Mumbai terrorist tied to Taliban, al Qaeda

NY Times:

Apprehensive about potential reprisals by India over the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the Pakistani government insisted Saturday that it had not been involved. It pledged to take action against Pakistan-based militants if they were found to be implicated.

“Our hands are clean,” the Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said at a news conference. “Any entity or group involved in the ghastly act, the Pakistan government will proceed against it.”

The government called a crisis cabinet meeting on Saturday, a day after Indian officials suggested that a militant group with Pakistani ties, Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for the attacks. Similar accusations after an attack on the Indian Parliament by another group, Jaish-e-Muhammad, brought the two governments to the brink of war in 2002.

But while the civilian leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari, called for calm on Saturday, Pakistani security officials warned that they were preparing to move troops toward the border if need be. The security officials, speaking at a press briefing in which the ground rules prohibited identifying them by name, said that if the situation worsened, troops stationed in western Pakistan could be moved within 72 hours. “We’re ready for any contingency,” one security official said.

The security officials also noted that such a move would be likely to upset the United States, because it would mean resources were being moved away from the fight against Islamic militants in the western areas bordering Afghanistan.

Even Mr. Qureshi, at his news conference, suggested that conflict could not be ruled out. “We should hope for the best, plan for the worst,” he said.

At the center of the Pakistan’s concern is the suggestion by Indian officials that Lashkar-e-Taiba, which originated in Kashmir, was responsible for the Mumbai attacks. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials have also said there was mounting evidence that the group had been involved.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has a track record of attacks against India, has received training and support from Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, according to widespread intelligence reports. The United States has contended that Pakistan has turned a blind eye to Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan territory over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars.

The group, along with Jaish-e-Muhammad, was banned in 2002 by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was president at the time, and the links between the ISI and the groups were sharply reduced, according to United States intelligence officials.

But members of Lashkar-e-Taiba joined other groups and moved much of their activity from Kashmir to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda operate, Pakistani experts on the groups said. Now, Lashkar-e-Taiba militants operating as Al Badar and under other names participate in training camps in the tribal region and cooperate with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, they said. (Emphasis added.)

Even though Mr. Musharraf banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and apparently severed official connections, the group was able to flourish in other incarnations in part because until early this year, Islamist parties supported by Mr. Musharraf controlled the North-West Frontier Province, next to the tribal areas.

These ties provide a strategic reason for the attacks. Pakistan's army has been finally waging war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal areas, and, as the story indicates, Pakistan is already looking at moving the troops to the border with India in preparation for a war that the terrorist were trying to precipitate.

Strategically, Pakistan would be wiser to send more troops to the tribal areas to root out the terrorist responsible for the attack. That would show good faith to India and also weaken a common enemy as well as an enemy of the US and Afghanistan. Whether Pakistan's leaders have that much collective wisdom is still an open question.


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