Tensions between the governments of India and Pakistan are dangerously high following the Mumbai terrorist attacks in India last week. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen traveled to the region in an attempt to forestall further escalation. Growing evidence indicates that the attacks were conducted by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Kashmiri militant group based in Pakistan. While Indian and U.S. intelligence agencies have not found any direct links between this attack and the government of Pakistan, indirect links may exist and are being seized upon by the Indian government.
The Pakistani government banned LeT in 2002, but members of its charitable political arm, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) continue to fund-raise and provide social services in Pakistani-administered Kashmiri. It is believed that the relationship between Pakistan’s intelligence services and the LeT has continued at some level.
Following the Mumbai attacks, India demanded that Pakistan turn over some 20 suspects, including the leaders of LeT and JuD, as well as fugitive Mumbai crime boss Dawood Ibrahim, reportedly a financier of the group in hiding in Karachi. Pakistan has thus far said India has offered no proof of the individuals’ involvement, denies that some suspects are even within its territory, and, despite condemning the attacks, has yet to officially acknowledge any culpability by Pakistani nationals.
The tragedy is that India’s understandable anger over the attacks and the increasing pressure on Pakistan threatens to worsen the militant problem. Pakistan’s fears of India have stalled its counterterrorism efforts for years. Despite more than $11 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan since September 11, 2001, the Pakistani military has continued to train and equip itself to face its conventional foe, India, rather than focus on its growing internal militant challenge.
The Pakistani government has already threatened to move some of their 100,000 troops based in northwest Pakistan to the eastern border with India. Reports that representatives of the Taliban offered to raise a three million-strong tribal militia to fight any Indian military action suggest that these groups would in fact embrace the opportunity for such a conflict. The Taliban are already increasing attacks on NATO supply routes going into Afghanistan, and a shift of Pakistani pressure away from the region would have exactly the opposite result from what both India and the United States desire.
The Center for American Progress recently published a report recommending that the United States focus on alleviating the tensions between these two countries in order to address the militant issue. President Zardari of Pakistan is correct to describe this as a shared threat to the whole region. His country will have to do more to combat militant groups basing themselves within their territory, just as India will have to temper calls for vengeance for the Mumbai attacks that only serve to strengthen hardliners and terrorists at the expense of regional stability and security.