Mumbai after-shocks rattle Pakistan
KARACHI - Ten young men from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) were sent on a "sacrificial" mission to Mumbai. Nine of them were killed - as they were expected to be - in battles with Indian security forces during their three-day rampage last week.
What did not go according to plan was the capture of 21-year-old Ajmal Amir Kesab, who has given details of the militants' plot that was hatched by elements of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the LET, including the training of the mission's members at PNS Iqbal (a naval commando unit in Karachi) and at Mangla Dam near the capital Islamabad.
This single arrest has played very badly with the separate plans of
Pakistan's strategic quarters, the LET and al-Qaeda. And beyond the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan, the crucial question now arises: Will Pakistan succumb to Washington's pressure to meaningfully clamp down on the LET - it is already banned - and the ISI forward section officers whose collusion resulted the Mumbai saga?
"Everybody wishes for a war between India and Pakistan," a middle-ranking member of the LET told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. "Had prayers not been prohibited for the battle to happen, today all mujahideen would have been praying Qunoot-i-Nazela for battle between India and Pakistan as this is the key for success for the mujahideen from Afghanistan to India." (The Qunoot-i-Nazala is a prayer offered when there is extreme pressure from the enemy and God is asked to remove all fear and pressure and grant victory.)
The militants obviously want their war, but the United States now wants war on the militants, and therein lies a major problem.
US Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is in Islamabad, as is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, following her visit to India. Asia Times Online contacts say that Mullen's overriding message will be for Pakistan to get serious about the LET, which has renamed itself Jamaatut Dawa, and the ISI officers involved in the Mumbai plot.
ATol earlier outlined how a low-level ISI forward section head (a major) allowed what was a plan to attack Kashmir in India to be turned into the Mumbai assault. See Al-Qaeda 'hijack' led to Mumbai attack December 2.) Ironically, it was as a result of US pressure that changes were made at the top levels of the ISI, resulting in the situation in which the major was able to make his fateful decision, seemingly without the knowledge of his superiors.
Washington's pressure now puts the Pakistani military on the spot, and it will be a real test for new Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, and the army's relationship with militants.
The chief of the Jamaatut Dawa, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, was in Sukkur, a city 363 kilometers north of the southern port city of Karachi, on November 26 and was scheduled to travel to Karachi. But after the Mumbai attack on November 27, he was urgently summoned to Rawalpindi, the garrison city twinned with Islamabad, to attend a high-profile meeting held in the Office of Strategic Organization.
He was told that the Indian air force was on high alert and asked what possible plans he had if India unleashed a war. Saeed assured that the LET would be the first line of defense against the Indian navy in the Arabian Sea through its marine operations, and that it would escalate its activities in India and Kashmir. He added that he would tell militants in Pakistan's troubled North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to hold their fire against the Pakistani security forces.
At the same time, because of the threat of Indian strikes, all militant training camps in Muzzafarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, were evacuated.
A top-level ISI official then held a background briefing for journalists in Islamabad in which he said if India mobilized its forces along the border, all Pakistani forces would be withdrawn from NWFP, where they are fighting Taliban and other militants. Controversially, he said that hardline Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and others would support Pakistan if India waged war on the country.
Further, the Pakistani security forces initiated a dialogue process with the Taliban in the Swat Valley to discuss terms and conditions for pulling out the Pakistani troops.
An almost perfect plan
The Mumbai attack relied on local al-Qaeda-linked militants (Indian Mujahideen) such as Abdus Subhan Qureshi (Tauqir). He had cased the Jewish community center that was attacked and where several people were killed. His information was that it was being used by Israeli intelligence - Mossad.
Information on such key targets was passed on to the LET, and its well-trained commandos then carried out their meticulously planned operation in which only 10 men held Mumbai hostage for 72 hours.
Abdus Subhan had planned other attacks on Indian strategic targets immediately after the Mumbai attack, but Kasab's arrest prevented this through his revelations of his LET background.
Washington appears to accept that the Mumbai attack was not carried out at the behest of Islamabad or the Pakistan army, or even by the ISI's high command. But there is now proof of the involvement of the LET and of some junior ISI officials. It is on this point that the US will apply pressure on Islamabad: it must curtail such militants. But there is a problem.
Militants tighten their grip
The situation in NWFP is spiraling out of control, with militancy spilling over from the tribal areas into this province.
In the past four days, militants have abducted a record 60 people from the provincial capital Peshawar, most of them retired army officers and members or relatives of the Awami National Party (ANP), which rules in the province. The Taliban have butchered many people with affiliations to the ANP or those with relatives in the security apparatus.
Meanwhile, North Atlantic Treaty Organization supply convoys passing through Khyber Agency en route to Afghanistan have come under increasing attacks. In the most recent incident, militants destroyed 40 containers in supposedly secure terminals in the middle of Peshawar.
In this anarchic situation, the Jamaatut Dawa (LET), with its well-defined vertical command structure under the single command of Saeed, could commit its several thousand members, virtually a para-military force, to the cause of the anti-state al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani militants.
What has stopped the anti-India orientated group from doing this is its under-riding loyalty to and support from Pakistan. If the authorities start to mess with the LET, beyond the routine rhetoric, all hell could break loose inside the country.
Similarly, if pressure is placed on the ISI, there could be a severe reaction from the more hardline elements in that organization, as well as in the military.
To date, the authorities have not given any indication of their plans. If they do indeed resist the overtures of Mullen and Rice, it is most likely that the Pakistani armed forces will withdraw from the Swat Valley and Bajaur Agency, leaving that area open for the Taliban-led insurgency n Afghanistan. Militants can also be expected to launch further attacks on India, with dire consequences for whole South Asia region.
Yet the alternative of cracking down on the LET is equally unappealing, and potentially as disastrous.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at [email protected]