ISLAMABAD: On the outskirts of the Pakistani capital lives a militant considered so powerful that Osama bin Laden consulted with him before issuing a fatwa to attack American interests.
Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil heads Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, a terrorist group closely aligned with al Qaeda and a signatory to bin Laden's anti-US fatwa in 1998. Khalil has also dispatched fighters to India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and Bosnia, was a confidante of bin Laden and hung out with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Pakistani authorities are clearly aware of Khalil's whereabouts. But they leave him alone, just as they tolerate other Kashmiri militant groups nurtured by the military and its intelligence agency to use against India.
Khalil is also useful to the authorities because of his unusually wide contacts among Pakistan's many militant groups, said a senior government official who is familiar with the security agencies and who spoke on condition he not be identified fearing repercussions.
Khalil's presence in an Islamabad suburb, confirmed to The Associated Press by Western officials in the region, underscores accusations that Pakistan is still playing a double game – fighting some militant groups while tolerating or supporting others – even after the solo US raid that killed bin Laden on May 2.
The US Congress, enraged that bin Laden found refuge for at least five years down the street from Pakistan's equivalent of West Point, has threatened to cut off the billions of dollars in aid being spent here.
Obama administration officials and US Army officers are trying to rebuild the relationship, considered vital to American hopes of negotiating an end to the Afghan war, but if anything the two sides appear to have drifted further apart in recent weeks.
Pakistan's intelligence service has arrested five Pakistanis who fed information to the CIA before the American raid that killed bin Laden, according to a Western official in Pakistan.
The group of detained Pakistanis included the owner of a safe house rented to the CIA to observe bin Laden's compound in the military town of Abbottabad, a US official said. The owner was detained along with a ''handful'' of other Pakistanis, said the official.
Also, CIA Director Leon Panetta confronted Pakistan's intelligence service about tipping off militants running bomb factories aimed at killing US soldiers in Afghanistan. Pakistan denied tipping them off. The militants belong to the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction that has ties to al Qaeda.
Khalil's Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, blamed for a deadly attack on the American Consulate in Karachi in 2002, has links to the Haqqanis and is considered a terrorist organisation by the US. Hundreds of militants are thought to belong to his organisation, though the strength of these groups is the links they share with each other, say analysts.
Khalil himself is not on any US wanted list. In the Islamabad suburb of Golra Sharif, he lives in a nondescript two-story compound that includes a seminary or religious school, hidden behind a traditional high wall protected by barbed wire.
Reached by the AP on his cell phone last month, Khalil dismissed suggestions that he may have been in touch with bin Laden while the al Qaeda leader was hiding in Abbottabad.
''It is 100 percent wrong, its rubbish,'' Khalil said. ''Osama did not have contact with anybody.'' The AP obtained Khalil's phone number from a former aide who has since left the terror organisation.
The Pakistani senior government official who spoke with AP said Khalil has been arrested twice but each time was released on orders from Pakistan's intelligence agency.
''He was significant for Osama bin Laden,'' the official said. ''He has connections with all these groups in Waziristan but he is living here and we don't go after him. He is the one you go to when you need to get to these groups,'' tracking kidnap victims for example.
Khalil was once the boss of terror leader Ilyas Kashmiri, believed killed in a drone strike on June 3.
Like most of the militant groups that get a wink and a nod from Pakistan's security agencies, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen's primary focus is Kashmir, a picturesque region divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by each in its entirety. Kashmir has been the cause of two of three wars between the South Asian neighbors and brought them perilously close to a nuclear confrontation in 2000.
Khalil's group has kidnapped foreigners in Indian Kashmir, killing one. His group also helped in the 1999 hijacking of an Indian airlines plane that resulted in the release of three militants, including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is now on death row for his part in the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.