INTERVIEW
 
Pakistan Army Link to Mumbai Suspects May Hurt Pledge
Bloomberg
December 3, 2008
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has promised full cooperation in investigating any role by his countrymen in last week's terrorist attack in Mumbai.

His military and intelligence agencies may be less accommodating, especially after India blamed the assault on a Pakistani group that they aided in the past.

The long-feuding neighbors' governments have been relatively restrained since the attacks to keep tensions from overheating, with India ruling out military retaliation. But both will feel internal pressure from resentments born of three wars fought since they separated at their independence from Britain in 1947.

“Pakistanis are hearing the Indian media blame all of Pakistan for this killing before there is any evidence,” said Ishtiaq Ahmed, an international relations professor at Quaid-i- Azam University in Islamabad. “So Pakistani nationalist sentiments have arisen,” which may prompt military and intelligence officials to resist cooperation that smacks of national humiliation.

K. Subramanyam, an Indian political commentator, expressed the opposing viewpoint in the Mail Today newspaper. “The whole world now knows that Pakistan has not changed its ways and its animosity towards the non-Muslim populations,” he wrote, referencing India's dominant Hindu religion.

No Reply

Pakistan's response to the attacks so far has been somewhat inconsistent.

It gave no formal reply yesterday to India's request that it destroy guerrilla training camps and extradite 20 men accused of attacks stretching back to the 1990s. Pakistan instead offered to help investigate the Mumbai assault through a joint commission led by the countries' national security advisers.

After the attacks, Zardari offered to send the ISI's chief, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, to meet Indian officials. When Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas voiced surprise at the move to Agence France-Presse, Zardari's government backed down and said another official may be sent later.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani yesterday summoned political leaders to seek consensus on how to respond to fallout from the attacks, which killed 195 people.

“Pakistan's response now depends on Mr. Zardari's skills, and his prime minister's, in convincing the parliament to bend backwards” to help India, said Ayesha Siddiqa, a military analyst and author. “That's the only way he can possibly neutralize resistance” from hardliners toward India.

Lashkar-e-Taiba

Officials cited by Indian news media say information provided by a gunman who survived last week's attacks, plus data from a satellite phone and a navigation device, show they were organized by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means “Army of the Pure,” and backs Pakistan's claims to the disputed region of Kashmir.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said yesterday the group behind last week's assault also carried out a 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, which authorities blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba. He didn't mention the group by name.

``These are stateless actors who are moving throughout this region,'' Zardari said in an interview with CNN's Larry King Live, according to a transcript. ``I've already offered to India full cooperation on this incident, and we intend to do that.''

Gilani told India's NDTV television yesterday that his government is waiting to see evidence of a Pakistan connection.

An investigation of Lashkar may lead to the Pakistan army's main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, because the ISI gave money and direction to the Islamist group as it conducted attacks in India in the 1990s, according to Husain Haqqani, a Boston University professor who is now Pakistan's ambassador in Washington.

Musharraf Ban

Under pressure from the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Pakistan's then-military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, banned Lashkar and other Pakistani organizations for having links to al-Qaeda, the Afghanistan-based group behind the Sept. 11 attacks. After being banned, Lashkar continued to operate, changing its name and repainting the signboards on its offices around the country.

In a 2005 book on links between Pakistan's army and militant groups, Ambassador Haqqani said that after Sept. 11, the ISI made a “severance payment” to leaders of Lashkar and like-minded groups “in return for their agreement to remain dormant for an unspecified duration.”

Two of those leaders -- former Lashkar chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Muhammad (Soldiers of Muhammad) faction -- are among those India wants extradited, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

On ABC News's “This Week” on Nov. 30, Haqqani said the Mumbai attackers may have come from Pakistan. He called them “non-state actors” and said Zardari's government has stepped up a campaign to uproot them.

Rice Visit

A key to Pakistan's response will be U.S. pressure, said Ahmed, the international relations professor. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is headed to India to discuss the Mumbai attack. She said on Dec. 1 that the U.S. expects Pakistan to give “complete, absolute, total transparency and cooperation” in following evidence about the attacks “wherever it leads.”

The U.S. wants to avoid a repetition of the Pakistani-Indian confrontation that followed an attack by guerrillas on India's parliament in December 2001. The two nuclear-armed countries rushed troops to their border and went to the brink of war.

Since 2003, the two have pursued a fitful peace process that has increased trade and coordination on security issues, including terrorism and their nuclear forces.

“It will be a disaster if this crisis gives hardliners the upper hand” in the two countries “and destroys this peace process,” said Ahmed. “That is why we need an active U.S. role, including in the actual investigation.”

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