Bringing Pakistan and India Back From The Edge

Our guest blogger is Colin Cookman, Special Assistant for National Security at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

mumbai.jpgLast Thursday, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, became the first Pakistani official to publicly acknowledge that parts of the November 2007 Mumbai attacks had been planned in Pakistan, as he presented the preliminary findings of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) report into the attacks. Over 170 died in the attacks, which have set back the tenuous rapprochement between India and Pakistan and pushed the subcontinent dangerously close to the edge, to the undeniable benefit of militant hardliners.

Malik said six of the eight people charged with “abetting, conspiracy and facilitation” of a terrorist attack were currently in Pakistani custody. At least one, he indicated, had recently been residing in Spain, a reflection of Pakistan’s status as a nexus for global terror networks. Although he didn’t identify them as members of banned Kashmiri militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Malik did name two of that organization’s top commanders, Zaki ur Rehman Lakvi and Zarrar Shah, both reportedly detained late last year, as participants in the attack.

One anonymous U.S. official in the New York Times interpreted Malik’s announcement as an effort by the civilians to “poke a stick” at the intelligence and security services, which have long dominated national security and international policymaking, particularly in matters related to India. The cultivation of militant groups like LeT to foment low-level insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir has been the preferred strategy of the Pakistani military establishment since the late 1980s, and the weakness of the current civilian government, only a year old and faced with serious internal security threats, economic troubles, and political instability, limits their ability to get a firm hold of the instruments of security policy, no matter how brave a public face they may offer about a unified civil-military effort. For this reason, Pakistani press reports that Lakvi and Shah have been transferred from the custody of the intelligence services to the civilian FIA are particularly heartening, if confirmed, as a signal that the ISI is in fact deferring to civilian control rather than opting to protect its former militant assets from any international scrutiny. Malik’s remarks were particularly welcome given that a series of leaked reports had suggested that Pakistan’s report would instead focus on Bangladesh, Nepal, and Dubai as the sources of the attack, in a dubious effort to shift blame away from Pakistan.

Pakistan is now seeking to put the ball back in India’s court, sending New Dehli a thirty-question request for information, including DNA samples from the nine attackers and sole surviving militant, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab. On Friday, Pakistan called on India to “come clean” and “expose the names of persons and entities in India who were also responsible for acts of commission and omission in a transparent manner”; the police commissioner of Mumbai, Hasan Gafoor, has previously acknowledged that at least two of the sixteen people believed to have carried out the attack (ten assailants, four handlers in Pakistan, and two local facilitators) were Indian.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the CIA, FBI, and U.S. diplomats have been instrumental in managing the flow of Mumbai-related intelligence between India and Pakistan, acting as a critical bridge between two countries the U.S. needs to keep as allies if it hopes to stabilize this region and neighboring Afghanistan. Speaking in New Dehli on Monday, regional envoy Ambassador Richard Holbrooke warned Indian leaders that “for the first time in 60 years, your country, Pakistan and the US all face an enemy that poses direct threats to our leaderships, our capitals and our people”, sentiments that the Center for American Progress’ recent report on Pakistan, Partnership for Progress, echoes. While the demand on the part of Indian leaders for more action on Pakistan’s part is understandable, progress against that enemy will require working with the Pakistani government, through a process of enticements as well as concerted international pressure, to reduce tensions, reassert regional stability, and combat the internal sources of militancy that plague Pakistan and its neighbors.