Thursday, December 4, 2008

Zardari faults on promises, terrorism crisis brews on

Author: Tejinder Singh,
3 December 2008 - Issue : 810

Will relations between India and Pakistan deteriorate again in the wake of Mumbai mayhem, just like when Pak militants attacked Indian Parliament in December 2001? President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan holds the key to the question but he must remember: "Half measures avail us nothing," a warning from a Western diplomat in Brussels on condition of anonymity.
If the first interview of President Zardari on CNN Larry King Live on December 2 is an indicator, then the Pakistani politician fell flat on his face as he even denied that the person arrested was a Pakistani, saying, "I very much doubt, Larry, that he's a Pakistani."

On the other hand, world Vox Populi is demanding accountability with people of India seething with anger on "live" TV while the Westerners are too shocked to react yet. Like many countries around the globe, this is an election year in India and the present incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government can not afford to ignore public mood beyond a point, said a political commentator adding, "Restraint has a limit. That too in the face of mounting evidence of Lashkar-e- Taiba and al Qaeda in the attack on the country's iconic hotel, 105–year-old Taj in Mumbai."

"The siege of Taj, the adjoining Oberoi Trident hotel and Nariman House (a Jewish centre) lasted 48 hours. Live TV coverage delivered the threat of urban terrorism globally especially to every Indian home in real time," another Western political analyst told Tejinder Singh in Brussels on condition of anonymity.

President Zardari had earlier told Karan Thapar in the Devil's Advocate programme on CNN-IBN (Nov 29): "Let me assure you ... if any evidence points to any individual or group in my part of the country, I shall take the strictest of action in the light of the evidence and in front of the world."

Even as he was giving the interview "live," the TV channels were beaming the confessions of Lashkar terrorist Amjad Amir Kamaal, the lone survivor of the 10-man Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) fidayeen (suicide) squad which sieged Mumbai. Every media outlet in the world has by now carried his "song."


A class four drop out, Amjad Amir Kamaal hails from a small village of Faridkot in the Okara district of Pakistan's Punjab province. Top Lashkar commander Zakir-ur-Rehman allegedly promised to pay his family more than 2,500 Euro for participating in the fidayeen attack.

The sources familiar with the investigation point to the evidence: "There are the records of phone calls made by the fidayeen from a satellite phone, which was recovered after the attacks. These calls were made to LeT operations chief, who is known by code-names Muzammil, Yusuf and Abu Hurrera. Also to Zaki-ur-Rahman, whom the gang addressed as Chachu (Uncle), amongst others. There were at least three calls to 'Amir,' who frantically instructed the militants to take a hostage (at Nariman House) to 'make a point'."

Yusuf talked to his killer squad even during the bloodbath. The Sunday Express, Mumbai, reported (Nov 30) that each conversation lasted two to three minutes and the terrorists were given instructions in "Punjabi Hindi" with heavy use of military terminology. "Use cover fire," "use single burst fire," and "use your rounds sparingly" are some of Yusuf's instructions, for instance.

The sources divulged, "an intercept shows, on Nov 27 morning, when the Taj fight was on, his direction was: "Hotel mein aag laga do. Jab public bhaage gi, tum escape kar lena (burn the hotel down and in the pandemonium, you can escape)."

Calling it another give away proof, the reliable sources within the intelligence point to the GPS device that the Jehadis had used to navigate their way to Mumbai from Karachi's Azizabad is another give away, if President Zardari wants any more tell-tale proof.

There are also several other items, to wet his curiosity, like Namaz cap from a shop with the phone code of Multan, packet of wheat flour from a Karachi shop, an empty diesel can of a petrol filling station with a Karachi address, Made in Pakistan dental gel, medicam, Touchme shaving cream and Nestle milk packet, and Toilet paper packet of Zik brothers, Karachi.


Ahmad Rashid, one of Pakistan's sane voices, and an authority on al-Qaeda and Jihad, sees a pattern between the attack on Indian Parliament and Mumbai icons. In an interview to the Forbes Network 18, he said: "I think the attacks were strategically planned by al-Qaeda through LeT militants they train. It is trying to work out space for itself in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, FATA. If tensions between India and Pakistan escalate, the (Pak) army will be moved to the Indian borders, as happened in 2002. This will buy a few months to al-Qaeda before the new US administration sends 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan."

This "relocation" plan is in the works, Geo News, a private Pak TV reported Nov 29 quoting a briefing of Pakistan's military and intelligence sources to a select group of journalists.

Geo News also reported (Nov 29) the military establishment decided not to send the ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha to India. Only a day earlier President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani promised to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Pasha would visit Delhi as requested by him. Gilani's Press Secretary Zahid Bashir told a news agency: "Initially, Indian Prime Minister made a request to our PM that he should send the ISI chief to help in investigations and further intelligence sharing. The PM of Pakistan responded positively."

Nirupama Subramanian in The Hindu (Nov 30) also attributed the "roll back" to the army. "That there could be a change in the government's decision was evident when the military spokesman distanced the army from the announcement by the Prime Minister's office that ISI chief would go to India," she said in her despatch from Islamabad. The "new" decision was taken at 1.30 am on Saturday Nov 29 at a meeting of the troika – President, PM and army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, according to The Nation of Lahore.

"Our hands are clean," Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference in Islamabad on Nov 29 evening. "We have nothing to hide, we have nothing to be abashed of," he went on to say, and, like President Zardari, asked India to "come up with evidence to take strictest action."


Now that there is clinching evidence with India, and American intelligence, and counter-intelligence officials, as reported by the New York Times, are "convinced of the mounting evidence" of LeT responsibility for the brutal attack on Mumbai, Pakistan must come out of denial mode.

President Zardari must end talking his way out of trouble. And deliver on his promise. Not for avoiding trouble on the borders with India but to assert his authority as the head of the state, and to rein in his country's intelligence agency, ISI, which has been allowed to "go out- of –control" by his predecessors as a matter of deliberate state policy and as an insurance against American pressures.

Even Zardari could not deny it on the CNN Larry King Live show. On the question of the support of the Pakistani intelligence apparatus for militant movements, President said: "In the past, lots of mistakes have been made, I cannot deny that. But the present government does not support any such action."

A historic opportunity for not only Zardari, but also for Pakistan, to undo the past and to undo the designs of Islamists at home and thus abroad tarnishing the image and reputation of Pakistan on the global canvass. Instead Zardari is singing the old favourite song of Pakistani military asking for evidence, then denying it and the show goes on but the question is till when?

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