"I would like to emphasise here that ISI is a premier intelligence agency which has caught or apprehended maximum al-Qaeda operatives including those who were linked with criminals and responsible for attacking the US mainland on September 11, 2001," Abbas said.

Passing on information

US intelligence agencies suspect some members of the Pakistani intelligence community were actively aiding the Taliban and al-Qaeda, giving them sensitive information that helps them launch more effective attacks from the tribal region bordering Afghanistan, a Bush administration official said on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.

The report said long-standing CIA frustration with the Pakistanis had been growing for months after Pakistan's new government caused concern in Washington by launching talks with militants soon after beating allies of Pervez Musharraf, the US-backed president, in elections in February.

On Wednesday, Nato and Afghan forces said those talks had resulted in a 40 per cent spike in militant activity in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

Citing anonymous defence and intelligence sources, the Times said the meeting between the CIA and Pakistan officials focused on supposed intelligence links with Taliban commander Jalauddin Haqqani, who is based in Pakistan's tribal areas.

It said that earlier this year the US military pressed for Pakistani troops to hit the Haqqani network.

"It was a very pointed message saying, 'Look, we know there's a connection, not just with Haqqani but also with the other bad guys and ISI, and we think you could do more and we want you to do more about it," a senior US official told the Times.

Gilani urged Bush not to act "unilaterally" in Pakistan's tribal areas [Reuters]
Anwar Iqbal, the Washington correspondent for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, told Al Jazeera he believed "the ISI as an institution is not helping fighters but there are people in ISI who may be helping or at least may have sympathies for these people".

He said it was more likely that those who had retired from the ISI and still had a lot of influence, those who were involved with fighters during the Afghan war, were the ones who were aiding the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The report comes after Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan's prime minister, assured George Bush, the US president, in Washington that Islamabad was committed to fighting militants.

Iqbal told Al Jazeera that Pakistan's defence minister had told local journalists that in Bush's meeting with Gilani, the US president had indicated he had information to suggest the ISI was passing on intelligence from the US to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and "that's why the Americans are reluctant to share information".

Gilani urged Bush not to act "unilaterally" against militants in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.

Iqbal also cautioned against more military strikes.

"It's an unwinnable war," he said. "There is no military solution to it because the more you conduct these strikes the more you annoy the local population and people will turn more and more against the United States.

"America is now seen, at least in the tribal areas and in the northwest frontier, as a power which is after the Muslim ummah [Muslim world] ... rather than against militants, so both Washington and Islamabad somehow have to deal with this perception."