Barack Obama appears to have scored his first international policy success as America’s new president (though, see a comment below added Feb 16, the Taliban has won a worrying peace-deal agreement for Sharia law in the Swat area, just after President Zardari said it was trying to take over the country).
After more than two months of see-sawing denials and prevarications, Pakistan has today admitted that at least part of the planning of the November 26 terrorist attacks on Mumbai was done in Pakistan.
“Some part of the conspiracy has taken place in Pakistan,” Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, told a press conference in Islamabad this afternoon. He said that six suspects were in custody and were being charged, and two more were being sought.
The admission came a day after Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special emissary to Pakistan and Afghanistan, had his first talks with the country’s leaders.
Obama also spoke yesterday by phone to Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, and the two men agreed “to start an active engagement for the resolution of problems facing our region through a holistic strategy,” according to a Pakistan foreign ministry statement.
It seems likely that the first step in that “engagement” had to be Pakistan admitting that the Mumbai attacks had been planned on its territory, which it had been avoiding till now despite repeated demands from the US, India and elsewhere.
This is the first time that Pakistan has admitted that a foreign terror plot was planned in the country and it raises questions about the relative importance now of Pakistan’s three rulers – Zardari, who appears weak and vacillating, Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister who is not much more impressive, and top officials of the country’s Inter-Services Agency (ISI) equivalent of the CIA who have been dictating the hard-line policy.
It now has to be seen whether today’s announcement marks a decline in the power of the ISI and the army, many of whose senior officers take a militant line on India and are soft on the Taliban that they helped to create.
The army has generally wielded its power over civilian (and military) governments with the blessing of America, especially under President George W. Bush who was conned by Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf into believing that Musharraf was doing his bidding in curbing terrorism. It now looks as if Obama has successfully broken with the past and is demanding that the ISI and Army change tack on Afghanistan and India.
Pakistan has handed its information over to India which will be responding later. Underlining that India also shares some of the responsibility for the attacks which led to the killing of approaching 200 people, Pakistan has asked how the terrorists managed to obtain local mobile phone cards, and why the boat carrying them to Mumbai’s waterfront had not been apprehended before it landed.
Malik said the announcement “proves our sincerity and we have gone an extra mile”. He said to India: “We are with you and we have proved that we are with you”.
That sounds good – though it will not have pleased Pakistan’s hard-liners.