India sees suspicions confirmed in bin Laden death

AP News
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Posted: May 06, 2011 2:03 PM
India sees suspicions confirmed in bin Laden death

It came as little surprise in India's capital when Osama bin Laden was found deep inside Pakistan, living in a sprawling residence just a short walk from the military academy. Around here, suspicion of Pakistan is a natural reflex.

They may not be gloating openly now, but an undercurrent of I-told-you-so is rippling through India's policymakers, media and ordinary people.

Bin Laden's discovery in Pakistan gives India an opportunity to put its longtime rival onto the defensive and drive a wedge even deeper between Islamabad and Washington, two centers of power whose ties careen regularly between uneasy friendship and open distrust.

"Now, there is a feeling in the United States that Pakistan has been deceiving them," said M.K. Rasgotra, a former Indian foreign secretary.

Few observers in India believe that Pakistan's military or intelligence agency wasn't aware, at least in some way, by the presence in Abbottabad of the world's most hunted man. Longtime ties between Pakistan and a string of Islamic militant movements _ ties often fostered by the U.S. during the Soviet war in Afghanistan _ mean that dozens of generals, retired spies and other powerful officials could have links to bin Laden's inner circle.

Even if bin Laden's presence was unknown to top officials _ and Pakistan has shown itself willing to target al-Qaida militants in the past _ there are current and former operatives who would have been willing to hide him, analysts in India say.

A former Indian intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the compound where bin Laden was living had been identified a few years ago as a safe house controlled by Pakistani intelligence. The former official gave no further details.

The bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan, most notably over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, has defined diplomacy in South Asia for decades. India accuses Pakistan of training and arming Islamic militants fighting Indian forces in Kashmir, a charge denied in Islamabad.

Now, India feels its complaints may finally be taken seriously, given that bin Laden was found ensconced in Pakistan.

Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said bin Laden's hideout, a conspicuous three-story compound in a city full of Pakistani soldiers, "underlines our concern that terrorists belonging to different organizations find sanctuary in Pakistan."

The Times of India phrased it less diplomatically. "Pak of Lies," it said in a headline after the U.S. commando raid in the city of Abbottabad that left bin Laden dead. The blunt headline reflected India's frequent accusations that Pakistan lies when it claims it does not harbor terrorists. India insists, for instance, that the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai was masterminded by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, a powerful, military-allied intelligence organization. Pakistan denies the accusation. Wide-ranging peace talks between the two countries were frozen after the Mumbai attack, and only started again earlier this year.

Bin Laden's killing, though, leaves room for new diplomatic openings in a region long paralyzed by the mutual distrust between Pakistan and India.

"The biggest loser from the death of Osama bin Laden is the Pakistan army," C. Raja Mohan, a prominent Indian strategic analyst, wrote in the Indian Express. "As the U.S. explores a new framework for regional security, India will inevitably figure in the calculations of Washington and Rawalpindi," the city where Pakistan's military is based.

That, he wrote, could allow New Delhi to push for a Pakistani government truly independent of the country's military. While Pakistan has an elected civilian government, it is army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani who is widely and openly seen as the most powerful man in the country.

New Delhi would, most probably, wield its influence through Washington.

U.S. aid packages give it great influence in Pakistan _ despite being widely despised by the Pakistani public _ but Washington is more concerned with fighting terror than political reform in Islamabad.

Top officials in Washington have said the U.S. has no definitive evidence that Pakistan knew where bin Laden was hiding, but they also say Islamabad must show convincingly its commitment to defeating al-Qaida. Anything short of that, U.S. defense policy chief Michele Flournoy said Thursday, will risk losing congressional support for continued U.S. aid.

Washington has given the Pakistani army more than $10 billion in aid in the past decade to help it fight militants, and billions more in civilian aid.

India found the largesse showered on Pakistan bewildering, and officials have long suspected that a lot of that money was being diverted to beef up defenses along the Indian border or worse _ to fund Kashmiri militants.

With relations between Islamabad and Washington deeply strained in the wake of the Abbottabad raid, Pakistan's military and civilian leadership both warned Washington on Thursday not to again violate its sovereignty.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir warned of "disastrous consequences" if the U.S. staged a similar attack on its territory.

The Pakistani army worries that unless it reacts strongly to the U.S. raid, India could use a similar argument to launch a helicopter strike across the eastern border against militants. Some of those militants are at least tolerated by Pakistani authorities.

Asked if New Delhi might launch a similar attack, Bashir said Pakistan wanted "pragmatic cooperation" with India.

But he also added a barely contained diplomatic threat.

"There should be no misunderstanding on the part of anybody, especially within our region, about Pakistan's defense capabilities and resolve," he told reporters.

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Associated Press writer Ashok Sharma contributed to this report.