive similar details, and a map locating the suspected camps, during his talks in New Delhi today, the official said.

One of the camps that India believes is still operating belongs to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist group accused of involvement in the murder-kidnapping of American journalist Daniel Pearl in January. Its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, has suspected links with Al Qaeda dating to the 1993 Mogadishu street war that drove U.S. troops from Somalia.

The main Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp was set up in June 2000 near the Pakistani town of Balakot, in the unruly Northwest Frontier Province, according to the second source.

When India and Pakistan were on the brink of war in January, Musharraf banned the organization along with four others under international pressure. India says Jaish-e-Mohammed was involved in the December 2001 terrorist attack on its Parliament, in which 14 people were killed, including five attackers.

Indian intelligence claims that the group's Balakot camp "has now been transformed into a huge complex, comprising a number of concrete buildings, which include a residential block, a kitchen, guest house, medical dispensary and mosque. It is protected by 400 to 500 security guards."

The second intelligence source claimed that the camp is under the command of a man named Yousuf, who married Azhar's sister.

The source said 1,000 fighters are undergoing training at the camp, and claimed that Jaish-e-Mohammed has at least two other functioning camps in Sargodha, in northern Punjab province, and Mansehra, in Northwest Frontier Province.

India's civilian and military spy agencies have identified at least 20 training camps, and an additional 11 camps that they say guerrillas use as launching sites for attacks inside Jammu and Kashmir state and elsewhere in the country.

The camps have been pinpointed by various sources, including captured fighters, satellite reconnaissance and radio intercepts, the senior intelligence officer said.

India believes that a second group with close ties to Afghanistan's former Taliban regime has established training camps in the approximately one-third of Kashmir under Pakistan's control.

The extremist Islamic militia is called Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami, and its Pakistani leader, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, was an advisor to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader.

Akhtar's group has been named as a possible suspect in the May 8 suicide bombing that killed 11 Frenchmen outside the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Karachi, Pakistan's commercial hub.

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