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Stop pampering Pakistan's military

The Mumbai attacks underscore the importance of rooting out institutional support for terror.

By Brahma Chellaney / December 12, 2008

New Delhi

The recent Mumbai terrorist assaults underscore the imperative for a major change in American policy on Pakistan – a shift that holds the key to the successful outcome of both the war in Afghanistan and the wider international fight against transnational terror.

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First, if the US does not insist on getting to the bottom of who sponsored and executed the attacks in India's commercial and cultural capital, the Mumbai attacks will probably be repeated in the West. After all, India has served as a laboratory for transnational terrorists, who try out new techniques against Indian targets before seeking to replicate them in other pluralistic states.

Novel strikes first carried out against Indian targets and then perpetrated in the West include attacks on symbols of state authority, the midair bombing of a commercial jetliner, and coordinated strikes on a city transportation system.

By carrying out a series of simultaneous murderous rampages after innovatively arriving by sea, the Mumbai attackers have set up a model for use against other jihadist targets. The manner in which the world was riveted as a band of 10 young terrorists – nearly all from Punjab Province in Pakistan – held India hostage for three days is something jihadists would love to replicate elsewhere.

Second, let's be clear: The scourge of Pakistani terrorism emanates not so much from the Islamist mullahs as from generals who reared the forces of jihad and fathered the Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group reportedly behind the Mumbai attacks.

Facing growing international pressure to hunt down the Mumbai masterminds, Pakistan's government raided a militant camp in Kashmir Sunday. Yet civil-military relations in Pakistan are so skewed that the present civilian government is powerless to check the sponsorship of terrorist elements by the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, or even to stop the Army's meddling in foreign policy. Until civilian officials can stand up to these institutions, Pakistan will neither become a normal state nor cease to be a "Terroristan" for international security.

US policy, however, still props up the Pakistan military through generous aid and weapon transfers. Even as Pakistan has emerged as a common thread in the investigations of most acts of international terror, US policy continues to be governed by a consideration dating back to the 1950s. Washington has to stop viewing, and building up, the military as Pakistan's pivot. By fattening the Pakistani military, America has, however inadvertently, allowed that institution to maintain cozy ties with terrorist groups.