A week after the massacre of more than 170 people
by armed militants in Mumbai, US officials are scrambling to prevent the incident
from blowing up into a full-fledged confrontation between nuclear-armed India
While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent Wednesday in meetings with
Indian leaders in New Delhi warning them that any retaliation could result in
"unintended consequences or difficulties," the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, Adm. Michael Mullen, was in Islamabad
pressing top Pakistani civilian and military officials to fully cooperate with
He also urged them to crack down hard against any groups almost certainly
the officially banned Lashka-e-Taiba (LeT), according to government and independent
analysts here found to be responsible.
"The response of the Pakistani government should be one of cooperation
and of action," Rice said sternly in a press conference with Indian Foreign
Secretary Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday before jetting off to Islamabad to convey
the same message directly in talks Thursday with President Asif Ali Zardari
and Pakistan Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. "This is a time for everybody
to cooperate and to do so transparently, and this is especially a time for Pakistan
to do so."
The attack and subsequent two-day siege, apparently carried out by at least
10 assailants of whom only one survived, have clearly dealt a serious blow to
US hopes for Indo-Pakistani détente which is increasingly seen, particularly
among top Pentagon officials and key advisers to President-elect Barack Obama
here, as essential to stabilizing Afghanistan and defeating al-Qaeda.
In their view, only by reassuring Islamabad that Delhi does not harbor aggressive
intentions against it and won't use its growing economic and diplomatic presence
in Afghanistan for hostile ends, will Pakistan and especially its Army
and the military's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency
be persuaded to move decisively against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, whose leadership
is believed to enjoy safe haven in the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan
In addition to providing these groups safe haven, the ISI helped create, train,
equip, and has sustained the Taliban, LeT originally a Kashmiri insurgent
group and other militant Islamist groups over the past nearly two decades
as critical weapons against Delhi's presumed regional ambitions, according to
How closely tied the ISI remains to the Let, as well as the other groups, remains
the "64,000-dollar question" in the wake of the Mumbai massacre, said
Bruce Riedel, a South Asia specialist at the Brookings Institution and former
career intelligence analyst. "It is difficult to believe that no connection
Riedel and other experts had been encouraged by unexpectedly bold steps taken
by Zardari in recent weeks not only to build on a five-year-old confidence-building
process that includes talks on Kashmir's status, but to give the process much
They included reopening trade between the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled
halves of Kashmir for the first time since Partition, repeatedly pledging to
assert control over the ISI, declaring in an interview with the Wall Street
Journal that "India has never been a threat to Pakistan," and
suggesting that Islamabad was prepared to commit itself to a "no-first-use"
policy regarding its nuclear arsenal.
All of these gestures raised hopes here that a rapprochement of the kind sought
by Washington particularly if they were reciprocated by Delhi might indeed
be in the cards. At the same time, however, experts here knew that Zardari's
moves were likely to evoke strong opposition at home, particularly within the
military, which has long felt that strategic policy, particularly toward India,
was its domain, and the radical groups it has fostered through the ISI.
"It's pretty clear that the Mumbai attack and the likelihood that it would
completely shatter the détente that was underway was in the interests
of a number of different groups," according to an administration official
who asked not to be named.
Originally a Pakistan-sponsored Kashmiri insurgent group, the LeT, which has
so far denied any role in the attack, has strongly opposed negotiations with
India that might result in Delhi's retaining control over any part of the divided
"One of the purposes of the attack was to ensure there wouldn't be negotiations
on Kashmir," according to Stephen Cohen, another South Asia expert at Brookings
and co-author of Four
Crises and a Peace Process, a book about US efforts to mediate between
India and Pakistan published last year.
But that is not the only possible motive, according Cohen and other experts,
who suspect that the ISI, as LeT's creator and historic supporter, or senior
officers within it, may well be behind the attack both to reverse the ongoing
détente and undermine Zardawi and the civilian-led government.
"(Lashkar) is an ISI asset," Christine Fair, a Pakistan specialist
at the RAND Corporation here, told the Voice of America earlier this week. "So
the big question is not why did Lashkar do this, but why did the ISI order it?"
she asked, suggesting that the attack was aimed not only at undermining Zardawi
and sabotaging prospects for détente, but also as a warning to an incoming
Obama administration's purported plans to increase pressure on Islamabad to
cooperate more against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
A number of experts here who note that Osama bin Laden also played a
role in LeT's early financing, and that some "high-value" al-Qaeda
figures have used and even been arrested at LeT safe houses and other facilities
also see the group's hand in the attack, particularly the fact that the
assailants' primary targets were US citizens, Israelis, and Hindu Indians.
"This is a target set of global jihad," said Riedel, who cited exhortations
by al-Qaeda leaders to fight, in their words, the "Crusader-Zionist-Hindu
alliance." In addition, the choice of Mumbai India's financial capital
corresponds to bin Laden's apparent conviction that strikes against economic
targets can be particularly potent, especially at a time of global financial
crisis, according to Riedel.
There may also be a tactical dimension to the Mumbai attack that benefits al-Qaeda
and its allies, according to Riedel and other experts who compared its timing
and intent to the deadly suicide assault led by another ISI-backed group, Jaish-e-Muhammad,
on the Indian Parliament in mid-December 2001, just as US and allied Afghan
forces were chasing the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership in the mountains of
Tora Bora along the Pakistan border.
As tensions mounted in the aftermath of that assault, Pakistani troops stationed
at the Afghan border were diverted to the Indian border, thus facilitating the
escape of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and bin Laden, among others. "This
was undoubtedly not a coincidence," said Riedel.
With Pakistani troops currently engaged with Washington's strong encouragement
in heavy fighting against Islamabad's own Taliban insurgents along the Afghan
border, their redeployment eastwards to face Indian forces would be another
major blow for Washington's regional strategy.
(Inter Press Service)