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.
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.
One break from this policy approach would be the idea currently being discussed in Washington – to tie further US aid to a reconfiguration of the Pakistani military to effectively fight militants. The nearly $11 billion in US military aid to Pakistan since 9/11 has been diverted to beef up forces against India. Such diversion, however, is part of a pattern that became conspicuous in the 1980s when the ISI agency siphoned off billions of dollars from the covert CIA assistance meant for anti-Soviet guerrillas in Afghanistan.
For too long, Washington has allowed politically expedient considerations to override its long-term interests.
The US must actively encourage the elected leaders in Pakistan to gain full control over all of their country's national-security apparatus, including the nuclear establishment and ISI. And to forestall a military coup in response to such action, Washington should warn the generals of serious action, including possible indictment in The Hague.
The ISI, a citadel of Islamist sentiment and a key source of support to the Taliban and other terrorist groups supporting jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, should be restructured or disbanded. State-reared terror groups and their splinter cells, some now operating autonomously, have morphed into a hydra.
US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, like border troops in India, have been trying to stop the inflow of terrorists and arms from Pakistan. The real problem, however, is not at the Pakistani frontiers with Afghanistan and India. Rather it is the terrorist sanctuaries deep inside Pakistan that continue to breed extremism and export terrorism.
Since the economic viability of Pakistan depends on continued US aid as well as on US support for multilateral institutional lending, Washington has the necessary leverage. Further aid should be linked to definitive measures by Pakistan to sever institutional support to extremism. Only when the institutional support for terrorism is irrevocably cut off will the sanctuaries for training, command, control, and supply begin to wither away.
Unless the US reverses course on Pakistan, it will begin losing the war in Afghanistan. While America did make sincere efforts in the aftermath of the Mumbai assaults, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, personally visiting Islamabad to exert pressure, US diplomacy remains limited by Washington's continuing overreliance on the Pakistani military.
Before the chickens come home to roost, the US pampering of the Pakistani military has to end.