In the war on terror, Islamabad is both with us and against us.
Just two days after the gunmen's siege in Mumbai ended, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari went on CNN's Larry King Live to plead his case. Even before the Indian authorities had brought the rampage to an end, they were laying blame on their neighbor to the north. And Zardari wanted the world to know they were wrong. "This is not the time to point fingers," Zardari protested. "The state of Pakistan is in no way responsible."
Instead, Zardari said, "I think these are stateless actors who have been operating all throughout the region. . . . The gunmen plus the planners, whoever they are, [are] stateless actors who have been holding hostage the whole world."
Zardari was partly right. In all likelihood, neither he nor his supporters had anything to do with the attacks. So, if you define the "state of Pakistan" as the president and his immediate cohorts, his words ring true. Of course, there is more to Pakistan's government, including its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the powerful military intelligence organization over which Zardari exerts little control. And there are good reasons to suspect that the ISI had a hand in the Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 180 people and wounded nearly 300.
The United States and India have named the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) terror organization as the main perpetrator of the attacks. Indian authorities captured the lone gunman to survive the assault, and he reportedly admitted being trained by the LET. India also claims to have intercepted phone conversations between the Mumbai attackers and one of the LET's leaders in Pakistan. The full investigation will take some time to unfold, so it is too early to name all of those responsible. It is, however, a safe bet that the LET was heavily involved.
Contrary to President Zardari's claims, the LET is no "stateless actor." In fact, the LET is and always was a creature of the ISI.
Throughout the war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United States, as well as other states, all sponsored the Afghan resistance fighters or mujahedeen. But Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were principally responsible for creating and sponsoring the most radical Islamic terrorist groups within the mujahedeen's ranks. This nexus is what first gave us Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and, later, Mullah Omar's Taliban.
The same nexus also gave us the LET. In fact, bin Laden and his spiritual mentor, Abdullah Azzam, reportedly played instrumental roles in the LET's founding. In the late 1980s, they met with members of the Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI), an Islamist political party in Pakistan, and convinced its leaders to create a militant wing responsible for waging jihad in Kashmir. The result was the LET. And the struggle for control of Jammu and Kashmir, territory sandwiched between China, India, and Pakistan that had been disputed since the partition of 1947, would never be the same.
As the war in Afghanistan came to an end, the ISI began to reallocate its resources. The jihadists had proven their merit as guerrilla fighters, and the ISI found it convenient to use them elsewhere. Veterans of the Afghan conflict formed the LET's first cadres, and, using Saudi cash, the ISI quickly expanded the LET's operations. By the early 1990s, the LET emerged as one of the ISI's primary instruments for waging its proxy war against Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir.
The consequences of the ISI's decision are plain to see. The conflict over Kashmir was relatively terror-free in the late 1980s, but just a few years later Islamist terrorist groups were launching thousands of attacks. As Praveen Swami, a reporter for Frontline magazine in New Delhi, explains in his book India, Pakistan, and the Secret Jihad, there were only 7 terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir in 1988. In 1992, there were 3,920. The total number of civilians killed per year, including Muslims, increased from less than 30 in 1988 to more than 1,000 in 1993. Data on the number of attacks and total casualties vary by source. But according to Swami's estimates, which we find to be conservative, more than 41,000 people, including Indian forces, terrorists, and civilians, died between 1988 and 2005.