US challenge after Mumbai: cooling India-Pakistan tensions

Even if the perpetrators came from Pakistan, the Mumbai massacre, like the murder of Benazir Bhutto and the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott, proves that India and Pakistan share a common enemy in jihadist terrorism — and they need to put their six decades of mutual hostility behind them in order to fight the extremists.

So goes the narrative that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials are trying to sell both sides in order to avoid an escalation of tensions that would threaten regional stability and undermine U.S. goals in Afghanistan. But while Pakistan’s civilian government enthusiastically echoes that perspective, it’s a tough sell with the players that count most in this instance: India’s government, and Pakistan’s military.

Publicly, Rice has talked up the idea that Pakistan is now ruled by a democratic civilian government committed to eradicating militant groups from Pakistani soil, and making peace with India. But neither Pakistan’s generals nor India’s political leadership have any doubt about who controls the critical levers of power in Pakistan — and it’s not the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

Witness Islamabad’s response to India’s call for the chief of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) organization to visit India to assist the investigation. The ISI is an arm of the Pakistani military that has long cultivated jihadist groups ranging from the Taliban to Lashkar e-Toiba (LeT), prime suspect in the Mumbai massacre. Pakistan’s government immediately announced that Lieutenant General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha would fly to India to comply with New Delhi’s request. A day later, however, Pakistan changed its tune — reportedly following a midnight meeting between army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani, on one side, and Zardari and his prime minister, on the other, — and said a more junior official would be sent instead. To date, no one has gone. So nobody believes the ISI takes its orders from the civilian government. In fact, when the government tried earlier this year to put the ISI under the control of the Interior Ministry, it was quickly sent packing. [continued…]

Mumbai attack is test for Pakistan on curbing militants

Mounting evidence of links between the Mumbai terrorist attacks and a Pakistani militant group is posing the stiffest test so far of Pakistan’s new government, raising questions whether it can — or wants to — rein in militancy here.

President Asif Ali Zardari says his government has no concrete evidence of Pakistani involvement in the attacks, and American officials have not established a direct link to the government. But as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice landed in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Thursday morning, pressure was building on the government to confront the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which Indian and American officials say carried out the Mumbai attacks.

Though officially banned, the group has hidden in plain sight for years. It has had a long history of ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. The evidence of its hand in the Mumbai attacks is accumulating from around the globe:

¶A former Defense Department official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that American intelligence analysts suspect that former officers of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency and its army helped train the Mumbai attackers.

¶According to the Indian police, the one gunman who survived the terrorist attacks, Muhammad Ajmal Kasab, 21, told his interrogators that he trained during a year and half in at least four camps in Pakistan and at one met with Mohammad Hafeez Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba leader.

¶And according to a Western official familiar with the investigation in Mumbai, another Lashkar leader, Yusuf Muzammil, whom the surviving gunman named as the plot’s organizer, fielded phone calls in Lahore from the attackers.

Many of the charges against Lashkar originate from investigators in India, which has a long history of hostility with Pakistan. The United States shares an interest with India in shutting down Pakistani militant groups that pose threats to its soldiers in Afghanistan. [continued…]

Rice says Pakistan pledges to help find suspects

Both India and Pakistan are facing immense internal pressure not to back down.

Behind the scenes, one Indian government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the latest crisis pointed out the weakness of the five-year-old peace effort between the countries, including information-sharing about attacks and investigations. As was the case in recent days, he said, Pakistan would invariably take the leads that India gave it and return at the next meeting saying that the information did not check out.

“Public opinion is not going to accept that there’s a dialogue going on, and every few months you’re getting hit,” he said. “This is a democratic country. Public opinion counts.”

Speaking of Pakistan’s failure to stamp out known militant leaders on its soil, he added, with visible frustration, “What benefit of the doubt can be given if you don’t take any action?”

Mr. Zardari has made emotional statements promising cooperation and unity with India’s government in the days since the attacks but there were doubts about how much he could actually deliver.

In recent days, American and European officials have told Mr. Zardari that he must immediately and permanently deal with Lashkar-e-Taiba, and its related charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which many see as a recruiting tool for the militant organization.

But Mr. Zardari is likely to find dealing with these groups to be an epic task in a country where Islamic political parties and charities play a popular role, often filling the breach of a government vacuum in schools and social services. [continued…]

How not to fight terror

As shock gives way to anger following the terrorist attack on Mumbai last week, Indians are demanding answers and action from their government. Meanwhile, even before the last gunman was killed, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seized upon the attack as a political bludgeon to finish off the already weak Congress Party-led government. As the government scrambles to respond to what some are calling India’s “9/11,” the BJP is baying for blood, accusing it of being weak on terror and of cravenly coddling Muslims to keep their votes. Their solution: Bring back the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

This is pure political grandstanding. It is true that the response of Indian authorities to terrorism has been frustrating. But the answer to preventing more attacks and to responding more effectively to attacks when they do occur does not lie in resurrecting old anti-terror measures that were scrapped for good reasons, nor in inventing new ones worse than their predecessors. Most dangerously, the BJP’s strident calls to restore POTA rely on the misguided conflation of Islamist terrorists and Indian Muslim citizens, the vast majority of which are neither Islamists nor terrorists.

It also derives from a facile assimilation of India’s experience of terrorism with that of the United States. Hence, the naming of the attack on Mumbai as “India’s 9/11” is being used by the BJP to call for a copycat response modeled on the Bush administration’s after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.

It is supremely ironic that the BJP is clamoring for India to embrace the tactics instigated by the Bush administration—passage of the Patriot Act, pre-emptive attacks on countries deemed potential threats, the use of torture, rejection of the Geneva Convention, “extraordinary rendition” to neutralize suspected terrorists, the establishment of admitted (Guantanamo) and secret facilities for the indefinite detention of supposed terrorist suspects, secret monitoring of the personal communications of U.S. citizens and of legal civil society groups—at precisely the moment when a change of government in the U.S. signals a growing repudiation of these tactics. While many experts in the United States and members of the incoming Obama administration have criticized the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 as dangerously counter-productive, the BJP wants nothing more than to ape it. [continued…]

Mukasey sees no necessity for pardons in terror war

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Wednesday that he saw no need for President Bush to issue blanket pardons of officials involved in some of the administration’s most controversial counterterrorism policies.

Mr. Mukasey told reporters that there was “absolutely no evidence” that anyone involved in developing the policies “did so for any reason other than to protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful.”

The comments appeared aimed at tamping down speculation that Mr. Bush, before leaving the White House next month, might issue pre-emptive pardons to protect counterterrorism officials from legal jeopardy in the face of possible criminal investigations by the new Democratic administration.

The attorney general has said repeatedly in recent months that he sees no need for criminal investigations into the administration’s policies in the campaign against terrorism, and he rejected calls from Congressional Democrats in July for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate whether there had been violations of law.

But before his remarks to reporters at a round-table discussion on Wednesday, neither he nor anyone at the White House had publicly discussed the prospect of blanket pardons for counterterrorism officials. [continued…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: December 4

  1. Carol Elkins

    Well yes, pre-emptive pardons do assume guilt! The one that I think would need a pardon would be Schumer, for sponsoring Mukasey’s appointment. Although it is true that I’m just kidding, I can’t get over the fact that Schumer did that, and has never apologized or admitted what a blunder he made!

Comments are closed.