05 December 2008

‘Pakistani Army wants diversion from Afghan war’

“Disconnect” between Pakistan government and the Army over how Islamabad should react... America has levers of influence but will not necessarily do what suits India...

5 December 2008
The Hindu

‘Pakistani Army wants diversion from Afghan war’

Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI: Keenly aware of the Pakistani military’s desire to generate tension on the Indo-Pak border, India is calibrating its response to the proof it has gathered linking the Inter-Services Intelligence to the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai so as to avoid the political and diplomatic trap that has been laid for it, authoritative sources claimed here on Thursday.

Giving an account of the diplomatic contacts India had with the civilian leadership of Pakistan in the aftermath of the attacks, the sources said it became quickly apparent that there was a major “disconnect” between the civilian government and the Army over how Islamabad should react to Indian calls for action against the perpetrators.

In the Indian account, the picture that emerges is one of the Pakistani military using the Mumbai incident to pursue multiple goals such as diverting attention from the disastrous war the United States has made it wage near the Afghan border, reviving its sagging reputation as the custodian of Pakistan’s national interest and re-establishing its status vis-a-vis President Asif Ali Zardari and the civilian government as the final arbiter of official Pakistani policy on relations with India.

As the attacks unfolded on the night of November 26, it became clear this was coming out of Pakistan, the sources said. The pieces fit too well for this to be slapped together on the spur of the moment. “It was a pretty complicated plot that was not put together by chance. Even the hijacking of an Indian vessel was most probably not a chance occurrence. We are still investigating this but it could be that [the ‘Kuber’] was used by smugglers who were merely told there would be contraband involved.”

On Friday, when Pakistan’s civilian leaders were in touch with India, they did not seek to contest the Indian claim that the attackers had come from Pakistan. “[Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood] Qureshi had been telling us for some time that the Director-General of the ISI and the head of our Research & Analysis Wing should meet to discuss the terrorism issue and when this incident happened, he went public,” the sources said. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee telephoned Mr. Qureshi. “The EAM spoke from a written note. He did not say the Government of Pakistan was involved. But he identified the Lashkar-e-Taiba and said India expected Pakistan to take action. Qureshi said that Pakistan would act once it had seen the evidence.”

The DG ISI fiasco

In their telephone calls to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani noted that their government had already suggested a DG level meeting between the ISI and the R&AW. “So they said, let’s do this meeting and let’s have a joint investigation,” the sources said. On his part, Dr. Singh said India would investigate matters on its own side but that once this was done, Pakistan could send the DG ISI over to see the evidence.

India was surprised when Pakistan later went public about this, the sources said, putting out not one but two press releases. Later that night, however, the Army chief forced the government to rescind the decision. The Indian side was told at 2 a.m. on Saturday that Pakistan was sending its army chief’s plane later that morning to pick up Mr. Qureshi, who was still in India, and taken by surprise by the summons he received.

It was precisely at this time, the sources said, that stories began appearing in Pakistani newspapers like the Frontier Post and Pakistan Observer that Mr. Mukherjee had been peremptory and rude in his telephone call. And then Geo TV ran a story about troops being moved to the border.

‘Military hysteria’

“It was clear to us that the Pakistan Army was trying to create a sense of military hysteria.”

According to the Indian sources, the military in Pakistan appears to be acting out of three motivations. First, they wish to divert international concern away from the Mumbai attacks and the role of Pakistan-based terrorists towards a more general concern about India-Pakistan tension.

Second, they wanted to send a message to India that “you can talk all you like to Zardari and the civilian government but nothing will change.”

The third reason, the sources said, was that the Pakistan army “needs a way out of the unpopular war it is fighting under U.S. pressure in FATA and Wana. They really have a problem and need a diversion. Thanks to the war on terror and the Musharraf legacy, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, the army is unpopular inside the country. They are in trouble.” India was determined to take these broad motivations into account as it crafted its response to Pakistan, the sources said. “We believe the civilian government is not involved. And it could be that the ultimate aim of this entire exercise could also be for the military in Pakistan to take power again in the name of dealing with an India crisis.” Though this would not happen overnight, the sources said this “would be the wrong outcome for [India] and so we are not going to [help them escalate].”

India’s goals were narrowly focused on getting the Jamaat-ud-Dawa — the parent organisation of the LeT — banned as a terror organisation and its leader, Hafiz Saeed, dealt with. It was significant that unlike other groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the LeT had never attacked Pakistan establishment targets. “So the relations between the LeT and the ISI are very intimate,” the sources added.

American role

While the U.S. had shared crucial intelligence with India, the sources said no one should overestimate what Washington was likely to do. They said U.S. Joint Chief of staff Admiral Mike Mullen had delivered a tougher message to Islamabad than even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “Don’t argue with me, he told them when they denied responsibility,” the sources said, “I have the proof.” “At the same time, this is an administration that worked with and invested in [Pakistan army chief] Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. So you can’t expect them to admit they were wrong to have faith in him.”

India had no intention of sharing the evidence it had with the Pakistani side, the sources said.

“We will leave it to the Americans to show them any proof they want.” Dr. Rice had been told during her visit to New Delhi on Wednesday that America had levers of influence over Pakistan which India didn’t. “So please use them,” we told her.

Even though American citizens had been killed in the Mumbai attacks, the sources said India “can’t expect the U.S. to do what suits us.” The Americans, they said, would play this for what suits them — to say, “OK, little boys, don’t fight, we’ll help you sort things out.”

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