The “Made in Pakistan” label is by now pretty firmly affixed to the Mumbai outrage.
The most significant development in the story, however, has been the determined efforts by the United States, grudgingly supported by India and enthusiastically echoed by Pakistan, to divert any attention from the possibility that state actors e.g. the notorious Inter Services Intelligence directorate or ISI and its supporters in the government and inside Pakistan’s elites, were implicated in the attack.
The United States has openly stated its fear that an understandable escalation in hostilities between India and Pakistan could provide Pakistan’s army the excuse to abandon the unpopular anti-Taliban adventure in the west in exchange for a more traditional and much less destabilizing eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the Indian military to the east.
Therefore, the line has been drawn, clearly if somewhat arbitrarily, to limit international condemnation to “non-state actors” such as Lashkar-e-Taibi (which supplied the manpower for the Mumbai attacks), while not scrutinizing potential ISI involvement in an attack which was meticulously and expensively planned inside Pakistan and did nothing to try to advance LeT’s stated goals in Kashmir.
In case India and the United States thought that the pro-U.S. Zardari administration could be employed as an effective tool to remove the pro-Taliban/pro-al Qaeda rot inside Pakistan’s ruling elite, they were quickly disabused of the notion.
The fallout of the Mumbai siege inside Pakistan was not a wave of sympathy. Instead, there was a series of manufactured outrages blamed on India but apparently generated inside Pakistan that allowed Pakistan to play the victim card (at least in its own eyes) while India was still reeling from the bloody attacks.
Chief among these “incidents” was the apparently groundless rumor propagated by the Pakistani media and its sources that Hamid Gul, the retired head of the ISI who plays the Darth Vader role in the U.S.-Pakistan saga, had been targeted for arrests or sanctions at the behest of the American and/or Indian governments in the aftermath of the attacks.
The story found its way into the Washington Post before being denied in its various forms by Secretary Rice and Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani.
To me, the primary motive of the Gul story and other rumors appears to be a shot across the bow of the Zardari administration, which had made precipitously conciliatory statements and offers of cooperation with India at the behest of the American government.
Apparently any attempts to treat the Mumbai attacks as a watershed moment in the Pakistani-Indian relationship and Pakistan’s role as an anti-terror democracy that might a) infringe Pakistani sovereignty and b) challenge the policy and prerogatives (and deniability) of the ISI would excite powerful popular and institutional opposition within Pakistan.
When I read the stories in the Pakistani media about Gul, accounts that morphed Indian requests into unacceptable “demands”, the supposedly threatening phone call to President Zardari from Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, etc. etc., I recalled the Gary Larson cartoon, “How Nature Says, ‘Do Not Touch'”.
To the warning rattle of a rattlesnake, the distended display of a pufferfish, the hiss of an angry cat with its fur on end, and a guy on a street corner dressed in an overcoat, a horsehead swim tube, a shoe on his head, and a bazooka, add the enthusiastic and uncritical fulminations of the Pakistan media concerning affronts to national sovereignty, dignity, and security that haven’t even occured.
The Zardari government played along with the anti-Indian agitation sweeping the media.
I expect it made its own calculation that it could not afford (or survive) a confrontation with its security apparatus on behalf of the Indian government and U.S. policy and, even if it did think about standing up to the ISI, the likely outcome would be a protracted and traumatic process that would, among other things, enmesh Pakistan in the web of U.N. and U.S. sanctions and blacklists reserved for terror states.
For now, at least, the scope of rhetoric and action has been carefully circumscribed to encompass Lashkar-e-Taiba and a Muslim charity. India has publicly applauded Pakistan’s actions, while grumbling about President Zardari’s weakness.
Before muttering about the Zardari administration’s spinelessness and the inexplicable pro-terrorist sympathies of Pakistan’s security apparatus, critics should remember that the U.S. security policy for Afghanistan has been a catastrophe for Pakistan, corrupting its government, foreclosing its most viable options for dealing with Pashtun unrest, exposing its citizens to terrorist attacks, and contributing to the collapse of its economy.
All this misery has been in the service of a single-track counter-insurgency strategy that hasn’t worked in Afghanistan, and the U.S. government is on the brink of abandoning there — but insists on escalating inside Pakistan.
Given this context, we should be saddened but not too surprised that there is a dearth of sympathy inside Pakistan for the United States’ Global War on Terror, or for the victims of Mumbai.
PETER LEE is a business man who has spent thirty years observing, analyzing, and writing on Asian affairsLee can be reached at peterrlee-2000@yahoo.