"Those who die in the service of god are martyrs and they shall be rewarded."
So reads the inscription in Arabic and Urdu on the gravestone of Gen. Muhammad Zia ul Haq, Pakistan's late military dictator. On Aug. 17, the 18th anniversary of his death, he is still revered for his enduring legacy of taking Pakistan towards a long period of jihad — starting with its backing of the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Devoted followers of the general, as well as idle spectators, pass by the grave next to Islamabad's towering Faisal mosque.
And just as the general still has a following, Pakistan continues reconciling itself to fresh concerns over its links to militant groups.
The recent terror arrests in London of mostly Pakistani men has not helped Pakistan radically change its image. The suspects are accused of a failed plot to bomb a number of commercial airlines leaving Heathrow Airport for U.S. destinations.
In the London case, up to seven men were arrested in Pakistan in connection with the plot — including Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin — described by Pakistani officials as a key figure in the thwarted plot.
Pakistani officials have refuted claims that the case demonstrates the country's position as a hotbed of global terrorism. Instead, they point towards an Afghanistan-based al Qaeda cell for planning the attack.
One Pakistani intelligence official told CBS News that the al Qaeda cell specializes in developing new explosive techniques, and that its members are based outside of Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have also refuted stories in western newspapers suggesting that a prominent Islamic charity known as Jamaat-ud-Dawa — which actively worked to provide relief to victims of last October's devastating earthquake — channeled funds to some of the planners of the London plot.
"If I was planning something as big as this, would I go to a source which is infamous for militant connections or would I work discretely" asked the Pakistani intelligence official, who, in view of the sensitivity of his position, asked not to be named.
But independent observers warn that the Pakistani government has a difficult challenge denying such allegations, given the country's history. In the 1980s, a network of Islamic seminary schools known as madrassah were actively sponsored by Pakistan's intelligence services with the backing of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency as the key centers for training volunteer fighters.
Those volunteers were first trained in techniques of guerrilla warfare before being armed and sent across the border to Afghanistan to attack Soviet troops. Almost 17 years after troops from the former Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, as many as 12,000 madrassah schools remain scattered across Pakistan.
Their links to global militancy became the subject of intense discussion among western officials when it was revealed that at least one of the four suspects who carried out last year's suicide bomb attacks in London was a British citizen of Pakistani origin who had visited a madrassah a few months before the attacks.
"The exact nature of that visit has triggered fresh concerns over the future of madrassah schools. People want to know if they are still central to promoting militancy by helping militants get the knowledge for carrying attacks" said a western diplomat in Islamabad, who spoke on the condition that his identity not be revealed.
Critics have seized the opportunity to launch vigorous attacks on Pakistan's ruling military regime. They argue that the military has established ties with such groups over the past three decades and is known to treat them as valuable assets. Critics say the military uses the madrassahs to help unleash insurgencies in places such as Kashmir, in the part of the Himalayan region under Indian control. Or in Afghanistan.
"The strong arm of the Pakistani state is the military, which then has contacts with militant groups working covertly" says Abida Hussain, Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States. Hussain is a vehement opponent of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's present day pro-Washington military ruler. "The strong arm of the state allows the jihad legacy to continue. It wants to clamp down but it doesn't want to end this legacy permanently."
Standing by Zia's grave site, the few mourners who turned up for last week's anniversary included those who relentlessly defend militant causes.
"Islam is under attack in different countries. The United States has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we have just seen Israel launch an unjust war against Lebanon," said Naseem Orakzai, a laborer from Pakistan's northwestern frontier province. He said he is an ardent support of Islamic militant groups.
Western diplomats say that in spite of the concerns over Pakistan's ties to militant causes, the country's rulers receive recognition for supporting the U.S.-led war on terror. This comes more than five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks forced Pakistan to turn against Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.
"There are two issues here, not one. Pakistan is a credible ally of the U.S., but it also has a history whose effects still linger on," concluded the western diplomat who spoke with CBS News.