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Pak jehadis didn't foresee global fallout of Mumbai massacre

world Updated: Jan 10, 2009 11:27 IST
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The patrons of terrorism in Pakistan seem to have miscalculated the impact of their murderous attack on Mumbai. It is unlikely that they anticipated the immense diplomatic pressure which the US would put on Islamabad.

They probably expected that like other major acts of terrorism which India experienced at least five or six times in a year, the Mumbai incident too would evoke nothing more than expressions of sympathy from the outside world and a sense of impotent rage in India.

Only once before, following the terrorist attack on parliament, did India move its troops to the border with Pakistan, eliciting renewed promises of good behaviour from the Pervez Musharraf regime.

But there are two reasons why the Mumbai tragedy has turned out to be different. For a start, its 60-hour duration and commando-style operation by the Islamic suicide squads made the Indians equate it with an act of war, especially because of the assault on iconic landmarks.

Unlike previous attacks, this wasn't a hit-and-run affair on a train or at a crowded market. New Delhi had no option, therefore, but to declare more than once that all options were open to it. The assertion warned the Western chancelleries that the possibility of a war could not be ruled out.

But, even more than the Indian threat, what made the US say, as its ambassador to India, David Mulford, has done, that the probe would be taken to its "logical conclusion" were the deaths of American and Israeli citizens. As a result, the attack could no longer be regarded as a South Asian affair, but acquired an international dimension, suggesting Al Qaeda's inspiration behind it.

The original game plan of the organisers of the fidayeen group was probably a simple one. Judging from the Indian response to the attack on parliament in 2001, they may have expected India once again to move its troops to the border, thereby making Pakistan, too, divert its forces from the northwest to the east.

While this manoeuvre would relieve the pressure on the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, thereby re-establishing the old friendly ties between the jehadis and sections of the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the warlike atmosphere would scuttle any prospect of peace with India which the Asif Ali Zardari government might have initiated.

However, none of this has happened. First, India's refusal to beat the war drums has nullified the first objective of the terror merchants. At the same time, they have become aware that an unusually harsh Indian attitude will keep the focus on the "non-state" actors in Pakistan and their possible links with the state. But for the Gaza conflict, the focus would have been even more intense.

But, secondly, it is the footprints which the perpetrators left all over the scene of crime, perhaps deliberately to provoke India, along with the deaths of Americans and Israelis, which strengthened Washington's suspicion about Pakistan's direct complicity.

The suspicions were always there, of course, and might have become all the stronger when ISI's hand was seen behind last year's attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. But the latest evidence of the intercepts of satellite phone transmissions left no doubts about the presence of the handlers in Pakistan. It wasn't surprising, therefore, that Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser of the outgoing Bush administration, has described Pakistan as a threat to both India and the US and, indeed, the world.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's comment that three-fourths of the terrorist attacks worldwide could be traced to Pakistan confirmed the long-held misgivings about this epicentre of terrorism.

Pakistan itself hasn't helped its own case by first being in a state of complete denial about its complicity despite Zardari's comment about the presence of the terrorist "cancer" in the country, and then sacking the National Security Adviser, Mahmud Ali Durrani, for admitting that Ajmal Amir Kasab, the terrorist captured alive in India, was a Pakistani.

While Musharraf had mastered the fine art of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, the new army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, seems to have blundered by exposing Pakistan to the full glare of international scrutiny of its terrorist infrastructure.

In the process, the credibility of the country's new civilian government, whose assumption of office had aroused some hope in India, has been undermined because it is seen to be dancing to the army's tune. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain the observation of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that "there is no terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan".

Curiously, the diminution of the government's prestige is taking place at a time when the army itself will have a lot to answer for if the inquiry into the Mumbai massacre substantiates the allegations of clandestine army-ISI-jehadi links, especially if the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) plays a key role.

Earlier, the army used to explain its coups as steps to rescue Pakistan from corrupt and inept politicians. This time, it may find itself to be the target of international criticism as the fateful Islamization of the military during Zia-ul Huq's regime bears its poisonous fruit.