The rogue elements of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence service are more than an agency within an agency; during the regime transition period in Islamabad, they grew into a state within a state. Their covert give-and-take intrigues with Al Qaeda, associated jihadi groups and Taliban have empowered them and transformed them into the covert prime movers in the Afghan war and the affairs of the subcontinent.
By sending Lashkar e-Taibe terrorists on a rampage in Mumbai, they managed to manipulate India and Pakistan close to an armed confrontation and generate a crisis for testing the incoming US president Barack Obama before he sits down in the Oval Office in January.
The two heavyweights Washington sent over Wednesday, Dec. 3 to hold India and Pakistan back from a military showdown found their mission doomed from the start. The ground was already burning.
In Delhi, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice saw Indian intelligence input showing that fresh rounds of Islamist Pakistan-based terror were on the way – first against three international airports, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai, by infiltrators originating from Pakistani or Afghanistan; next focusing on American, British and Israeli tourists at popular resorts like Goa and Puna in the New Year holiday season.
In Islamabad, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saw a president, Asif Ali Zardari, who had not yet found his feet and certainly lacked the clout to round up the list of 20 ISI-protected suspects handed him by New Delhi for extradition.
Spiking Obama's plans for Afghanistan troop surge
Focusing on India as the injured party, Washington had prepared to underpin the Rice-Mullen mission by leaks to the media showing that New Delhi had been forewarned as early as mid-October about the impending attacks on Mumbai but neglected to alert Mumbai's security authority and the Indian Navy to a potential attack “from the sea against hotels and business centers in Mumbai.”
(More about how this intelligence collaboration worked in a separate article in this issue.)
Prime minister Manmohan Singh was being warned that if he continued on the path of military brinkmanship, Washington would release another spate of embarrassing leaks exposing his government's incompetence.
The American plan did not work. The rogue ISI elements, which none of our counter-terror sources in Washington, London, New Delhi or Jerusalem doubts was behind the attack, had progressed too far toward their goals to be stopped.
They enumerate six:
1. To change the course of the Afghan war by spiking Obama's plans for sending more troops to Afghanistan and helping to settle the quarrels dividing India and Pakistan. The US president-elect hoped those steps would ease the military obstacles confronting NATO forces in Afghanistan and pave the way to resolving the Afghan and Kashmir conflicts, thus robbing al Qaeda and Taliban of victory.
2. To bring the long-simmering Indian-Pakistani issues to boiling point: President Zardari and prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani would then have to divert the 100,000 Pakistani soldiers fighting al Qaeda and Taliban in the tribal border areas with Afghanistan to the Indian frontier, as Zardari threatened to do this week.
3. Once Pakistani military pressure was lifted from the al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in the tribal lands, they could concentrate wholly on bludgeoning American and NATO forces in Afghanistan and getting set for a major spring offensive in April 2009.
Obama national security team back to drawing board
The Mumbai terrorist rampage has altered the state of play by dragging India into the imbroglio. The onus is now on the incoming US administration's national security team – secretary of state Hillary Clinton, defense secretary Robert Gates and the next national security adviser Gen. James Jones – to come up with a new plan to defeat the radical Islamist bloc and the ISI's schemes. This task has evaded the Bush administration for eight years.
4. Another goal of ISI schemers was to deepen the rift between the Pakistani president and prime minister and the army command to undermine and eventually unseat president Zardari.
5. By the violence they staged in Mumbai, ISI elements sought to prove to their jihadist allies that nothing in their close collaboration had changed as a result of a change of command at the top of the intelligence service. Following a demand from Washington, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha was appointed ISI head and four regional department heads were replaced.
The rogue elements in Pakistani elements stood by their deal to support al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan as long as they backed ISI operations against India, such as the suicide attack Taliban staged against the Indian embassy in Kabul five months ago, killing 60 people including the Indian military attache.
New Delhi accused the ISI of masterminding the attack and was supported by Washington.
ISI challenges British intelligence and Mossad
6. In Mumbai, Pakistan intelligence factions settled scores with the British MI5 domestic intelligence and its MI6 spy service as well as the Israeli Mossad.
For three years, the pro-al Qaeda sympathizers in the ISI have been conducting an undercover running contest with British intelligence for control of the British Pakistan community and the medressas where some of their children are sent to be educated. The British were shocked by the July 2005 suicide attacks on their home ground on London transport. When their counter-terror agencies launched aggressive operations against the radical mosques in Britain and medressas in Pakistan, the ISI began fighting back.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources report the ISI regards the Pakistani medressas, long seen in the West as hothouses for breeding terrorist recruits, as its exclusive turf and source of power.
Even al Qaeda has no say in governing these academies for jihad – least of all British intelligence. Entry is strictly regulated by Pakistani intelligence guards on their doors to keep unwanted visitors out.
But when England put British Pakistanis on trial for plotting to blow up 10 transatlantic commercial flights with liquid explosives in August 2006, the ISI declared war, even through no British jury found enough evidence for convictions. The prosecution's claim that the liquid bomb technology originated in Pakistan was enough to convince the belligerent ISI elements that their grip on the medressas was threatened.
On instructions from those elements, the Lashkar e-Taiba gunmen sought out holders of British as well as American passport holders as soon as they landed in Mumbai on Nov. 26.
Israelis singled out for brutal treatment
The Pakistani clandestine group's reckoning with the Israeli Mossad is less complicated.
Indian-Israeli defense cooperation covers multi-billion arms sales, including drones, sophisticated surveillance systems and border-monitoring equipment, as well as specialist anti-insurgency and anti-terrorist training and techniques. The Mossad external intelligence service maintains extensive ties with its Indian counterpart – RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) for combating ISI operations in Kashmir and other parts of the subcontinent.
Their horrendous attack on the Chabad Center in Mumbai, home from home for Israeli and Jewish visitors who were tortured before being brutally executed, was intended as a blow to Israeli-Indian military and intelligence cooperation. The ISI was also warning Israel to stay out of Southwest Asia or expose Jewish and Israeli targets to more attacks.