Pakistan's Proxy War
The complexity of sorting out allies and adversaries in the war on terrorism.
11:00 PM, Nov 2, 2006 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
TWO SENIOR AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS met with India's foreign secretary last week. While the meeting received scant attention in the States, it was big news in India. According to Indian press accounts, the role Pakistan's intelligence service (the ISI) played in the July 11, 2006 Mumbai train bombings, which killed roughly 200 people, was one of the subjects discussed.
That India implicated Pakistan in the bombings is no surprise. Senior Indian officials have repeatedly tied the 7/11 bombings to the ISI. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently told reporters that there was "credible evidence" implicating the ISI. India's National Security Advisor offered a more nuanced account. M K Narayanan explained: "I would be hesitant to say we have clinching evidence. There are pieces in the puzzle missing, but I would say we do have petty good evidence [of ISI involvement]."
The ISI has used Islamist terrorists as part of its proxy war against India for decades. But it was hoped that peace talks with India would provide Pakistan with an incentive to limit, if not altogether close down, the operations of terrorists targeting India and Indian assets in Kashmir. If the 7/11 plot is conclusively traced back to the ISI, it would signal that there is little hope of Pakistan reining in terrorism.
For its part, Pakistan has denied any role in the bombings, dismissing the allegations as "propaganda." The Pakistani government also recently reaffirmed its commitment to a peace accord with India. But these matters are not nearly as clear cut as Pakistan's diplomatic pronouncements. It may be the case that the upper echelon of the Pakistani government, including President Musharraf, had no prior knowledge of, or direct role in, the Mumbai attack. Musharraf was quick to condemn it. But the ISI has long operated as a state within a state. It is possible that the ISI could have directed the attack without Musharraf's explicit endorsement. It is also possible, however, that Musharraf simply looked the other way on the ISI's activities, thereby giving the operation his implicit endorsement.
In either case, the intelligence collected on the ISI's alleged role in the bombing is vitally important to America's "war on terror."
PAKISTAN'S SUPPORT for America's war has been uneven. On the one hand, Musharraf's government has helped track down dozens of high-value al Qaeda operatives, interrupted terrorist attacks against Western targets (such as the plot to down more than one dozen airliners flying out of London earlier this year), and struck suspected terrorist training facilities inside Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan has effectively ceded control of North Waziristan to the Taliban and al Qaeda and released more than 2,500 Taliban and al Qaeda members from jail.
This duplicity may be explained, at least in part, by the ISI's continued desire to use al Qaeda's allies in its proxy war against India. Over the past several weeks, Indian authorities have publicly exposed Pakistan's hand in a variety of clandestine activities. For instance, a high-ranking Pakistani diplomat was expelled under suspicions of espionage. Pakistani efforts to infiltrate the Indian military have been exposed. On October 27, Indian authorities announced that two terrorists with ties to a well-known Pakistani terrorist group were arrested while plotting attacks.
Mumbai police have implicated 11 Pakistanis in the 7/11 attack. These subjects are reportedly connected to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistani Islamist group closely allied with both al Qaeda and the ISI. The LET has proven to be especially lethal in attacking Indian targets. In addition to the 7/11 bombings, India has accused the LET of executing numerous terrorist attacks, including the December 13, 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
Numerous senior al Qaeda operatives have been tied to the LET in one fashion or another. For example, top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was captured in a LET safe house in early 2002. But Zubaydah's capture, as well as the capture of other high-value LET members--who are imprisoned at terrorist detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay--was aided by Pakistani authorities.
We are left, therefore, with a puzzling set of circumstances. In some cases, it appears that the Pakistanis are more than willing to help hunt down LET members and their al Qaeda allies, at least when they are known to be targeting U.S. and western assets. But in other cases, it seems the Pakistanis are willing to work with the very same groups against their long-time rival, India.