Pakistan is a natural land of conspiracies. With a glut of external forces dipping into what feels like an eternal power struggle, rumors of Western mischief are a dime a dozen. They also turn out to be true more frequently than usual.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates attempted to flip this impression during congressional hearings over President Obama’s war in Afghanistan. Gates described growing links between al-Qaeda and Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT), the group behind the Mumbai attacks and allegedly supported by Pakistan’s Inter Intelligence Service (ISI).
“Al-Qaeda is providing them with targeting information and helping them in their plotting in India - clearly with the idea of provoking a conflict between India and Pakistan that would destabilize Pakistan,” he warned.
Meanwhile the White House has presented Islamabad with an expanded strategy to target Afghan Taliban inside Pakistan territory through the CIA and JSOC. Pakistan has so far balked. Gates could very well be correct in assessing a link between al-Qaeda and LeT, but he’s also leveraging their relationship to pressure Pakistan into action against Afghan targets like Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network.
Only then, argue American officials, would Pakistan be secure from external threats like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and India. Except Gates has a problem.
“India is involved in the terror incidents in the country,” Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently told reporters at Karachi airport. “Arms and ammunition are being smuggled into the country from Afghanistan.”
Two days earlier Malik said truck loads of Indian arms and ammunition had been seized in the Bara region of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and he wasn’t the first high-ranking official to make such claims. Early in November, Army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said a large quantity of Indian arms, ammunition, literature, and medical equipment had been recovered from ongoing operations.
“It was the first time in recent times that Pakistan had pointed fingers at India from a forum having representation of political and military leadership,” the Dawn reported.
Two weeks later, ISI Chief Lt. General Ahmed Shujja Pasha, in a meeting with CIA chief Leon Panetta, “presented evidence about Indian efforts aiding terrorism in Balochistan and Waziristan.”
India claims to have shut down RAW, its intelligence service, in Balochistan and the NWFP, but one can’t expect honesty from a security service. Nor is Pakistan’s military likely to speak without prejudice towards India. Its officials have many reasons to create a diversion from war with the Pakistani Taliban and the prospect of engaging the Afghan Taliban.
Yet conspiracies of al-Qaeda/LeT and CIA/RAW intersect. The potential between two government intelligence agencies is just as high as two terrorist groups and they meet at a common objective - destabilization of Pakistan. In theory, only through this outcome will Islamabad declare war on all Taliban, and Kashmir separatist groups like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and Hizbul Mujahideen.
“The more they get attacked internally,” Gates said from Kabul, “the more open they may be to additional help from us. We are prepared to expand that relationship at any pace that they are prepared to accept.”
Throw in raging rumors of Blackwater, and Gates picked a bad time to serve up a meaty fast-ball for conspiracy theorists. Sensing the wind, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif warned yesterday, “that India and America would achieve nothing by destabilizing
They would agree in public, but it’s anyone’s guess in private.
Published December 9th on Technorati