ISLAMABAD, Pakistan-Two year later, no one has probed the international aspect of the planning for the Mumbai attacks. Both India and the United States are focused only on the alleged Pakistani part in the attacks. The Pakistani part is limited. The international dimension of the planning and preparations for the attacks is vast and full of leads that have been deliberately suppressed by the Indian and US governments.
India is focused on settling political scores with Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The United States insists on becoming a party to the Mumbai probe and is using Lashkar’s's name to peddle conspiracy theories about LeT’s ‘global ambitions’ to sustain pressure on Pakistan on the Afghan front and rid India of one of its most formidable Kashmiri foes.
India is yet to convict the lone surviving attacker, Ajmal Kassab. New Delhi is yet to reveal crucial parts of its own probe, especially any information on the backgrounds and identities of the ten terrorists who carried out an impressive attack against India on Indian soil with near impunity.
By delaying the conviction of Kassab for two years, India has lost the credibility of its case and weakened its allegations against Pakistan. The only reason there’s no conviction is because there’s no evidence. And as time passes, more information emerges about the international aspects of this crime. The new information further weakens India’s ‘get-Pakistan’ campaign.
That’s good news for Pakistan. But there’s a whole bundle of trouble for Pakistan that has developed since 2008. It would be useful for the Pakistanis to start a counterattack on the diplomatic and media fronts:
1. India has used the attacks as cover to settle scores with Kashmiri and pro-Kashmir groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba [LeT]. These groups have given India’s military a bloody nose in Kashmir in the 21 years since the start of the armed struggle by Kashmiris against Indian occupation. These groups are naturally based in Pakistan due to a large number of Pakistanis being of Kashmiri heritage and because of Kashmir’s geographical contiguity with Pakistan. India has used the attacks to advocate Israel-style limited aerial strikes inside Pakistan against the offices of the Kashmiri and pro-Kashmir groups. Perpetrators of Mumbai attacks must be punished, but India and its enthusiasts in Washington must not be allowed to use this as a pretext to suppress legitimate Kashmiri freedom activism.
2. There is no evidence so far linking LeT and other Kashmiri or pro-Kashmir groups to Mumbai attacks. India’s case is built on two threads. One is the person presented by the Indian police as the lone surviving terrorist. If the Indian version of interrogations is to be believed, Ajmal Kassab is supposed to have provided an insider account of alleged Pakistani/Kashmiri/LeT involvement. Experts know that young operatives in such terror cases are often low-level pawns with little knowledge about the real organizers and planners. Knowing this, it is easy to see how this suspect can’t provide useful info beyond a certain point, which is his immediate involvement with the group that carried out the attacks. And even here, it is worth exploring why Indian interrogators failed to extract and release any information about the other 10 attackers: their identities, names, places of origin, etc. The second thread on which India’s case is built is the Internet. There’s a lot of confusing material on voice-over-Internet and cell phone communications passing through third-country telecom networks. This involves several countries beyond Pakistan and India. This makes Mumbai attacks a truly multinational crime and suggests possibilities for the involvement of criminal and intelligence cells in those third countries. This evidence contradicts India’s position that all investigation be focused on Pakistan and pro-Kashmir groups.
3. The CIA-FBI angle: What confirms the point above is evidence that a longtime FBI agent, a half-Pakistani named David Headley, was a longtime CIA recruit and was planted close to LeT and other pro-Kashmir activists in Pakistan. Islamabad has smartly refrained from commenting on his case. The Indian government has its own suspicions but it too won’t probe the Americans too hard on them beyond occasional murmurs. Headley’s entry into the probe and the circustances in which his cover was blown further weakens the Indian case in any impartial judicial review.
4. The US is exploiting Mumbai attacks more than the Indians. Washington is making itself party to the case simply because one or two Americans became targets of circumstance. This is fascinating because an Australian priest and his two underage kids were burned alive in 1999 and Australia never pursued the case. Nor did any of the American Christian organizations that today lead the campaign for demonizing Islam in support of US war objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
5. This fall, Washington has come out with incredible and fantastical theories about a threat to US and Europe from LeT. In some cases US officials have put LeT ahead of al-Qaeda as a bigger threat. US officials have also tailored new threats to suit LeT’s Mumbai-related profile. This was done by, for example, the choice of words, insisting that Europe is facing the possibility of ‘Mumbai-style attacks.’ US officials have also theorized that LeT suddenly has ‘global ambitions’. None of these American presentations and conspiracy theories comes with evidence. The LeT and other Kashmiri groups were created because of massive Indian military atrocities in Kashmir, including rapes and Serbian-style mass graves. Victims of these events have produced motivated cadres out to seek revenge. They are focused on Kashmir and India’s role in this tragedy. These groups and their activists don’t have global ambitions.
6. It is US policy now that Pakistan relinquish its historic claim to Indian occupied Kashmir. If Pakistan complies, it won’t have any reason to object to a major Indian role in Afghanistan in support of the United States and as part of a common Indian-Pakistani-American-NATO front hedging China, Iran and Russia.
The one crucial recommendation that Pakistan’s political and intelligence officials must consider before it is too late is this:
Declare firmly and clearly that Pakistan will not and cannot be held responsible for terror attacks in third countries carried out by the citizens of those countries. David Headley is American. So is Faisal Shahzad, and the Germans alleged by CIA to have traveled to the Pakistani tribal belt through Afghanistan and are planning ‘Mumbai-style’ attacks in Europe cannot be a Pakistani responsibility.
Alleged future attacks are being linked to the Pakistani tribal belt to help Washington push Pakistan into a new war in that region against Pakistan’s Pashtun. Making such claims has become easy for the US and British governments without any counter narrative from the Pakistani government.
Pakistan should stop India and the United States from exploiting Mumbai. And the best way to do this is to demand a wider probe into the entire aspects of the Mumbai carnage and not limit the investigations to alleged Pakistani connections, which are weak and circumstantial at best.