by Austin Bay
December 3, 2008
The Islamist terrorist attack on Mumbai sets the stage for another major
war between India and Pakistan. To avoid it, statesmen will have to control
inflamed public passion and manipulative politicians as well as confront the
terrorists responsible for the heinous crime.
Diplomats know the act of mass murder spurs legitimate anger and rage.
Mumbai's death toll reached 180 earlier this week, with some 240 people wounded.
Most of the dead were Indians, but the list of victims included foreigners from
at least 12 other countries, including the United States, Germany, China, Great
Britain and Israel.
India's outrage has deep roots. Islamist terrorists likely connected to
Pakistan have struck Mumbai many times, with attacks in 1993 and 2006
particularly notable. The July 2006 attack mimicked al-Qaida's March 2004
bombing of commuter trains in Madrid. 2008's massacre-by-gunfire tactically and
strategically echoes the December 2001 assault by Islamist gunmen on India's
parliament building in New Delhi. That attack killed 12 and chilled prospects
for a 9-11-inspired India-Pakistan rapprochement based on combating
With anger seizing India and fear of Indian attack gripping Pakistan,
rhetorical belligerency is inevitable. Indian and Pakistani media reflect this
war of words. Both governments have redeployed military forces, with the
contested state of Kashmir the focus.
Mediating anger and fear requires intricate diplomatic judo. Rhetoric is
fine, as long as it releases passion rather than feeds it. To paraphrase Winston
Churchill, "jaw jaw" is preferable to "war war." Diplomatically structured troop
movements are also permitted, where Indian and Pakistani commanders know the
other side's moves. This dangerous theater buys time for cool-headed leaders
pushed by politicians demanding war. "Quartet discussions" involving India,
Pakistan, the United States and the U.N. Security Council are a diplomatic venue
for directing this theater. U.S. satellite and electronic intelligence assets
are good at tracking large-scale conventional troop movements and provide a
trust-building "third-party eye."
The diplomats' goal is to avoid the strategic catastrophe of an
Indo-Pakistani war -- thwarting what I believe was the terrorists' strategic
The Pakistani government says it wants to "dampen down the discourse of
conflict and work toward regional peace." Good. Ensuring peace between India and
Pakistan ultimately requires defeating the terrorists, and that entails
effective, coordinated action.
India wants Pakistan to arrest and then extradite several terrorists,
including Dawood Ibrahim. The Indian government believes Ibrahim orchestrated
Mumbai's 1993 terror bombing. Pakistan needs to comply. India also wants action
against terrorist bases. Indian media report that the terrorist captured in
Mumbai, Ajmal Qasab, claims he trained at camps in Pakistan run by the Islamist
and Kashmiri organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). Though LET spokesmen deny it,
Indian intelligence believes LET is responsible for the Mumbai assault and was
behind the 2001 parliament attack.
LET is an al-Qaida ally. While al-Qaida serves as a global ideological
collective for assorted Islamist sociopaths who use terror to achieve their own
local or regional political goals, its connections with LET are long-term.
According to the State Department, in March 2002 Pakistani security arrested
al-Qaida "operations planner" Abu Zubaydah in a safehouse operated by LET.
Personal connections go back to the mujahadeen war against Russia in Afghanistan
-- that battle zone on the other side of Pakistan. They also connect through
Pakistan's fragmented, corrupt, yet still potent Inter-Services Intelligence
directorate (ISI). LET and rogue ISI operatives are dangerous to Pakistan, and
Pakistan needs to shut them down.
Al-Qaida lost in Iraq. It has now shifted its main effort to Afghanistan
and Pakistan. Despite the negative headlines, al-Qaida is losing in Central
Asia. As StrategyPage.com noted on Nov. 20, al-Qaida's tactics aren't working in
Afghanistan because there is "popular opposition to Islamic terrorism" and that
Pakistan's "army offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan" has hurt the
terrorists. For the last six months, strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban sanctuaries
in Pakistan have been increasingly effective.
The terrorists' gambit? Replay December 2001 for bigger stakes. A mass
slaughter in Mumbai ignites a war with India and moves the Pakistani Army from
the Afghan border.