Washington, Aug.2 : Senior officials of the Bush Administration, concerned about the activities of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), are pressing their Pakistani counterparts to bring the spy service under civilian control.
According to the New York Times, the pressure from the Americans comes amid heightened concerns at the State Department, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency that ISI operatives are becoming bolder and more open in their support for militant Islamist organizations.
The State Department has publicly called for democratic elections and civilian rule in Pakistan, but some officials are still of the view that President Musharraf has more authority to reform the security services.
"There are real questions about the organization's loyalty. In the wake of political gridlock and a lack of a clear political direction, some elements of the ISI have started to exercise certain prerogatives," another Bush Administration told the NYT on condition of anonymity.
Reports of the ISI's involvement in the July 7 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, is also being cited as a reason for pressing Prime Minister Gilani's government to act firmly with the agency.
The paper reported this week that American intelligence agencies had said they have evidence that members of the ISI helped plan the bombing in Kabul, which claimed over 50 lives, including a diplomat and an Indian Army brigadier.
However, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, has asked Washington for specific evidence to support that conclusion.
"If any evidence were to be presented against any individual in Pakistan, or against the interest of Pakistan's neighbours, then the government would certainly act on that evidence," he said.
Haqqani hinted that the civilian government would investigate any ISI officer who might be in league with militants.
"Several outstanding problems in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan that the elected government inherited from the past are currently being resolved. These include issues of trust between our two intelligence services," Haqqani said.ut bringing the ISI under civilian authority is easier said than done, as Pakistan's new government found out last week.
On Saturday night, while Mr. Gilani was en route to Washington, his government announced that the ISI would report to the country's Interior Ministry. A day later, after objections from inside Pakistan's security apparatus, the government issued a clarification, saying that it had been "misinterpreted" and that the decree only "re-emphasizes more coordination" between the Interior Ministry and the ISI.
"If you ask me to describe the state of the (India-Pakistan) dialogue, it is in a place where it hasn't been in the last four years," Indian Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon told journalists on Friday on the sidelines of the 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo.
"We face a situation where things have happened in the recent past which were unfortunate and which, quite frankly, have affected the future of the dialogue," he added.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to meet with Gilani today in Colombo.
Some experts have urged the Bush Administration to be more patient and allow the new Pakistani government to assert its authority after years of military rule in Pakistan.
"In general, this administration at its upper reaches has been cool to the elected government from the start. They like to look at Musharraf as a factor for stability," said Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Several foreign policy experts noted that there was nothing new in the ISI's close ties to militant Islamist groups.
"People tend to forget the frustrations that were there when Musharraf was in place. The civilians are a mess right now, and the government is in a state of flux. When there's flux, individuals in the ISI revert to form," said Daniel Markey, another South Asia expert.