Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, has his hands full and some daunting challenges in the coming weeks as evidence emerges that renegades inside Pakistan’s intelligence service (i.e., ISI) were the masterminds of this week’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The number and variety of the targets attacked is the first piece of circumstantial evidence pointing to the support of an intelligence service.
Reports from survivors of the siege at the Taj Mahal Hotel contain the disturbing news that staff in the hotel–existing employees–joined in with the attack. And the attackers clearly demonstrated a firsthand knowledge of the hotel. Something you would not get just by watching a video or reading a report. While it is possible that a group of Islamic extremists like the Lashkar banded together on their own to infiltrate personnel into these hotels, this smacks more of an organized intelligence organization. Getting your intelligence assets into an upscale hotel where they can report on the comings, goings, and doings of prominent business and political leaders is a coup. It is not the kind of thing that any Al Qaeda affiliated group has shown it can do.
It is important to emphasize that the Government of Pakistan is not sympathetic to or supportive of these rogue intelligence officers. To the contrary, the impetus for this attack may have been the move by President Zardari to disband the political wing of the ISI. If anything it is a reminder Zardari is not in a strong position and his grasp on power is both tenuous and fragile.
There are some troubling signs that Zardari’s efforts to reach out to India are faltering. After promising to dispatch the chief of ISI to India, the Government of Pakistan has reversed itself and is sending a lower level official. Sends the wrong signal in my view.
We are fortunate that U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson is in place in Pakistan. She knows what the stakes are and is working furiously behind the scene to support Zardari’s efforts to take on the powers inside Pakistan who continue to see terrorism as a legitimate tool of national security policy.
There are moderate, responsible, not-sectarian leaders in Pakistan. Helping them surmount the Islamic radicals embedded in the intelligence service must be a priority for U.S. policy. The last thing we need now is to have Pakistan’s nuclear weapons fall under the control of radical Islamists. That is a fear, generally unspoken, that lurks in the back of the minds of U.S. officials wrestling with the complexities of Pakistan.