Mumbai attack: Pak role under scrutiny
Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN | November 27, 2008
WASHINGTON: Strategic gurus and security analysts in the US and from across the world are examining Pakistan's role in terrorism following yet another terror episode in India ending with fingers pointed at its widely-reviled neighbour.
While initial reports from India suggested the Mumbai carnage was a localised attack by militant malcontents in India because of the "Deccan Mujaheddin" decoy that was used to claim responsibility, evidence cited by Indian army and security experts based on phone intercepts, nature of weaponry, mode of entry by sea etc., has quickly focused the attention on Pakistan.
The statement by India's normally cautious and restrained prime minister, Manmohan Singh, that groups based across the border, a thinly-disguised reference to Pakistan, has also galvanized the strategic and security community into examining Islamabad's role in the region that has already been subjected to scrutiny in the past.
"From a tactical perspective most terrorist attacks in India have been carried out through the use of improvised explosive devices planted on bicycles, motorcycles and cars, and triggered by timers or mobile telephones. In contrast, according to press reports, the attackers involved in the latest Mumbai violence were armed only with Kalashnikov assault rifles, principally, and hand grenades," Jane's Country Risk Daily Report noted in an assessment on Thursday that discounted an internal insurgent attack.
The report also said the apparent focus on killing or capturing foreign businesspeople, specifically US and UK nationals, which has never occurred before, also suggested "a wider global anti-Western agenda." This stands in contrast to the national issues that appeared to motivate Indian Mujahideen, it said.
Experts also said the heavy weaponry, grenades, and the sustained attack pointed to intense training and planning beyond the scope of indigenous groups.
Other intelligence experts and websites also zeroed in on Pakistan's role in the region. "There have been reports from credible sources for years that Pakistani intelligence has used terrorist groups to conduct war-by-proxy against traditional rival India. With the latest horrific attacks throughout Mumbai, evidence continues to accumulate that may add new substance to such reports," the website Washington Examiner noted.
US officials and lawmakers refrained from naming Pakistan, but their condemnation of "Islamist terrorism" left little doubt where their anxieties lay. "It is often said that India and America have a natural bond as the two largest democracies. Today, we share a bond of a common enemy: what the 9/11 Commission identified as Islamist terrorism. Islamist ideology is spreading across South Asia, and must be stamped out," California Congressman Ed Royce said.
What has added potency to the latest charges against Islamabad is the Bush administration's own assessment - leaked to the US media - that Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI was linked to the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul some weeks back that killed nearly 60 people including a much-admired Indian diplomat and a respected senior defense official.
This time, the US scrutiny is more intense because American, Israeli, and other western nationals appear to have been singled out during the carnage. Hundreds of Indians have died in dozens of terrorist attacks in India in the past two decades without Washington losing too much sleep over it. In fact, Indian officials have often complained in private that successive US administrations have been incredibly indulgent about Pakistan's brazen involvement in fomenting terror in India, believing it would not touch the US.
Part of the coddling goes back to US patronage of the ISI during the Afghan war. As a result, Washington has done little to bring to book Dawood Ibrahim, a terrorist charged with masterminding the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993 that took 258 lives, although Indian intelligence agencies have identified him as living in Karachi under ISI protection.
The US has also said Dawood Ibrahim is linked to al-Qaida. While all major terror attacks in India are typically accompanied by knee-jerk charges from India and shrill denials by Pakistan, analysts point to mounting evidence that the Pakistan state, especially under its military, has done little to combat the scourge of terrorism. Several terrorist and extremist leaders such as Masood Azhar and "Prof" Hafeez Mohammed Saeed, continue to thrive in Pakistan, often under official patronage. Extremists openly preach terrorism in jihadi gatherings overseen by ISI.
The Pakistani establishment has also dragged its feet on prosecuting Omar Saeed Sheikh, an accused in the Daniel Pearl murder because of his influential connections in the higher echelons of the ISI. Another terrorist Rashid Rauf, also known as the shoe-bomber, was killed last week in a US predator strike, months after he 'escaped' from Pakistani police custody while being escorted for a hearing. Western and Indian intelligence communities believe men like Sheikh and Rauf are protected by the ISI or rogue elements in the ISI.
The Bush administration has pressed for a purging of the ISI of its rogue and extremist elements, but the new civilian government in Pakistan, which has made better relations with India a priority, is finding it hard to do it. Hard-line militaristic elements in Pakistan have fuming about the overtures made by both President Asif Ali Zardari and opposition leader Nawaz Sharief towards India.
The Pakistani military, which controls the ISI, has resisted any attempt to make it subservient to the civilian government because the army uses it both as a fighting arm for its proxy war against India and also to spy on its own civilian government.
Among the several question that security experts are grappling is the motive behind the latest attack and who stands to gain by it. The terrorists have notably not even raised the Kashmir issue for their action to be linked to the separatist cause. Nor did they attempt to extract any specific concession in exchange for hostages, other than to demand the release of "all mujaheddin," according to one report.
They seemed intent on causing mayhem and dying in the same suicidal jihadi manner that was evident in the attack on India’s parliament and on the Akshardham temple earlier in this decade. Their victims, besides the scores of people who died, included India’s booming economy and tourism, both of which was the envy of a troubled neighbourhood.