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|March 11, 2000|
Pak agents working in Bangladesh: State dept
R S Shankar
An interview with an unnamed "high-ranking State Department official" in the conservative Washington Times newspaper is of small consolation for many Indians who had lobbied against President Bill Clinton's whistle-stop visit to Pakistan.
But the front page story, which quoted the official as saying that Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency is fomenting extremist violence in Assam, possibly working through dissident groups with bases in Bangladesh, boosted the morale of many Indian community leaders. They were feeling, in one person's opinion, "foolish" that their arguments against a visit to Pakistan had fallen on deaf ears. Now, they felt the administration is saying the right thing.
But some thought it would give yet another opportunity for Clinton to warn the Pakistani military regime to desist from fomenting more trouble.
"When Clinton is in Pakistan, we hope he will spend most of his time in making sure that the army bosses there understand they cannot go on meddling in Indian affairs," said Bharat Barai, a Chicago-based medical doctor and an active community leader.
"We believe the ISI is helping the militants in Assam," said the State Department official. "Since they attack unarmed civilians for political purposes, [the militants] meet the classical definition of terrorists."
The interview was published two days after Clinton -- despite urgings by his Secret Service that he faces a risk from terrorists in Pakistan -- decided to go to Pakistan after spending several days in India.
Yosef Bodensky, an expert on international terrorism and author of the book Bin Laden, had said in an interview last year that Islamabad, and not so much Kabul and its Taliban, held the key for terrorism not only in the Indian subcontinent but in other parts of the world.
While Pakistani officials in Washington said it was preposterous to think that Pakistan could do anything in a country (Bangladesh) thousands of miles away and accused India's RAW for creating disturbance in Pakistan, Bangladesh seemed to accept the allegations by the American official.
Bangladesh Ambassador K M Shehabuddin told the Washington Times that Pakistani intelligence has been operating terrorist cells in his country. But Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina had had these cells closed. She is grateful for India's help to her father, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, in the Independence struggle against Pakistan in 1971, Shehabuddin said.
"The present government makes it impossible for ISI to operate against India from Bangladesh -- the president won't allow it," he said. "We are careful about it. We are always opposed to fundamentalism. We want good neighbors."
The Washington Times said while India has consistently accused Pakistan of backing terrorism, the comments by the senior US official in an interview were the first indication that America also believes Pakistan is working to spread discord 500 miles from its border with India.
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