x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The aftershocks from Mumbai

Accusations from India that Pakistan played a role in orchestrating the Mumbai attacks raises tension between the two nuclear-armed states. Pakistani security officials warn that they are ready to redeploy troops from the west toward the border if necessary, thereby applying pressure on the US to persuade India to back down. Indian security officials claim the Mumbai attackers came to the city by sea from the Pakistani port of Karachi.

"Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy," said US vice president-elect Joe Biden in late October, close to the end of the presidential campaign. "We're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis to test the mettle of this guy." Were the attacks in Mumbai designed to be the first such test? All too quickly, the geopolitical implications of the attacks are becoming manifest as tension rises between India and Pakistan. On Sunday, India said it had proof of a Pakistani link to the Mumbai attacks, while The News International reported that officials in Islamabad said the government was ready to move troops away from their positions in the west and redeploy them along the Indian border if necessary. "We'll take out everything from the western border. We won't leave anything there," said a senior security officer. India's minister of state for home affairs, Sriprakash Jaiswal, told Reuters: "Our intelligence will be increased to a war level, we are asking the state governments to increase security to a war level," and he added, "They can say what they want, but we have no doubt that the terrorists had come from Pakistan." The Times of India suggested that Pakistan is sending a blunt message to the US: "If you don't get India to back down, Pakistan will stop cooperating with US in the war against terror. Consequently, this also means Pakistan will use US dependence on its cooperation to wage a low-grade, asymmetric, terrorism-backed war against India. "Pakistan's withdrawal of troops from the Afghan front would obviously undermine the US/Nato battle in Afghanistan and allow breathing space for Taliban and al Qae'da. It would also ratchet up confrontation with India, which is at low ebb right now because Islamabad has been forced to engage on its western front and this minimises Pakistan-backed infiltration into Kashmir, allowing India to tackle the insurgency in the state. "In fact, some experts surmise that the terror strike on Mumbai may have been aimed at precisely this - taking the pressure off Pakistan on its Afghan front, where it is getting a battering from US predators and causing a civilian uprising on its border, and allowing Islamabad to return to its traditional hostile posture against India on its eastern front." In The New Yorker, Steve Coll suspends judgment about Pakistan's possible involvement in the latest attacks but points to a similar attack carried out by Kashmir-linked militants in 2001 against India's parliament. In that case: "The evidence was detailed and convincing enough that if the offending government were, say, Iran or Syria, there would be no doubt that the United States would seek international sanctions on the basis of the file. In this case and generally, Pakistan gets a pass in Kashmir not because the evidence about its activity is weak but because the United States and Europe fear that an isolated, sanctioned Pakistan would produce destabilisation and radicalisation. The Pakistan Army understands this international equation thoroughly and exploits the gaps - it is careful not to expose its direct fingerprints, and yet it is brazenly persistent in pursuit of its objective of military pressure against India in Kashmir and political-military pressure on India more broadly." William Dalrymple, writing in The Observer, places the issue of Kashmir in its historical context. "If Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is the most emotive issue for Muslims in the Middle East, then India's treatment of the people of Kashmir plays a similar role among South-Asian Muslims. At the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the state should logically have gone to Pakistan. However, the pro-Indian sympathies of the state's Hindu Maharajah, as well as the Kashmiri origins of the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, led to the state passing instead to India - on the condition that the Kashmiris retained a degree of autonomy. "Successive Indian governments, however, refused to honour their constitutional commitments to the state. The referendum, promised by Nehru at the UN, on whether the state would remain part of India, was never held. Following the shameless rigging of the 1987 local elections, Kashmiri leaders went underground. Soon after, bombings and assassination began, assisted by Pakistan's ISI which ramped up the conflict by sending over the border thousands of heavily armed jihadis. "India, meanwhile, responded with great brutality to the insurgency. Half-a-million Indian soldiers and paramilitaries were dispatched to garrison the valley. There were mass arrests and much violence against ordinary civilians, little of which was ever investigated, either by the government or the Indian media. Two torture centres were set up - Papa 1 and Papa 2 - into which large numbers of local people would 'disappear'. In all, some 70,000 people have now lost their lives in the conflict. India and Pakistan have fought three inconclusive wars over Kashmir, while a fourth mini-war came alarmingly close to igniting a nuclear exchange between the two countries in 1999. Now, after the Mumbai attacks, Kashmir looks likely to derail yet again the burgeoning peace process between India and Pakistan." The Sunday Telegraph was shown details from the interogation of the only surviving captured member of the unit which attacked Mumbai. Preparations for the attack began a year ago in an isolated mountain training camp in Muzaffarabad, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. "Ten terrorists dedicated to fighting for an independent Kashmir were selected for an operation from which they were likely never to return. "The tactics were relatively simple: to strike at multiple targets while simultaneously slaughtering as many civilians as possible before going 'static' in three of the locations within the city. "But such a plan would require a year of planning, reconnaissance, the covert acquisition of ships and speed boats as well as the forward basing of weapons and ammunition secretly hidden inside at least one hotel. "Nothing would be left to chance. Even the times of the tides were checked and rechecked to ensure that the terrorists would be able to arrive when their first target, the Cafe Leopold, was full of unsuspecting tourists enjoying the balmy Bombay (Mumbai) evening." Meanwhile, The Hindu reported that India's intelligence services issued at least three precise warnings that a major terrorist attack on Mumbai was imminent, according to highly-placed government sources. "On Nov 18, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) intercepted a satellite phone conversation, in which a so-far unidentified caller notified his handlers that he was heading for Mumbai along with a certain cargo. "RAW analysts, however, rapidly determined that the apparently innocuous call was made to a Lahore phone number known to be used by the Lashkar-e-Taiba's main military commander for operations targeting India, who is known only by the code-names 'Muzammil' and 'Abu Hurrera'. "Mumbai police investigators have determined that the call was made from a satellite phone that was eventually found abandoned on the Porbandar-based fishing boat Kuber, hijacked by the terrorists mid-ocean, most likely on Nov 19. The satellite phone also contains records of several other calls to Lashkar handlers in Pakistan." In The Independent, Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistan ambassador to the UK and the US, discussed her country's strategic importance to the United States and the need for the incoming administration to afford its ally greater respect. "Washington recognises that no country is more pivotal than Pakistan to its goals of defeating terrorism and stabilising Afghanistan. But this relationship is today held together only at the leadership level with the wider establishments and publics in both nations viewing the other with suspicion, even hostility. The trust deficit must be addressed as this will determine the quality of cooperation that Washington and Islamabad can mobilise to avert the chaos that now threatens to engulf the region. "President-elect Obama should break from the Bush legacy of treating Pakistan as hired help rather than valued ally. Pakistan has paid a heavy price for being America's frontline ally. Thousands of people, including 2,000 military personnel, have been killed in terrorist attacks since 2001. Economic losses are estimated at $34bn. "Three decades of strife in Afghanistan have taken a heavy toll on Pakistan. Bush's flawed Afghan strategy compounded by the fatal distraction of Iraq, widened the conflagration and pushed the war into Pakistan. "Obama has pledged a troop surge in Afghanistan. But without a fundamental change in strategy, this may increase the sense of occupation and mire the United States in a war without end. Moscow deployed more than 150,000 troops at the height of its occupation of Afghanistan and failed to avoid defeat. "A more realistic approach must start with redefining US goals, and distinguish between what is vital and attainable (disruption of terrorist networks) and what is desirable but best left for Afghans to undertake (transforming society). "So far Washington has lacked clarity about objectives and sought to eliminate terrorists, defeat the Taliban, transform society, and promote democracy. "This has fused Pashtun nationalism with Muslim radicalism, and fuelled the growing insurgency."

pwoodward@thenational.ae