By Ashok Malik
May 28, 2011
The number one global nightmare is an Islamist occupation of Pakistan’s heartland with ISI-LeT and the Taliban competing for supremacy.
How should India respond to David Coleman Headley’s deposition in the trial of alleged terror facilitator Tahawwur Hussain Rana in a court in Chicago? For the past few days, almost in the manner of a television series, there’s been a new revelation every episode. Headley has laid bare the 26/11 conspiracy. He has identified key individuals in the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Inter-Services Intelligence who trained him as a reconnaissance operative.
Headley has highlighted the close links between the LeT and at least sections of the ISI. In the aftermath of the November 26, 2008, attack, the Home Minister of India had pointed out travel across international waters and commando training for the terror squad could not have been possible for a private organisation. A degree of buy-in by a state authority was obvious. Headley has only confirmed this.
Headley has confessed he was sent on similar missions to Copenhagen — where the LeT hoped to “punish” Denmark for the publication by local newspapers of allegedly offensive cartoons. He has also talked about being ordered to make an assessment of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai. Clearly, a nuclear attack or incident is on the LeT’s radar.
In some senses, the LeT has learnt a key lesson from 9/11, as did the perpetrators of the Bali nightclub strike (2002) and the subsequent train bombings in Madrid (2004) and London (2005). It has realised one blockbuster attack will give it greater traction — or plain notoriety — than a succession of smaller attacks in, say, Jammu & Kashmir.
The destruction of a high-value target — a major hotel, a defence facility such as the National Defence College in New Delhi, which was also on Headley’s wish list — would be made-for-television drama. The actual attack as well as the live telecast of the attack — and its replay over and over again — would do great psychological damage to the enemy.
That is why the LeT seemed obsessed with symbolic statements. It wanted the 26/11 death squad to land at the Gateway of India. It took the persuasion of Headley and a few others to get the LeT top brass to agree to a landing point that had less security. A nuclear facility, Mumbai’s biggest hotels and iconic train station, a military institution in the heart of the capital that would have a presence of senior Army officers at any given time: There is a pattern to this. It reflects the evolution of LeT-ISI thinking and goal-setting since, say, the mid-1990s.
What caused this change in tactics? Was it just copy-cat terror, following the spectacular success of Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001? To answer those questions is to understand the revised charter of the LeT and those wings of the ISI that give it sustenance. Till a decade ago, the LeT was content bleeding India, hurting it week after week, month after month, in Jammu & Kashmir and occasionally locations in north India. It did speak about global jihad but that was a theoretical resolve.
Today, its identity has changed. From being an organisation dedicated to “liberating Kashmir” and splintering India, it increasingly sees itself as part of the pan-Islamic jihadi superstructure. This is evident in:
The methodology the LeT-ISI duumvirate adopts — compelling terror strikes that have no immediate political goal, rather than a sustained war in the Kashmir Valley aimed at keeping the focus on just one troubled geography
The targets it settles upon — Indians and Hindus, of course, but also Western tourists and economic interests where these are vulnerable, Israeli citizens, European cities.
It could be argued that all this was already known. In intelligence circles, it has been fairly common knowledge for a decade now, ever since LeT cells were busted in Australia and Indonesia, Lashkar recruitment intensified in Britain, and there was talk of sending Punjabi regiments to fight the Americans in Iraq. However, Headley has brought all of this right into the public domain. It is impossible for Pakistan or for its apologists in the West to fudge facts anymore.
True, that does not mean the United States Administration will immediately train its guns on Pakistan, declare it a pariah state and attempt to treat it as it does Iran or even Venezuela. However, it is difficult to see how public pressure and congressional scrutiny will make it easy to provide Pakistan more aid and not push the US State Department to talk tough.
The Americans are going to adopt a two-track approach. On the face of it, Pakistan will continue to remain a valued ally. Behind closed doors, they will be speaking another language, and making several contingency plans. Is this a model for India?
It could be said there is no harm done continuing anodyne talks with Pakistan. This serves little purpose but, at the same time, concedes little ground. Perhaps; nevertheless there has to be an iron fist inside the velvet glove. The Headley confession is too important to be brushed under the carpet. In any future talks with Indian interlocutors, Pakistan’s Government has to account for the conspiracy that has unravelled in Chicago. It is required to tell India what it is doing with the ISI officers Headley has mentioned.
As Pakistan’s closest neighbour, India also needs to present the international community two medium-term non-negotiables. First, as an institution the ISI is beyond redemption. Its dismantling is essential for regional and global security. It has to be treated at par with the SS or the Stasi.
It is not enough to argue the ISI has had some thoroughly professional officers and even chiefs. Markus Wolf, legendary head of the East German Stasi, was one of history’s great spymasters. That did not stop him from leading a gang of thugs.
Second, the close relationship between the ISI and the LeT is a pointer to creeping Islamist access to nuclear weapons. At the very least, some sort of multilateral oversight of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities is now imperative. If a full-scale and immediate denuclearisation of Pakistan is not feasible, then at least a half-way house needs to be found.
It is a fair expectation the world will listen to these suggestions more than it would have in, say, 2001. This is not just due to Headley. In the past 10 years, the locus of international jihad has moved further and further from the Arabian Peninsula. The world community’s number one nightmare is no longer an extremist overthrow of the Saudi royal family. It is an Islamist occupation of the Pakistani heartland, with the LeT-ISI and the Tehreek-e-Taliban competing for supremacy.
Pakistan can congratulate itself. It has fulfilled Hitler’s dreams; it has become the jihadi Lebensraum.
Source: The Pioneer