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Let’s Give Pakistan the Attention It Deserves

The Mum­bai attack is the lat­est wake-up call.


“The world is decid­ed­ly poor­ly made,” Asif Ali Zardari, wid­ow­er of Benazir Bhut­to and pres­i­dent of Pak­istan, must be say­ing to him­self. The French expres­sion Le monde est décidé­ment mal fait sums things up quite nice­ly.

For it was at the very moment that Mr. Zardari was attempt­ing to mod­ern­ize his coun­try — to break with the equiv­o­ca­tions of the Mushar­raf years and move for­ward with a peace process with India for which he took the ini­tia­tive — that the tragedy of Mum­bai occurred.

But what’s done, unfor­tu­nate­ly, is done. And if the authors of the car­nage are, as it seems, linked to the Pak­istan-based ter­ror­ist group Lashkar-e-Tai­ba, we can already draw a cer­tain num­ber of appalling and unques­tion­able con­clu­sions.

The Lashkar-e-Tai­ba is one of the jihadist groups with which I became famil­iar while work­ing on my book “Who Killed Daniel Pearl.” This group is, with­out a doubt, based in Pak­istan.

It is like­ly that the Lashkar-e-Tai­ba has with­in India ide­o­log­i­cal or reli­gious “cor­re­spon­dents” in the vast Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty that sees itself (not with­out rea­son) as dis­crim­i­nat­ed against by the Hin­du major­i­ty. Still, there is very lit­tle doubt that the ini­tia­tive, strat­e­gy and mon­ey for the assault on Mum­bai came from ter­ror­ist lead­ers inside Pak­istan.

Far from con­cen­trat­ing only on the cause of Kash­mir’s inde­pen­dence, and most of all, far from exist­ing only in the noto­ri­ous and offi­cial­ly ungovern­able “trib­al zones” on the bor­der of Afghanistan and Pak­istan, the Lashkar-e-Tai­ba is an all-ter­rain group with great polit­i­cal influ­ence. It includes mil­i­tants in every city of the coun­try: Peshawar, Muzaf­farabad, Lahore and even Karachi (Pak­istan’s eco­nom­ic cap­i­tal).

Since its cre­ation 15 years ago, the Lashkar-e-Tai­ba has been linked to the ISI, the for­mi­da­ble Inter-Ser­vices Intel­li­gence agency that oper­ates like a state with­in a state in Pak­istan. Obvi­ous­ly, this link is not wide­ly pub­li­cized. How­ev­er, from the kid­nap­ping and mur­der of Daniel Pearl to the July 2005 attack on the Ayo­d­hya Hin­du tem­ple in Uttar Pradesh, there is abun­dant evi­dence that the jihadist wing of the ISI has assist­ed the Lashkar-e-Tai­ba in the plan­ning and financ­ing of var­i­ous oper­a­tions.

Worse yet, the Lashkar-e-Tai­ba is, as I dis­cov­ered while research­ing and report­ing my book on Daniel Pearl, a group of which A.Q. Khan, the inven­tor of Pak­istan’s atom­ic bomb, was a long­time friend. Mr. Khan, one may recall, spent a good 15 years traf­fick­ing in nuclear secrets with Lybia, North Korea, Iran and, per­haps, al Qae­da, before con­fess­ing his guilt in ear­ly 2004. Lat­er par­doned by Gen. Per­vez Mushar­raf, Mr. Khan remains per­fect­ly free to trav­el with­in Pak­istan, as he was just admit­ted this Mon­day, under the pro­tec­tion of the ISI, to the most elite hos­pi­tal in Karachi.

No, this is not a dream — it is real­i­ty. Pak­istan is home to a man both father of his coun­try’s nuclear pro­gram and known sym­pa­thiz­er of an Islamist group whose lat­est demon­stra­tion has net­ted at least 188 dead and sev­er­al hun­dred wound­ed.

The Lashkar-e-Tai­ba is, ulti­mate­ly, one of the con­sti­tu­tive ele­ments of what is con­ven­tion­al­ly called al Qae­da. For too long we’ve told our­selves that al Qae­da no longer exists except as a brand; that it is only a pure sig­ni­fi­er, “fran­chised” by local orga­ni­za­tions inde­pen­dent of one anoth­er. Yet there indeed exists in our world what Osama bin Laden called the “Inter­na­tion­al Islam­ic Front for Jihad against Jews and Cru­saders,” which is like a con­stel­la­tion of atoms aggre­gat­ed around a cen­tral nucle­us. These atoms find them­selves, for the most part, clus­tered in this new zone of tem­pests that forms the whole of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pak­istan.

Three days after the mas­sacre, in a moment of anger and frus­tra­tion that rings true, Pak­istan’s Pres­i­dent Zardari said: “Even if these activists are linked to the Lashkar-e-Tai­ba, who do you think we are fight­ing?”

The prob­lem, unfor­tu­nate­ly, is beyond him. Like his pre­de­ces­sor, Pres­i­dent Zardari lacks the means to break the back of crim­i­nal ele­ments with­in the ISI and Pak­istani mil­i­tary. To an even greater extent, he lacks the back­ing of those who asso­ciate it with the dark­er side of his own admin­is­tra­tion. And there­in lies the chal­lenge — per­haps the most fright­en­ing of our era. After the bleed­ing of Mum­bai, it is time the entire inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty — not just those in the region — took notice.


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