Mysteries of Musharraf and Mumbai

The news, discussed in a previous post that India and Pakistan were involved in very secret negotiations solves two minor mysteries.

First, it clarifies why the Bush administration hung on to Musharraf, even as his political standing collapsed. Unlike other countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where the Bush administration gave only lip-service to reform, in Pakistan there were viable civilians alternatives in Bhutto’s PPP and Sharif’s PML. The conventional wisdom was that the administration needed Musharraf to chase al-Qaeda in Pakistan – but really any non-Islamist Pakistani government would have offered this support. The current government has permitted US drone strikes from a base within Pakistan. But if the Pakistan-India peace talks were in an advanced stage, it makes sense that the administration would have wanted to give them the fullest opportunity to complete the talks, which would have had enormous strategic benefits for the region and the United States.

The second mystery is how little effort LeT put into plausible deniability for the Mumbai attack. Surely they must have had some inkling about the vulnerability of cel-phones and other mobile communications devices to eavesdropping – to say nothing of the extensive physical evidence. But, if the attack’s primary purpose was to drive a stake through the heart of any Pakistani-Indian peace process, then allowing the attacks to be linked clearly to Pakistan was part of the strategy. The fact that the LeT assessed (accurately, as it turns out) that the Pakistani government would not undertake a harsh crackdown when their role in the attacks became clear is extremely frightening in its own right.

The fighting sparked by the storming of the Lal Masjid Mosque in Islamabad triggered the insurrection in the tribal areas. A crackdown on LeT (and its parent Jamaat ul-Dawa) would undoubtedly spark open rebellion in parts of the Punjab – in the very heart of the country.

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4 Responses

  1. I may have over-stated my case somewhat. I cannot predict the future, an LeT crackdown will not absolutely spark a civil war – and the Punjabis are not the Pashtuns.

    Still, LeT is more akin to Hamas or Hezbollah then to al-Qaeda. They run a network of madrassas, training camps, and even medical facilities. They have become the defacto government in some towns of the Punjab where they recruit heavily.

    They hold annual rallies that attract hundreds of thousands of people. While they are a marginal group within Pakistan as a whole – 1% of Pakistan’s population represents well over a million people.

    Cracking down on a group that operates on that scale is a major endeavor. With small clandestine terrorist groups the challenge is in finding them. LeT is easy to find, having the muscle to take them out is another question alltogther.

  2. You may not have overstated your case at all. With the recent LeT attack in Punjab and the ouster of Sharif as governor, the terrorist group may be looking to capitalize on the political turmoil in Islamabad. With the Mumbai attacks, the LeT has shown that they are sophisticated enough for such an endeavor.

  3. Thanks for your comment Bill. I tamped down my statement for two connected reasons. First, as powerful as LeT is, it remains a peripheral movement in Pakistan with support in the single digit percentages. Second, despite the best efforts of radicals and the incredibly poor leadership of the country, the Pakistani people have not, as a whole, radicalized.

    Still, the situation overall is very dire and Pakistan should be at the top of the list of foreign policy priorities.

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