Pakistan pressed on India attacks

Condoleezza Rice calls for Pakistan's 'cooperation.' She will visit India Wednesday.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

After a weekend of frantic calls pleading for India to refrain from retaliation for the attacks that killed 185 people in Mumbai (Bombay), US pressure is turning toward Pakistan.

On her way to London and then New Delhi, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters Monday that "this is a time for complete, absolute, total transparency and cooperation" from Pakistan.

It is acknowledgment that mounting evidence suggeststhe involvement of Pakistani militants in Mumbai – and that Pakistan might be loath to admit it.

Recommended: Expert Q&A: Who is Hafiz Saeed and why the $10 million bounty?

It also reflects concern that rising tension between the neighboring nations over the attacks might divert Pakistan's attention – and even troops – from the fight against militants on its border with Afghanistan.

Already pulled between US pressure in its war on terror and financial collapse, Pakistan will probably face renewed demands from its longtime rival: control militants targeting India, or else.

On Monday, India said it had told Pakistan's envoy that militants from Pakistan had carried out the attacks, and it demanded swift action against those responsible.

It would be a difficult and enormously unpopular task to uproot groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba – the militants the Indian police have linked to the Mumbai attacks. "International pressure is needed" to get India and Pakistan to talk constructively on this point, says Ahmed Rashid, an independent political analyst in Lahore.

No senior Indian official has yet accused Lashkar-e-Taiba openly. Both the prime minister and foreign minister have spoken only generally that "elements with links to Pakistan" were involved. Indeed, two days after the shooting stopped, there remain questions about the attackers.

Though Indian officials claimed that there were only 10 terrorists, investigators found supplies for 15 men on the boat that carried the militants to the Mumbai coast, according to the Indian Express. It suggests some militants might have escaped.

In addition, an antiterrorism squad official interviewed by The New York Times refuted the idea that all of the terrorists were from Pakistan.

But numerous reports quote police officials saying that they believe the militants were trained in Pakistan. The most likely culprit is Lashkar-e-Taiba. According to a police official, the only gunman captured alive after the attacks claimed to belong to the militant group, which was created in 1989 to foment insurgency in Kashmir. The group has denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's civilian government has gone to great lengths to insist that it will honestly investigate any claim that Pakistanis were involved. In an interview Sunday with The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, he stated that "if any evidence points to any individual or group in my part of the country, I shall take the strictest of actions ... without any hesitation."

Yet the old fault lines that have made the India-Pakistan problem so intractable show signs of resurfacing.

Shortly after the attacks, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made an unprecedented offer to send the head of Pakistan's top intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), to India to clear the air. The offer was promptly withdrawn; neither the country nor the Army would tolerate it. Indian accusations of a Pakistani hand in the attacks have been branded as a "smear campaign" by news outlets, which have told the government to counter "Indian aggression."

It points to a coming test. India does not want to provoke Pakistan further, says C. Raja Mohan, a political analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. That would only strengthen the hawkish elements in Pakistan's public and Army, he says.

Instead, "Let's test out what Zardari is saying," he says. "Is he serious about acting against these groups?"

The problem is that Mr. Zardari's government is probably too weak to take such action, even if there is convincing evidence.

"This is going to be extremely difficult for the government if it is asked [by India] to go after Kashmiri-based militants," says Hassan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst in Lahore. "It would be suicidal for the government to begin a wide crackdown without taking everyone at home aboard first."

On Sunday, Mr. Gilani called a conference of political leaders to discuss the current situation. But winning support to go after Kashmir-based militants is unlikely. The Pakistani Army is already stretched by operations against militants along the Afghan border. And while that war is unpopular in Pakistan, a move against Kashmiri militants would be hugely more so. Most Pakistanis believe that India illegally occupied Muslim-majority Kashmir in 1947, and the countries have fought two wars over the territory since.

"A large number of people believe in the legitimacy of jihad in Kashmir," says Rifaat Hussein, a military analyst at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

Moreover, the Army has mostly ignored Lashkar-e-Taiba since signing a cease-fire with India in 2004, allowing the banned group to regain its former strength, according to several analysts. Part of this could be intentional.

Though the Army may be willing to go after certain militant groups in Kashmir, it would still be hesitant to crack down on those who are strategically engaging the Indian Army in Kashmir, says Ikram Sehgal, editor of the Defence Journal in Karachi and a retired Army major.

In recent years, Lashkar-e-Taiba has built ties with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It has coordinated many of the suicide attacks in Pakistan on the Taliban's behalf, says Mr. Rashid, who also wrote the book "Taliban."

"Lashkar-e-Taiba is the hit squad for Al Qaeda and the Taliban," Rashid says.

These links could explain the Mumbai attacks, he adds. Lashkar-e-Taiba is suspected of attacking the Indian Parliament in 2001, essentially to create a diversion.

Suspecting Pakistani involvement in the attacks, India deployed troops along its western border. In response Pakistan pulled its forces from its western border with Afghanistan in preparation for a potential war with India. In the meantime, Al Qaeda leaders escaped US forces in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, and crept across the thinly guarded western border.

The Mumbai attacks could be an attempt at a repeat performance, Rashid suggests, with Al Qaeda and the Taliban now seeking respite from the Pakistani Army's increasingly intense offensive, as well as the US campaign of airstrikes.

The goal is again to bring India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

"If India decides to build military pressure, Pakistan will have no choice but to start redeploying its forces to its eastern border as well," says Ejaz Haider, a newspaper editor for a national English daily.

Rice's comments hint at the Indian strategy for challenging anti-India militants in Pakistan: build international support. It was international pressure that forced Pakistan to outlaw Lashkar-e-Taiba after the 2001 attack. International pressure also persuaded Pakistan to go after militants on its Afghan border.

"Similar pressure will be needed here," says Mr. Mohan.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...