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Were the Mumbai terror attacks a warning to Islamabad?

October 27, 2016 08:42 IST

Experts trace the reasons for the 26/11 attacks to the Pakistan's military interest in three key areas: Kashmir, Afghanistan and nuclear armaments.

Political scientist and historian Dr Hein G Kiessling -- who lived in Pakistan from 1989 to 2002, including four years in Quetta and nine in Islamabad during which he forged close contacts with Pakistani political, military and intelligence elites -- looks at the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Seven years after the 2008 terror attacks, a Mumbai policeman pays tribute to his slain colleagues.

IMAGE: Seven years after the 2008 terror attacks, a Mumbai police officer pays tribute to his slain colleagues. Photograph: Sahil Salvi

 

What were the motives for the Mumbai attacks?

Experts trace them back to the Pakistan's military interest in three key areas: Kashmir, Afghanistan and nuclear armaments.

Regarding Kashmir, (then Pakistan president Asif) Zardari's statements about a cooperative relationship with India rang alarm bells in Rawalpindi; the military were afraid that Pakistan's presence in Kashmir would be diminished.

In the case of Afghanistan, the traditionally warm relationship between New Delhi and Kabul fed their obsessions that India was a serious competitor in Afghanistan and a challenge to Pakistan's strategic interests and security.

Indian assistance was also linked to the secessionist movements operating for many years in Balochistan, which is not totally untrue.

And with regard to nuclear armaments, ultimately the military was afraid that Washington would receive access to all its sensitive data were the Pakistani government to cooperate with the US.

All of the above was seen as counter-productive to Pakistan's interests. Thus, the Mumbai attack can be read as a strong hint, in fact a simultaneous warning to Islamabad, New Delhi and Washington.

A protest in Mumbai, in 2015, against the release of Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi.

IMAGE: A protest in Mumbai, in 2015, against the release of Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, who masterminded the 2008 terror attacks. Photograph: Anindito Mukherje/Reuters

Indian intelligence was able to obtain many details about the 26/11 attacks in a relatively short space of time.

In December 2008 Indian officials accused the LeT's Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi of being involved in planning and executing the attacks.

The evidence provided was so strong that Pakistan had no other choice but to arrest him and six of his co-conspirators in December 2008.

However, on May 2, 2010, the high court in Islamabad ruled that there was not enough evidence against (LeT founder) Hafiz Saeed linking him to the Mumbai case and he was acquitted; this verdict confirmed the Lahore high court's ruling in June 2009.

The proceedings against the other accused LeT members were similarly thwarted.

Evidence was declared insufficient and the accumulated facts and intercepts sent by India dismissed as irrelevant.

Nor did Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi and his accomplices face any hardship during their time in jail.

In Adyala prison in Rawalpindi they stayed in relative luxury A-class rooms with television, mobile phones and access to the Internet. They were able to welcome dozens of visitors every day, who were not even asked to identify themselves by the jail authorities.

On the order of the Lahore high court, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi was finally released on bail on April 10, 2015. There can be little doubt that this happened according to the wishes of GHQ and the ISI Directorate.

On the other hand, in New Delhi, the remaining terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab was convicted after a transparent court process, sentenced to death in May 2010 and hanged in November 2012.

Then Pakistan prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and then army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani

IMAGE: Then Pakistan prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and then army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Photograph: Reuters

In January 2009, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani dismissed Mahmud Ali Durrani from his position as national security advisor, most obviously because of his comments on Mumbai.

Durrani was asked on television whether Pakistani citizens 'might have been' involved, at a time when the terrorists' origins were no longer secret. He was relieved from his post soon afterwards. Imran Gardaizi, the prime minister's press spokesman, laconically justified his sacking to journalists by saying: 'He gave media interviews without consulting the prime minister.'

In reality, Mahmud Durrani's dismissal was one of several attempts by Gilani to free himself from President Zardari's shadow. Durrani's appointment as national security advisor had been due to his previous advocacy of Benazir Bhutto's interests in Washington, as a result of which he was a close confidant of Zardari.

Another reason for his dismissal was Mahmud Durrani's split loyalties after Mumbai.

For years, the retired major general was seen as an 'American man' by GHQ and the ISI. He had been suspected of close ties to the CIA ever since his early military service.

In fact, Durrani never made a secret of his pro-American stance; and this might have been why he was never given his third general's star.

President Musharraf, heavily dependent on American assistance, exploited Durrani's reputation in the US and sent him as ambassador to Washington in 2005.

When President Zardari, also strongly dependent on Washington, made Durrani the national security advisor with cabinet rank in February 2008, GHQ was discomforted.

Then when America demanded that Pakistan's military be subordinated to the policymakers and the ISI subject to greater democratic oversight, Rawalpindi felt Durrani was in too risky a position.

Prime Minister Gilani was aware of this and, in the aftermath of Mumbai, he felt secure in his dismissal of the national security advisor.

On February 24, 2009, Gilani made a further drastic reform by instructing the minister of justice to prepare a bill to abolish the NSC.

The national assembly then only needed a simple majority to erase this relic of the Musharraf era.

Although formally the NSC carried out a purely consultative role, during periods of crisis their recommendations and resolutions were of great importance.

The abolition of the NSC had already been suggested in the Pakistan Peoples Party's election manifesto for the February 2008 elections, with the objective of returning to the defence committee of the cabinet, which was managed by the PM and did not come under the president. Also, the military were in the minority in the defence committee.

It is fair to ask whether the timing of the plan was meant to coincide with the absence of Kayani, who was on a one-week official visit to the US.

As in the alleged abolition of the political wing of the ISI, the military were to lose very little; in fact they would continue to steer matters relating to national security.

One example is the control mechanisms over nuclear weapons.

Their supervision is the responsibility of the national command authority, headed by the president. The NCA is divided into employment control committee, development control committee and strategic plans division.

The latter is the most important link in this chain of control. It is attached to the NCA secretariat in Rawalpindi and works closely with GHQ.

More difficult still is the situation with the ISI.

In this case, far stronger democratic oversight of the agency was being sought by the government and by Washington, against the wishes of the military.

Compared to the experiences of the Musharraf years, voices calling for reform in the ISI have increased, and experts have put forward various possible changes.

A columnist for the Daily Times, Shaukat Qadir, considers that the CJCSC (Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee) post should be re-valued: The position of a four-star general as chair of the joint chiefs of staff committee should become the interface between the government and the military.

The ISI and the commanders of the army, air force and navy would thus be subordinate to the CJCSC and report to him.

Also noteworthy are the proposals for direct reform of the ISI.

The service collects information from politics, economics, industry, diplomacy and the like.

In fact, the ISI functions far beyond the military framework, and its current name is misleading.

A name change, for example to bureau of national intelligence, is preferable and would make it possible for the appointment of civilian specialists as head of the service.

This would also be beneficial to the quality of its work.

With the return to democracy in 2008, expectation of reform in the ISI were high.

Excerpted from Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI Of Pakistan by Dr Hein G Kiessling, with the permission of the publishers, HarperCollins India.

Dr Hein G Kiessling