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Al Qaeda thriving in Pakistani Kashmir

Sheltered by Pakistani intelligence, officially banned Islamic militants are moving freely near the Indian border.

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Nasir Ali, a wiry jeep driver, says Al Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan have arrived here in large numbers. He should know, he says, because he was the one who gave them a lift in from northern Pakistan after their escape from Afghanistan. "I, myself, drove three Arab fighters into the center of Kashmir," says Ali. "I carried them only part way in and their own jeeps met us and drove them the rest of the way. Hundreds have entered Kashmir in the last several months."

Mr. Ali, an employee for a private transport company, described in detail subsequent meetings with Middle Eastern fighters he admires. Ali's account, and several others gathered this week, of how groups of Al Qaeda fighters have infiltrated Kashmir present a harrowing prospect for Washington. Strategic analysts have long warned that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network is keen to exploit tensions between the two nuclear powers of India and Pakistan, whose governments both claim full rights to divided Kashmir.

A week-long investigation uncovered evidence that Al Qaeda and an array of militant affiliate groups are prospering inside Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, with the tacit approval of Pakistani intelligence. The evidence comes after recent statements by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that he had "seen indications that there are Al Qaeda operating near the [UN] Line of Control" that separates Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, but that he had no hard evidence on numbers or location.

Senior officials in Pakistan called Mr. Rumsfeld's statements inaccurate and stressed that he had no real evidence. But the Pakistani military, which has begun to chase stray Al Qaeda elements in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, has been unwilling to crack down in Kashmir on Islamic militant groups that it has been pledging to eradicate since January.

Militants out in the open

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