Originally Published 2011-05-30 00:00:00 Published on May 30, 2011
Al-Qaida has put Pakistan at the top of its priorities. Its leaders judge Pakistan as the most vulnerable country for them to hijack, while independent estimates by security and intelligence officials suggest that Pakistan has the capability to add 8-10 China-model low-yield nuclear weapons in its kitty every year.
India can't afford to lower its guard against Pakistan
The recently released WikiLeaks documents have thrown considerable light on Pakistan's unreliable and totally undependable attitude towards dealing with those responsible for the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008. After the Mumbai attack, the US and Pakistan discussed about sending the Pakistan Intelligence Chief, Gen Shuja Pasha of the ISI, to India to demonstrate their seriousness in cooperating with New Delhi in the investigations. While Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was agreeable to send him, Army Chief Gen Ashfaque Kayani intervened and negated the idea.

Pakistan has also been dragging its feet in pursuing the prosecution of the Mumbai attack accused in its courts. Consequently, the top three LeT militants arrested by Pakistan in connection with the Mumbai attack have been set free. Pakistan complained that India was at fault as Islamabad was not given certified evidence by New Delhi. On the urging of the US, an appeal was filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan at the Supreme Court. The US urged Pakistan to deal with the matter seriously since the Sharm-el-Sheikh meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan was due to take place on July 15, 2009. Here again, the (FIA) complained of lack of evidence against those who were being prosecuted at the Supreme Court.

The Chief Minister of Pakistan's Punjab province was none other than former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's younger brother, Mr Shahbaz Sharif. The prosecuting officers and law officers of the Punjab government asked the federal government of Pakistan for evidence, but soon after Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the Punjab government that he had no evidence. The WikiLeaks states that Mr Shahbaz Sharif's frustration peaked when after Mr Malik promised that the Attorney-General would show up in the court, he failed to appear which led to the withdrawal of the case by the Punjab Chief Minister. All these resulted in Hafiz Saeed walking away free.

Another WikiLeaks document has revealed that in May 2009, the US feared yet another Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) attack in India and warned Pakistan to disrupt those plans. The US also warned that if such an attack happened, it could hinder Washington's efforts to provide military and non-military aid to Pakistan. This warning to Pakistan was issued under the name of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton so as to underscore the seriousness of the issue.

The US advised Islamabad that the Indian government had shown readiness to re-engage with Pakistan, but critical to this was Pakistan's progress in bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice. Another Mumbai style or major LeT attack on India, especially if launched from the Pakistan side, could close this historic opportunity and put to risk stronger Indian response. Pakistan was asked to take all steps to eliminate the LeT permanently while in the short term taking all possible action to disrupt the LeT attack plans and other activities. The US pointed out to Pakistan that UN Security Council Resolution 1267 had asked for sanctions against the LeT and the Jamat-ud-Dawa and taking action against anyone providing material support to these terrorist outfits.

Giving evidence before the Pakistan Parliament, the ISI chief recently said that if India carried out attacks like the American operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan was ready to launch Mumbai-like attacks in metropolitan centres for which targets had been identified and a rehearsal had also been carried out. This was a serious statement and there was no occasion for such a strong assertion. The statements made by the Indian Army Chief and Air Chief that Indian armed forces were capable of carrying out Abbottabad-like operations in Pakistan, if ordered, did not mean that India was planning such an action. The ISI chief's statement led to a sense of foreboding and the Prime Minister held a meeting with the three Service Chiefs to discuss India's defence preparedness.

More than anything else, the very fact that the US seriously believed on the basis of hard evidence that the LeT was planning Mumbai-style attacks in mid-2009 shows that such strikes in India cannot be totally ruled out in the foreseeable future and this would be under the aegis of the ISI itself as it happened in Mumbai in November 2008.

The Indian edition of Bruce Riedel's book, "Deadly Embrace", has just been released. It is a monumental book from an expert in the field of counter-terrorism. He is a Senior Fellow on foreign policy at the well-known American think tank, the Brookins Institution. Riedel has put in 30 years of service in the CIA. He was Senior Adviser to four US Presidents.

Reidel mentions in his book's preface that in 1998 he wrote a memorandum to President Bill Clinton titled "Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world". Pakistan had just tested nuclear weapons, and nowhere else on the planet were so many ominous trends colliding in a uniquely combustible way. During subsequent crises with India, Pakistan issued threats of nuclear war and today it has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world.

Independent estimates by security and intelligence officials have suggested that Pakistan now has the capability to add 8-10 China-model low-yield nuclear weapons in its kitty every year. Pakistan has recently tested surface-to-surface missiles meant for carrying smaller warheads. It has been following the Chinese model of having low-yield nuclear weapons.

Pakistan recently activated its fourth reactor for which uranium supply has been made possible through China. Reidel goes on to say that Pakistan's complex behaviour and motives are certainly difficult for outsiders, including the US President, to grasp especially when they learn that Pakistan has been equally fickle and also duplicitous in its relationship with the US. The facts are often far from clear and much about Islamabad's behaviour remains a mystery. What cannot be disputed, however, is that the country lies in a dangerous part of the world and its internal politics is violent and volatile.

Bruce Riedel points out that within a decade or so, Pakistan will be the largest Muslim state in population overtaking Indonesia. Soon it will have the fourth or fifth largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. It has the potential to be a game changer for the global jihad like no other country.

Al-Qaida has put Pakistan at the top of its priorities. Its leaders judge Pakistan as the most vulnerable country for them to hijack. It is already their safe haven. They have built alliance with fellow jihadis like the Pakistan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Toiba and these function as force multipliers for Al-Qaida.

The Abbottabad operation by the US has exposed Pakistan's duplicity even towards its benefactors, the US, beyond doubt. As a Pakistan analyst summed up: "If we do not know Bin Laden was in Abbottabad, we are a failed state. If we did know, we are a rogue state. It is believed that Pakistan is a bit of both. That is why it is feared that a Mumbai-like attack by Pakistani elements is possible anytime, anywhere in the country.

President Obama's advice to Pakistan not to remain obsessed with India, but to look within for embedded terror groups and deal with them has come in time. The attack by more than a dozen terrorists on the Pakistani airbase in Karachi on May 22 demonstrated how accurate Mr Obama's advice was. Hopefully, Pakistan would adjust its priorities. However, until there is demonstrable evidence that Pakistan's attitude towards India has undergone a change for the better, India cannot afford to lower its guard.n

(The writer, a former Governor of UP and West Bengal, was the Intelligence Bureau chief. He is now an Advisor to Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Tribune
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