The Iraq war has acted as a "recruiting sergeant" for extremists in the Muslim world, according to a paper prepared for a Ministry of Defence thinktank, which also said the British government sent troops into Afghanistan "with its eyes closed".
The paper, which describes the west as being "in a fix" and includes a savage attack on Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, was written by an officer attached to the Defence Academy, according to BBC2's Newsnight programme. Its release provoked a furious response from the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, who has been touring the US.
The MoD was quick to play down the significance of the report. However, the study reflects what the MoD, military commanders, and the Foreign Office, have been saying in private. What is embarrassing is the timing of the leak, a day after Tony Blair's defence of Britain's military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. The research paper blamed the ISI for indirectly supporting terrorism and extremism.
It adds: "The war in Iraq ... has acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world ... Iraq has served to radicalise an already disillusioned youth and al-Qaida has given them the will, intent, purpose and ideology to act."
On Afghanistan, the paper said Britain went in "with its eyes closed". It claims that a secret deal to extricate UK troops from Iraq so they could focus on Afghanistan failed when British military leaders were overruled.
The paper also accuses the Pakistan army of indirectly supporting the Taliban by backing Pakistan's religious parties.
General Musharraf told Newsnight: "I totally, 200%, reject it. I reject it from anybody - MoD or anyone who tells me to dismantle ISI. ISI is a disciplined force, breaking the back of al-Qaida. Getting [arresting] 680 people would not have been possible if our ISI was not doing an excellent job."
The BBC claimed the author of the academic paper, based on research carried out in Pakistan less than three months ago, was "linked" to MI6.
An MoD spokeswoman said last night: "The academic research notes quoted in no way represent the views of the MoD or the government. To represent it as such is deeply irresponsible and the author is furious that his notes have been wilfully misrepresented in this manner. He suspects they have been released to the BBC precisely in the hope they would cause damage to our relations with Pakistan.
"Pakistan is a key ally in our efforts to combat international terrorism and her security forces have made considerable sacrifices in tackling al-Qaida and the Taliban. We are working closely with Pakistan to tackle the root causes of terrorism and extremism."
It is not the first time during his current tour that Gen Musharraf - who is also promoting his memoirs- has attracted controversy. This week, while in the US to meet President George Bush, he told an American television programme that former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage had told his intelligence chief that Pakistan would be bombed "back to the stone age" if it failed to help the US track down and punish those responsible for the September 11 attacks.
The US government was quick to deny the allegation, which some claimed would damage Pakistan's international standing.
Asad Durrani, former head of the ISI, told the Reuters news agency: "Such remarks may well sell your book, but it creates more controversies."
The Pakistan connection
Western governments and their intelligence services have argued that Pakistan occupies a central position in the war on terror. The publication earlier this year of the first official accounts by police and security services of the events surrounding the July 7 bombings in London suggested the British bombers may have been radicalised, at least in part, in that country.
Mohammed Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the London attacks, in 2003 visited Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan where he is believed to have had training and met al-Qaida contacts.
Planning for the attack is thought to have begun shortly after a return visit with the second bomber, Shehzad Tanweer, between November 2004 and February 2005.
Pakistani officials have repeatedly insisted that the July 7 bombers were radicalised in the UK and not in Pakistan, in response to suggestions that they may have received training from extremists in the country. But the suggestion of ties between Pakistan and terror cells in this country have continued nonetheless.
Last week the Old Bailey trial of an alleged British al-Qaida cell was halted temporarily after one of the defendants refused to carry on giving evidence, claiming the Pakistani secret service had threatened his family. Omar Khyam, 24, who is accused along with six other men of plotting a UK bombing campaign using fertiliser-based explosives, refused to answer questions from his defence barrister. Earlier in the trial he had given evidence about a training camp in Pakistan where he claimed the ISI intelligence agency gave lessons in handling explosives.
His comments were the latest in a number of reports pointing to the existence of extremist groups in the country.
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