Islamabad, Aug. 31: A senior Pakistan army officer today confirmed media reports that up to four officers of the rank of lieutant colonel and below were being interrogated for possible links with a radical Islamic organisation.
“While I can confirm that up to four officers below the rank of lieutenant colonel are under investigation for alleged possible links with some extremist organisations, I reject as totally concocted the Daily Times story that at least 12 other army officers were also being investigated for links with extremist groups,” Pakistan military’s chief spokesperson Major General Shaukat Sultan told The Telegraph.
Daily Times, the English-language newspaper based in Lahore, reported the arrests, probably based on an Asia Times Hong Kong story saying that the FBI was interrogating the officers.
It was an all Pakistan-army affair and the FBI was not involved in any way, General Sultan asserted, adding the Daily Times report was “completely concocted and absurd”.
Sultan also confirmed that the arrests came about recently but insisted that the officers involved were up to four and not 12.
The Daily Times had reported that 12 officers and non-commissioned personnel of the Pakistani army are being investigated for links with extremist groups by the field investigative unit, in charge of security within the army.
It said the investigations followed the detention of a Pakistani army major and three of his subordinates in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, where the Taliban and forces loyal to the anti-US Afghan militant group, Hizb-e-Islami, led by former Premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar were active.
The paper said the Pakistani army officials were taken into custody by FBI agents working with the Northern Alliance and brought to Jacobabad in Pakistan, adding the FBI handed them over to the FIU following a request from the Pakistan army.
The general also denied there was any Pakistan navy officer among those being questioned for connections with one or two fundamentalist groups.
It was not clear whether ex-colonel Sultan Ameer Iman, a veteran of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet-Russians, was also among the detained officers. Imam served as Pakistan’s consul general at the western city of Herat during the Taliban rule but was a frequent visitor to the Taliban mecca — Kandahar in the south and had unusual access to Mulla Mohammad Omar and his associates. The colonel could not be contacted for comments at his Rawalpindi residence.
Other officials refused to reveal the names of those arrested or the militant organisation they were suspected of being linked to. Soon after the US-led forces unleashed the war against terrorism in October 2001, some Pakistan navy and army officers had taken leave and opted to fight along the Taliban.
Some were killed and several managed to return. Among them was a navy cadet, who was pardoned owing to his excellent academic record and is now studying at a technical university in Peshawar.
Despite strong opposition from hardline Islamic parties, President General Pervez Musharraf had then opted to align himself with the US-led war on terror.
Major Pakistani cities including Islamabad witnessed at least eight major acts of terrorism which observers attribute to pro-Taliban Muslim groups annoyed by Musharraf’s withdrawal of support for the Taliban and by his close ties to Washington.