War on terror crashes into India: the November 2008 Mumbai attack – II
by Come Carpentier de Gourdon on 10 Jan 2009 0 Comment

Afghan war and the takeover of Pakistan

The decision to invade and occupy Afghanistan almost immediately following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks denoted Washington’s  strategic resolve to position its forces across Central Asia, to exercise predominant influence in the resource-rich region in Russia’s and China’s backyard, while encircling Iran and locking Pakistan in a tighter embrace. Hence the Bush administration did not pursue its avowed commitment to catch or kill Osama bin Laden (not charged in the US to this day for his alleged role in 9/11) and his major associates, preferring to use them bogeymen to justify continued NATO military activities in the region in the face of European hesitations and Russian and Chinese reservations.

American initiatives to increase their clout in Pakistan have generally brought about or closely followed military coups, as armed forces are the preferred counterparts for the White House in Islamabad due to the latter’s heavy dependence on US financial and technological support. General Pervez Musharraf was hence Washington’s leader of choice in the troublous period between 1999 and 2008; he enjoyed American support to the end, despite growing domestic dissatisfaction with his ambiguous policy of mostly fulfilling the American agenda while trying to placate the Islamists at home.

The ineffective civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari reflects the customary tendency of the aristocratic land-owning elite that is mostly concerned about its own welfare and has no particular animus towards India, contrary to the army-ISI leadership which has internalized a deep aversion towards its Hindu majority neighbour and is largely committed to the Jihadi policy of attrition and eventual conquest. The least that can be said is that the US Government has done very little to try to change the Pakistani generals’ ideology, which keeps them in thrall of the US whose support is critical to their grandiose military designs.

However, since the mid-nineties, successive American administrations have decided that India is indeed capable of becoming a superpower and that it is critical to enroll it’s rapidly rising capabilities and ambitions in the service of US interests. A strategy had to be designed to bring India close, while preserving and even enhancing the special relationship with Pakistan and its ominous military machine. The Bush administration devised the Indo-US nuclear agreement as the cornerstone of a strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi, but at the same time keeps lavishly funding the Pakistani defense and intelligence apparatus and tolerating it’s well-known institutional links with Jehadi terrorist outfits and the Afghan Taliban which Islamabad built up in the mid-nineties with connivance of the CIA.

The conundrum extends to the Pakistani underworld which US clandestine agencies have used extensively in support of their military and covert operations on Pakistani soil and in Afghanistan, to protect their supply lines and raise funds from narcotics, arms and other traffic in the sub-continent and in Central Asia.

One of the linchpins of the Mafia in the sub-continent is Indian fugitive Dawood Ibrahim, who has lived for years between Karachi and Dubai reportedly under ISI (and  possibly CIA) protection. Though Ibrahim is known to provide support to Jihadi outfits involved in terrorism, the Americans have done nothing to stop or restrict his activities, though they enjoy unrivalled abilities for carrying out abductions or “wet operations” on Pakistani soil, where a number of CIA, FBI and special forces cells operate. Jeremy Hammond, editor of Foreign Policy Journal, pointed out in an article dated 22 December 2008, that “(Dawood Ibrahim’s) capture and handover to India might prove inconvenient for either the ISI or the CIA or both”. The only captured Mumbai terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, “characterized Ibrahim as the mastermind of those attacks according to the first accounts.”

Yet subsequently, noted Hammond: “Ibrahim is being downplayed: first the terrorists set out from Karachi on the MV Alpha, a ship belonging to Ibrahim.” Hammond quotes Yoichi Shimatsu, a former Editor of Japan Times, who reported that Ibrahim had worked with the US to finance the Afghan Mujahedeen in the eighties, mostly through international drug trafficking. The CIA thus has a lot riding on this man and does not want him interrogated by Indian authorities for fear of likely damaging revelations. Significantly, as of 2 January 2009, the White House indicated US preference for the Mumbai accused to be tried in Pakistan, probably behind closed doors.

Israel is also being used by America as a parallel channel, or Trojan horse, to penetrate and influence Indian policy in Intelligence, defence and diplomacy. The Israelis have built over the years an extensive network of contacts in Indian political, business and military sectors, and often enjoy better access to decision-making circles than Americans, as they arouse less misgiving and attract substantial sympathy in the Hindu conservative nationalist milieu.

Israeli interests are not always fully congruent with America’s, but overall there is complete solidarity and coordination between the two on important matters of foreign policy and geo-strategy. Americans usually defer to Israel on issues deemed critical by the latter, because of the overwhelming influence of pro-Zionist lobbies in the US. Israel is not suspected in India of playing the double game that USA has become noted for between the largest South Asian States, though indeed the covert relations between Tel Aviv and Islamabad are not bad either. Thus Israel can operate with the Indian Establishment without generating the concerns associated with the USA or Britain, which is also an active and deeply embedded force in Indian foreign and domestic polity.

The USA, UK and Israel all have much to gain from the climate of chronic instability and tension between India and Pakistan as it gives them exceptional opportunities to play mediatory and advisory roles with both sides (at least as far as Washington and London are concerned). Meanwhile, Israel is able to multiply its highly profitable defence-related exports and joint ventures, while supplying India with selected valuable Intelligence, gaining in the process inside knowledge of its military and scientific infrastructure.

The interests pursued by Israel and its Western allies are thus at some level not always contradictory with the agenda pursued by Pakistani Jihadists for bleeding and destabilizing India, which dovetails with the wider Takfiri Middle Eastern project to expel US forces from the region, defeat Israel, overthrow “corrupt puppet regimes” supported by the West, crush Iran’s and Iraq’s Shiite power, and proclaim a new universal Caliphate.

This project, however unrealistic it appears, is finding unexpected support and gaining credibility in the current context when the US and its allies are bruised and in full retreat in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Pakistan is on the brink of civil war and disintegration, and Israel is finding it increasingly difficult to prevail over local resistance movements of Hezbollah and Hamas. At the same time, the global economic crisis is providing perverse confirmation of predictions made in the apocryphal Protocols of Zion – a bestseller in the Muslim world and a textbook used by Jihadis to make their case against the “Jews and Crusaders”.

Not only the decried Protocols, but a succession of famous Westerners, from Alexander Hamilton to Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Adolf Hitler, all issued dire warnings about the eventual takeover of the world’s wealth by financiers who would bankrupt the great majority of people and concentrate all power in their hands by acquiring a monopoly on credit and the emission of virtual money. The current situation is thus bringing plenty of grist to the mills of radical Islamic ideologues as a result of an extraordinary coincidence which they use as proof of their doctrine.

Obviously, deriving such conclusions from the present state of affairs might lead to being suspected of anti-Semitism, but even when we disagree with them, we must recognize that those are the charges made by the Jihadis who, like many Far-Right activists in the USA and Europe, connect the creation of the privately-held Federal Reserve in the US in 1913 (thoroughly researched by Eustace Mullins in his classic “Secrets of the Federal Reserve”, 1952) to the birth of the virtual State of Israel as a result of the Balfour Declaration and to  the later invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which they see as steps towards the ultimate conquest and subjection of the world by imperial financial interests.

To that conspiracy for global control, which they describe as Godless and satanic, the Takfiris proffer their own alternative of Jihad for restoration of the Divine rule of Islam on Earth. That is a powerful Apocalyptic and Messianic vision which can generate fanatical support among the Muslim masses and even among many non-Muslim victims of the current neo-colonial system. It is hence little wonder that the Jihadi movement can recruit so many fighters and muster a seemingly endless supply of candidates to suicide by weaving the Palestinian liberation struggle with the wider goals of evicting foreigners from the lands of Islam and reclaiming India as a part of the Caliphate.

The Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008 may then be placed in this context as a direct response from the ISI-Jihadi nexus to Pakistani President Zardari’s declared resolve to curb the army’s role in the polity and bring the rogue ISI under his direct control while dramatically improving relations with India which, he stated on record, was not Pakistan’s enemy. An Indo-Pakistani agreement for long-term friendship and cooperation was seen as a death warrant by the radical armed forces leadership and their fundamentalist protégés whose power greatly rests on a continuing, if latent, state of hostility with India.

It must be also seen that the preservation of the military’s supremacy in Pakistan ensures continued US-British influence in the country, and Anglo-American ability to play power broker between the two neighbours.

It is hence difficult to escape the conclusion that faced with the desire to maintain their preponderance, the need to protect their unsavoury agents such as Dawood Ibrahim and his underworld networks, and the priority to coax India into junior partner role, the US military-security leadership may have had no desire to prevent the ISI-nurtured attacks on Mumbai on which it had specific advance information that seems to have been passed on, in all or part, to India’s RAW, according to a report on Outlookindia.com (29 November 2008). Yet it is troubling that Michel Chossudovsky has pointed out in Global Research, “The ISI does not act (and probably cannot, given the extensive involvement of the Americans in Pakistani internal affairs) without the consent of its US Intelligence counterpart.” One can thus wonder about how much the CIA knew and how much it told the Indian side at the time.

Damage control is now underway and involves US Intelligence agencies pointing to a number of mid-level Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives and their ISI contacts, including Zaki ur Rahman Lakhwi and Zarar Shah, and even fingering some retired directors of the dreaded ISI, such as Gen. Hamid Gul, known for his undiplomatic statements about US responsibility for international terrorism. Are they to serve as scapegoats to protect the ultimate instigators of the outrage from exposure and prosecution?

US role during the crisis

As soon as the crisis began in Mumbai, western powers became closely involved in view of the large number of foreigners present on some locations where attacks took place, amidst universal and almost non-stop media coverage. The USA (which acknowledged it was listening in “live” to telephone communications between Mumbai commandos and their supervisors in Pakistan, specifically Zarar Shah who appears to have been the ISI handler for the LeT team), the major European countries and Israel in particular, began consultations with Indian authorities at the highest political and military levels.

The Kremlin also keenly followed the situation and regularly exchanged information with New Delhi. It was reported that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, when he spoke on telephone to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the peak of the drama on the 28th, warned him against the risk of escalation as India was actively considering launching air strikes on LeT facilities in Pakistan. Retaliation from Islamabad would have been certain. It seems Putin indicated that this was the very trap laid for India as certain entities abroad wished to trigger a war between the two neighbours.

The subsequent “mystery” call that Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee was alleged to have made to the Pakistani President to voice threats of war seems to have been faked, but the author of the call must have had access to restricted communication technology in order to engineer such a sophisticated simulation, and that seems to betray the hand of an intelligence agency, whether ISI or another. Whereas US agencies have an inside track to Pakistan’s telecommunication network, the Indian military communications system uses Israeli technology. An even bigger tragedy was averted by a hairsbreadth.

The position of the US, as expected given the background and context outlined earlier, was ambiguous. On one hand, the White House through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush in person intervened to dissuade India from escalating the situation by taking military action against Pakistan; but Senator (and Republican Presidential candidate) John McCain, who seems to have acted as an officious envoy for his Government to both India and Pakistan, expressed the conviction in Islamabad that India was preparing an attack on its neighbour and stated that he did not think it was avoidable.

Such a declaration was described by some as a way of forcing India’s hand by challenging it to make good on its alleged threats. In fact, following seasoned Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar (The Hindu, 25 December 2008), one may wonder if the Republican leadership (over and above the Administration itself) did not relish the prospect of an Indo-Pakistani war which might have dealt a severe lesson to a recalcitrant Islamabad and directly involved India in the “war on terror” and Afghan conflict on the side of America. It has been obvious for years that USA would like New Delhi to pull some Middle Eastern chestnuts out of the fire on its behalf and share in the war burden in response to the “Indian 9/11” as US decision makers were quick to label the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Bhadrakumar wrote: “The US design confronts India with a threefold challenge: it insists that India is a protagonist in the US-led war on terror; Indo-Pakistan relationship is a crucial factor of regional security and stability which directly affects the US interests and therefore necessitates an institutional American mediatory role and, it asserts a US obligation to be involved in “nation-building” in South Asia on a long-term footing”.

By a sleight of hand similar to what the Bush administration did in the wake of 11 September 2001 tragedy, the White House has been clearly trying to redirect Indian animus against the Pakistani leadership towards its own Iranian “bete noire”. The US did clearly not try to influence the openly pro-American and US-trained chief of the armed forces staff (and ex-Director General of the ISI) Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani when the latter stepped in to prevent current ISI chief Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha from going to India in spite of President Zardari’s instructions to that effect. Once more, a powerless civilian President, interested in defusing the crisis, was overruled by a military strongman who has a direct line to the Pentagon and CIA and depends on them for funding his forces.

The same calculation clearly obtains in Israel, which has also been building a partnership with India, with a view to use it in the service of its own strategic objectives. As Harsh V. Pant puts in a Jerusalem Post article dated 31 December 2008: “India and Israel not only exchange email Intelligence information on Islamist terrorist groups, but Israel is also helping India to fight terrorism in Kashmir by providing important logistical support…It is a distinct possibility that the level of Intelligence cooperation may be even more extensive that that between India and the US, with the two nations deciding to share Intelligence on a regular basis in their efforts to fight terrorism jointly.”

He noted: “there remain differences of perception on the issue of terrorism. While for India Pakistan is the epicenter of terrorism, Israel reserves that status for Iran…Israel might be sympathetic to India’s concerns regarding Pakistan, but it is not ready to make new enemies” (thereby confirming that Pakistan is indeed on equable terms with the Jewish state).

To make the message clearer, Pant recalls “Israel’s long experience in training, equipping and operating elite undercover units deployed in Palestinian towns and villages to gather Intelligence, spot targets and engage gunmen is useful for the Indian security forces,” hence building a case for a long-term Israeli military and espionage presence in India’s sensitive border zones, which already seems to have taken root through the implantation of a number of Israeli covert agents on the coastlines (Mumbai, Goa, Kerala), in Kashmiri Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh,  the North East and Nepal.

Pant concludes by echoing the Israeli and American official message that “the recent terror attacks should force the international community into recognizing the costs of not doing anything to prevent irresponsible nations such as Iran or Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons”. Presto! the trick is done: Iran which has had historically unfriendly relations with Pakistan as a Shiite state and regional competitor, is promptly lumped with its old enemy as if Tehran had a hand in the Mumbai attacks, thereby inviting India to sever traditional links with Iran. In the same breath, the hypothetical military nuclear ambition of Iran is bracketed with Pakistan’s atomic strike force, acquired with the tacit support of USA and NATO (and at least the tolerance of Israel, according to some Indian analysts) and is most probably under the control of USA, as pointed out earlier.

There are reasons to believe Israel would have liked an Indian assault on Pakistan to coincide or shortly precede its own attack on the Gaza strip started in the final days of December 2008, thus providing a picture of bi- or trilateral coordination against Islamic terrorism and drawing a convenient parallel between Hamas and Lashkar-e-Taiba. On 1 January 2009, using the fact that some Jews had been murdered in Mumbai, the Tel Aviv Government placed thirty five Islamic organizations active in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh on its terrorist list, injecting itself as a party in the sub-continent’s inner conflicts, while pressing India and particularly the BJP opposition to take sides with the Jewish State in its operations to crush the democratically elected Hamas government of Gaza.


The American-led “war on terror,” launched partly as a response to an Israeli demand, is now spilling over into India, which is being urged to declare its allegiance and close ranks with its US strategic partner to help the latter dominate the resource-rich Middle Eastern and Central Asian regions. Pakistan remains a more or less reluctant pawn (saddled with a willing army) in this high-stakes game. Terrorism is an instrument of choice used by various players, with Israel playing “good cop” to America’s bullying policeman.

India risks falling into widespread civil turmoil in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis if it becomes embroiled in the international struggle for control of oil and gas reserves to the West, between the Anglo-Saxon empire, the Jihadi resistance, Russia and China. New Delhi must resist calls to join a “global league of democraciesto fight other people’s enemies in the US-led inter-continental crusade, and concentrate instead on pacifying the situation and building economic and strategic links with its South Asian neighbours. Recent elections in Bangladesh and Jammu & Kashmir may result in some progress towards this goal.

The other priority is to establish a joint security architecture with Russia, China, Iran and Central Asian States all the way to Turkey, perhaps by joining the SCO and acting together to push overseas military actors out of the region that they are turning into an ever-expanding battleground, in the image of Iraq and Afghanistan. To this end, cooperation of the European Union can be secured as the latter would prefer an independent role in Asia without following the US, which has generally taken Washington’s confederates in the wrong direction.

Internecine struggles within greater India allowed Central Asian and later European colonial powers to gradually take over the sub-continent. Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to relive them.


The author is Convener, Editorial Board, World Affairs Journal


User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top