Monday, December 1, 2008

The Mumbai Attacks

"I think it's possible Pakistan's government - meaning the Zardari contingent - would be happy to have Kashmir, and thus India, off their mind. But convincing the ISI is another matter. The ISI have collaborated openly with the Taliban and actually prefer that they are in control in Afghanistan as a guard against India... The real heart of this matter is the relationship between, and ability to project force by, the ISI and the Pakistani government... if the ISI is able to undermine Zardari at every step, collaborate with [terrorist organizations] when helpful, and stand in a position to scoop up power if Zardari falls, then we'll never make any progress." - From "Afghanistan and Friends" Obama White House Chronicle, November 13, 2008

My earlier assessment of the Pakistani government's untenable position - squeezed by pressures from Washington, New Delhi, Waziristan, and the Pakistani population - seems quaint as the fallout from the Mumbai attacks develops. In the post quoted above, I think I overstated the position of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as a sort of "renegade" portion of Pakistan's political/military structure. It is likely, instead, that either portions of the ISI are functioning off the reservation, or that the agency has wholly lost control of the "non-state" (read, "terrorist") actors they'd cultivated in the early 1990's to aid in an asymmetric war against India focused in the disputed Kashmir territory.

There is no definitive assessment as to who was responsible for the Mumbai attacks, yet. The only group to have claimed responsibility is called "Deccan Mujahideen," a previously unknown group named for the Deccan Plateau in India. Deccan Mujahideen may be a new terrorist group, or just an invented name intended to accentuate a religious fault-line in Indian society. As Robert Kaplan wrote of the name's symbolism in The Atlantic the other day:

"The Deccan is a rugged plateau region in south-central India that Aurangzeb, the fierce Sunni emperor of the Mughals (India’s most historically significant Muslim dynasty) could never subdue and in fact died trying in 1707. The Islamic Mughals vanquished all of northern India, Pakistan, and a good part of Afghanistan, but they could never consolidate the Deccan against the Hindu Maratha warriors. This Mughal history has taken on heightened symbolism in India in recent years precisely as a result of globalization and the expansion of electronic communications and education, all of which have sharpened the country’s religious divide."

At the moment, most accusing fingers are pointed at the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Formed in 1991 in Afghanistan, LeT likely received training and equipment from the ISI as it functioned in Kashmir against India. LeT was banned in Pakistan in 2002 by then-President Musharraf after US pressure and, supposedly, the ISI severed ties with the organization. There are accusations in newspapers and blogs and public statements by Indian officials that the ISI was complicit in the Mumbai attacks. But it's probably more complicated than that.

If the ISI is innocent in this instance, it didn't do itself any favors by helping an Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group in Afghanistan bomb the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7 of this year. After that attack, American officials concerned about the ISI's relationship with terrorist organizations began to pressure Pakistan to replace then ISI-Director Nadeem Taj who they suspected of collaborating, when convenient to Pakistani interests, with terrorist groups. Shortly thereafter, the new Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, engaged in a power-struggle for civilian control of the ISI with Chief of the Army, General Kayani. Kayani won and appointed Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Director of the ISI. Pasha is seen as a staunchly anti-Taliban pick that allayed US concerns of ISI dealings with terrorist organizations.

But the fact that ISI leadership may be moving away from unsteady alliances with terrorist groups might be irrelevant. As an article from November 27, 2008 published on the Council on Foreign Relations' website states; "Shuja Nawaz, author of the book Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within, says the ISI 'has certainly lost control' of Kashmiri militant groups. According to Nawaz, some of the groups trained by the ISI to fuel insurgency in Kashmir have been implicated in bombings and attacks within Pakistan, therefore making them army targets."

The heart of this is who stands to gain the most from a soured relationship between Pakistan and India? Pakistani President Zardari truly does want a better relationship with India as he knows it will be hard enough to defeat his enemies in-country, nevermind a nation of 1.5 billion people that is also nuclear-armed. The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has been criticized for being too soft towards Pakistan while terrorist attacks in India rise. So the leadership of both nations seem more interested in reconciliation than retaliation. The ISI would have something to gain if the leadership does in fact have aspirations to execute a coup d'etat and unseat the civilian elected government. More likely, if the ISI was involved in the Mumbai attacks, with a roster of 10,000+ members, there could easily be ISI agents sympathetic to LeT or whatever group carried out the attack, and willing to provide logistics, training, and equipment. A group like LeT would also promote its ends with such an attack, especially by claiming an in-house Indian group was responsible, by hoping to foment tension and aggression between the Hindu population in India and its 150 million Muslim citizens.

Another aspect of this attack, which may well be coincidental as most indications are this included a year of planning, is its timing after Barack Obama's election. Obama, as this blog has previously mentioned, recently expressed a desire to bring India and Pakistan together to resolve the Kashmir issue and ease some international pressure off Pakistan in the process. Both governments responded hotly to this suggestion, and the attack on Mumbai may make that reconciliation unlikely. Obama will simply have to hope that calmer heads prevail until he takes office. Any explicit aggression from one country to the other could push them both beyond a point of no return.
(Ed. Note: As a part of my informal and probably never-ending series, "The Awfulness of CNN," I'd just like to congratulate the worst news organization in the world for endangering the lives of a British couple who called the network while trapped in one of the Mumbai hotels to report on the situation. The clever folk at CNN promptly reported the location of the couple and gunmen in the hotel, watching the news, saw the report of their location and began searching for them. Fortunately, the couple got away. To reiterate: CNN, you're utter garbage. Please shut up and go away.)

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