The most worrying trend in Delhi, as India-Pakistan tensions escalate, is a growing belief that the Mumbai attacks were not just condoned, but were actually commissioned by Pakistan’s army – not just by the usual suspect, the ISI (Pakistan’s CIA).
Reading the newspapers, and talking to well informed friends and contacts on the Christmas party circuit in Delhi in the past few days, I have been amazed by how many people are arguing this. These are not conspiracy theorists but people who, through their past or present careers, are closely linked with India’s foreign affairs and security circles.
Three of the reasons behind the theory were set out in yesterday morning’s (Dec 26) Indian Express which asserted that the Mumbai attacks had been “sanctioned” at the “highest levels” of the Pakistan army.
The reasons, which have appeared in varying forms in other papers in the past few days, were: to make the West (ie the US) realise it can’t take for granted Pakistan army’s presence (fighting the Taliban) on the Afghan border; to reinstate the army’s institutional credibility following President (General) Pervez Musharraf’s exit from the scene; and to reassert the army’s supremacy over the civilian government on security issues.
There is another more devious theory. It is that the army is tired of losing battles on its western border with Afghanistan, and would like an excuse to shift its battalions to the eastern Indian border, leaving the lawless Afghan border to the Taliban and the Americans to slog it out.
Linked with that is a view that President-elect Barack Obama must learn that the Pakistan army does not like having to fight the Taliban (which it helped create) on America’s behalf, so should soften his approach when he becomes president. Obama should also not put pressure on Pakistan’s civilian government.
It is now clear that the army – led by its new chief, General Ashfaq Kayani – is running Pakistan’s civilian government. It has long been evident that President Asif Ali Zardari is more of a joker than even a cipher – and that, one year after his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated last December 27, has no real power.
Now Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, is following the army’s line by denying that anyone from Pakistan was involved in the Mumbai attacks, having initially taken the opposite view.
This surely illustrates why it is best to have a general at the top of Pakistan’s government. The current muddle about who is in charge was partly created by the west, which encouraged the ousting of Musharraf from his post of army chief. One day western governments – led by the US and UK – which bleat endlessly about the need for a democratic government in Pakistan, will realise that the army is always in charge so it is much better to have it out in the open occupying the presidency.
Some of my Delhi-based foreign correspondent colleagues gloated as they reported Musharraf’s decline as if he was some evil monster. He may have done all sorts of things wrong – most national leaders do – and grossly misled outgoing-US president George W. Bush (not a difficult thing to do), but at least India and the west knew who to deal with. Now they don’t.
The army has over-ruled the civil government’s wish for peace with India. What should have been an inquiry into who was responsible for the Mumbai attack, with terrorist camps in Pakistan being closed down, has been turned into a dire India-Pakistan crisis.
The world has become more concerned about the risk of a war between the two nuclear powers than about dealing with the Mumbai terrosts, which is exactly what the Pakistan army wanted.
India is partly to blame for this because some of its muddled messages over the past month have appeared to be threatening to attack Pakistan if action was not taken against terrorists based there. That enabled the Pakistan army to whip up nationalist opinion and pursue the strategy outlined above.
I stick to my view of December 23 that India will not attack Pakistan – but, alongside that, it now seems that the chances of Pakistan-based terrorists being dealt with by Pakistan are now slim. And when the next terrorist attack takes place, I believe India might well respond. Then the Pakistan army will, according to current Delhi informed opinion, have achieved its aim.