'Who in Pakistan was intending to carry out one of the most grievous acts of international terrorism just a few months ago?'
Former CIA official Bruce Riedel reveals how the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the ISI planned the attack on the Indian consulate in the Afghan city of Herat in May to take Indian diplomats hostage and disrupt Narendra Modi's swearing-in.
Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com reports from Washington, DC
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the cross-hairs of terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Al Qaeda, former Central Intelligence Agency official Bruce Riedel said in Washington, DC on Thursday, September 25.
Riedel, who was with the CIA for over three decades, argued that the attack on the Indian consulate in the Afghan city of Herat in May was evidently to take Indian diplomats and other personnel hostage and disrupt Modi's swearing-in.
Riedel, now a Senior Fellow and Director at the Brookings Institution's Intelligence Project, speaking at one of several conferences held on the eve of Modi's visit to the US, said, "Prime Minister Modi, his very persona, his past, the histories about him, perceptions for and against him, attract Islamic extremist thinking."
"Modi as an extremely successful Indian politician, known to be a strong nationalist, known to be a strong believer in the BJP ideology, is going to attract the attention of extremist movements like Laskhar-e-Tayiba, like Al Qaeda."
"That is not meant to blame Prime Minister Modi in any way," Riedel said, "(but) it is inevitable in who he is that enemies of that are going to try to take him down."
Image, above: Afghan security forces take position at the scene of the attack on the Indian consulate in Herat. Photograph: Mohammad Shoib/Reuters
"From information and equipment found on their persons after the terrorists were killed by the security guards at the Herat consulate, it's easy to say in retrospect what the intention of these terrorists were," Reidel added.
Riedel, who is still well plugged in to the CIA and other intelligence agencies, said, "They planned to penetrate into the consulate and take Indian diplomats prisoner and then hold them hostage, probably kill them over the next 72 hours in the build-up to the inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi."
"Now, we know in the real world where they were killed," he said, but argued, 'Imagine in the alternative world if on the eve of the inauguration of the new prime minister, Indian diplomats were being systematically murdered by a bunch of terrorists in Afghanistan."
"It would have changed the entire dynamic of the situation," Riedel said. "It certainly would have provoked a very interesting conflict between India and Pakistan on the eve of this important event."
He spoke of how "the United States State Department, about a week or so after the attack came out with a another blockbuster -- that the terrorists involved in the attack were members of the Laskhar-e-Tayiba, the terrorist organisation based in Pakistan that carried out the attack on Mumbai in November 2008, known as 26/11."
"We don't exactly know why the State Department decided to inform the rest of the world that Lakshar-e-Tayiba was involved," Riedel said. "We can speculate on that and it's very interesting because the State Department doesn't often offer such detailed information about terrorist events overseas, but there was every reason to believe that it was true."
"If indeed, and it's safe to say, that Laskshar-e-Tayiba was involved in this attack, that it planned to carry out something like this on the eve of the inauguration of the prime minister, it raises profound questions about who in the Pakistani military and security establishment was in on the plot as well."
"We know of previous incidents like Mumbai of 2008 that Laskhar-e-Tayiba works hand-in-glove with the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI."
Thus, he argued, "There is every reason to believe that an attack in Herat, Afghanistan, at a critical juncture like this, would have had the foreknowledge of at least the Pakistani intelligence services, and as I have argued in a number of books that means the foreknowledge of the Pakistani high command in the Pakistani army."
Riedel is the author of the highly acclaimed Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad and Avoiding Armageddon: America, India, and Pakistan -- To the Brink and Back.
Riedel, who has advised four US presidents on the region, and served in the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, asked, "What was their purpose, what did they have in mind, what did they think this was going to accomplish?"
"Equally important, did they plan to do this in order to embarrass their own prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who, of course, was invited to go to the inauguration of the Indian prime minister?" he asked.
Riedel said this attack "was very reminiscent of November 2008, where one of the main purposes on the attack on Mumbai was to critically injure the political position of then Pakistan leader (Asif Ali) Zardari."
"The whole point here is that this incident raises profound questions about who in Pakistan was intending to carry out one of the most grievous acts of international terrorism just a few months ago."
"Laskshar-e-Tayiba paid no price for what it did in Herat last May," Riedel said. "In fact, the head of the Lakshar-e-Tayiba appears on TV more than probably all of the people on this panel collectively appear on TV."
"Despite the fact that there is a bounty looking for information leading to his arrest, the man doesn't seem to be in any sense of danger," he added.
As to what the US and India could do about this together in fighting this scourge of terrorism, Riedel noted, "Here again, the good news is that a lot has been done -- intelligence cooperation, security cooperation between the US and India have been transformed in the last six years. If you look at what we did normally before November 2008, and what we do normally today, it is a sea change in activity."
"Just to give you one example, the very first place that President Obama's first Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta went on a foreign trip was India. That was done deliberately and that was done to send a signal not only to India, but also as a signal to the ISI."
But Reidel said in his judgment "there is much more that still can be done and there is much more we need to look into -- intelligence sharing of information, intelligence cooperation and specifically about the most immediate threats we both face, which are all based in Pakistan, and how we intend to deal with those threats and the unique challenge posed by the ISI's relationship with groups like Lashkar-e-Tayiba."