Mumbai after-shocks rattle Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
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
At the same time, because of the threat of Indian strikes, all militant
training camps in Muzzafarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir,
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
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
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
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]