Indian media reactions to the WikiLeaks’ disclosures pertaining to the 26/11 attacks were, to say the least, unfair. One headline read, ‘US backstabbed India after 26/11?’ It is now known that the US agencies had shared intelligence that revealed there were threats of a sea-borne attack, that the Taj Hotel was a target, and places frequented by foreigners, especially Americans and Israelis, were vulnerable to attacks. It is not yet clear whether David Coleman Headley alias Daood Gilani, the US citizen of Pakistani origin who collaborated with the Lashkar-e-Taiba in the Mumbai attacks, was under the surveillance of US agencies from before the attack, and whether they were aware of his role in the planning of the attack. There is no evidence thus far to suggest such a possibility.
The leaked cables indicated that the US Ambassador to Pakistan was concerned about premature public dissemination of information by India that would undermine essential law enforcement efforts and forestall further Indo-Pakistan cooperation. The input further stated that their goal was not only to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, but also to begin a dialogue that would reduce tensions between India and Pakistan. Related cables show that the ISI chief had agreed to share information about the progress of their investigation with India, and that premature dissemination of this information in the Indian media would have reflected badly on him in the Pakistani media which would have been a setback. According to the cable, it was necessary to keep channels of communication open in order to prevent future attacks.
These cables were from the US Ambassador to Pakistan to her Government. There appears to be nothing wrong with this assessment. The US Ambassador to Pakistan was in touch with Pakistani officials and was communicating their fears and her own assessment of these fears to her Government. How would this be backstabbing India?
The other important cable was that no amount of money to Pakistan would prevent the Pakistan Army from supporting terrorist groups that were attacking India. This is an assessment that would more or less agree with the assessment of the Indian security establishment, who would never lower their guard against terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistani soil. For them, their experiences over the past 60 years were too harsh to have any other contra view.
Published material, including Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, would show that the Pakistanis had told the US that rogue elements in the ISI could be involved in the Mumbai attacks. However, published material of David Headley’s interrogation would indicate that Headley was funded by a serving ISI Major, Iqbal, for going to Mumbai in preparation for the attack. The Pakistanis have reportedly said that Headley’s statement during his interrogation would be treated as hearsay by Pakistan’s courts. This is a technical issue and there could be a way to work around this. The question is whether the Pakistanis, or to be more specific, the Pakistan Army, would cooperate in this effort. Major Iqbal is just a name, and could be one of the aliases that the ISI Major was using. He cannot be identified without the full cooperation of the Pakistan Army. There is little possibility of this ever happening.
We just have to recall a few incidents that would point out who calls the shots in Pakistan. Soon after the Zardari-led Government came to power in Islamabad, they issued an order to bring the ISI under the control of the Interior Ministry. This order was recalled post-haste after the Army Chief objected. The Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was actually in India when the Mumbai attack took place. If he had the slightest inkling that an attack was to take place, would he have been in India? Zardari offered to send the ISI chief, Shuja Pasha to India in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack. He was forced to wriggle out of this public commitment after the strong objection expressed by the Army Chief.
What we need to have is unassailable evidence that a serving Major of the ISI was a key element of the attack, and that the other important player, the retired Major Pasha, was working closely with the ISI in the LeT’s plan to attack India. As of now we lack evidence that could withstand judicial scrutiny, though the information is quite solid. The Pakistan Army is simply not ready for peace. Its instrument, the ISI, would continue to target India’s economic and security centres to bring pressure on India through non-state actors to yield on Kashmir. After Kashmir, they will invent some other root cause to extend the conflict. We have to be prepared for the next attack. The Wiki cables do give a hint of this. For that we should be grateful for the leaks, for it agrees with our own assessment.
Radhavinod Raju, Former Director General, NIA, may be reached at [email protected]