LONDON – India's defense minister claimed Monday that Usama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan and Pakistani intelligence officials are aware of it. Islamabad denied his claim.
In an interview from New Delhi, Indian defense minister George Fernandes told Britain's Channel 4 News that he had received intelligence three months ago that bin Laden was alive in Pakistan, and that the country's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, knew it.
He said there was no reason to believe the situation had changed since then, and that India's information had been relayed to the United States.
"We had information the man is around, and he is somewhere in Pakistan. We had it from unimpeachable sources," the defense minister was quoted as saying. "The point made by those who ... had access to this information, and we had reason to believe they had genuine access, is that he was moving from place to place, and Pakistanis were taking care of him."
Ever since U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban government and the Al Qaeda terrorist network out of Afghanistan, bin Laden's whereabouts have been unknown. U.S. officials say they don't know whether he is dead or alive.
Fernandes said it was possible intelligence officials haven't told Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
"The ISI is capable of operating on its own in certain areas and in certain matters, so where exactly this particular issue is between the two of them, I won't be able to say," Fernandes said.
Musharraf's spokesman, Maj. General Rashid Qureshi, denied Pakistani intelligence agents had any evidence bin Laden was in the country and dismissed the idea they would not have told Musharraf.
"It is typical of Mr. George Fernandes to talk through his hat. This is a typical example of Indian propaganda which is meant just to discredit Pakistan," Qureshi told Channel 4 News.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have been high for years, and flared last year after an attack on the Indian parliament that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan. Escalating tensions also generated world fears that a war in South Asia could result in the use of nuclear weapons, which both countries say they possess.