Posted by: John Elliott | February 12, 2009

Obama scores in Pakistan on Mumbai terror attacks – but the Taliban wins Swat

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.


Responses

  1. THIS IS A COMMENT ON THE PAKISTAN GOVERNMENT AGREEING WITH THE TALIBAN TO INTRODUCE SHARIA LAW IN THE SWAT AREA IN RETURN FOR PEACE – JUST AFTER ZARDARI WARNED THAT PAKISTAN WAS “FIGHTING FOR ITS SURVIVAL” AGAINST A TALIBAN BID TO TAKE OVER THE COUNTYRY. je

    Deals for peace in exchange for Islamic Law, effectively ceding to the Taliban less than 100 miles away from Islamabad. Oh dear.

  2. John,

    I think your enthusiasm for the admission is overstated, their admission is meaningless and was a diplomatic objective by the Indian government which to be quite honest does not serve much purpose.

    In fact the whole jostle by both the Indian and Pakistani Governments to force admission or deny liability was a serious waste of time. Everyone knew what on the ground realities were.

    One may argue that an admission means that both states can begin cooperating to fight a mutual threat, but that is not going to happen is it. What should have been occurring over the last few months is some strategy put together to fight the threat which would have implied a tacit admission of liability that there was Pakistani involvement in the attacks, even if that involvement was not official.

    There is a problem that needs to be solved, yet all efforts were placed in matters of face.

    We all know what happened, we all face a common threat. I think the notion that military hard-liners control what happens in Pakistan is ridiculous. Certainly not with all the domestic problems they have had to deal with over the last 3 to 5 years. There list of their problems compared to India’s is endless.

    The military establishment were most certainly responsible for creating Frankenstein in that country, and now that it lives, no one can control it.

    In the end they cut their noses off to spite their faces. The fools.

    Should Pakistan accept there is a new reality and the greatest existential threat it faces is not India, but that of Islamic extremism. Of course they should.

    India at the very least should let them come to realise this themselves, instead of what we are doing, which is as always to continue to try to be the thorn in their side. It serves no purpose and reinforce a myopic military view in Pakistan, that is simply no longer true.

    Indian diplomatic strategy has been no real better than Pakistan military thinking. which is as all South Asians do and is in their very blood and culture. We constantly cut our noses off to spite our faces. So long as our enemies feel pain, it does not matter whether we ourselves end up bleeding out.

  3. John, I suppose it does not take much to read Bush’s mind but isn’t it a reach to assume that Musharraf “conned” him about fighting the Jihadis? Many of his generals on the field (Bell for e.g.) publicly expressed their frustration with Pakistani “co-operation”. Bush’s pot was boiling over with Iraq for most of his second term and it was more likely that he selectively “chose” to believe what Musharraf said. Separately, appropos Pakistan’s “underlining” that India “shares responsibility” on account of “local mobile cards”, I wonder by extensiion whether the UK bears responsibility for 7/7, Spain for the Madrid bombings and the US for 9/11? After all those terrorists used plenty of “local” material to execute their murderous plans


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