Why Islamabad seems disinclined to discover who was responsible for the November 2008 carnage.
Waqas Ahmad was among the hundreds of Lahore cricket fans who crossed the Wagah border five years ago to watch their country play India in New Delhi. The 2005 India-Pakistan series had been advertised as a historic event; the embodiment of hope that a new era of peace was about to dawn on South Asia. For most of the Lahore fans, the long journey was worth it: Pakistan registered a 159-run victory at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium before tens of thousands of spectators, among them Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf.
But Ahmad didn't make the match — and never caught the train home. The story of the cricket fan who disappeared, improbably enough, holds out disturbing new evidence that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate might have played a direct role guiding the Lashkar-e-Taiba's murderous, November 2008 attack on Mumbai.
LeT jihadist Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab's conviction by a Mumbai court this month has been hailed as bringing a closure, or at least something resembling it, to the kin of 164 people who were killed and the 308 injured in the carnage. Later this month, an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi will begin hearing prosecution arguments against seven men Pakistan's Federal Investigations Agency says helped to finance, facilitate and execute the attacks. It is unclear just when Judge Malik Akram Awan will deliver his verdict but many hope his judgment will not just serve justice but also help the fraught relationship between the two countries.
What it almost certainly won't do is reveal who engineered the carnage and why.
The Uttar Pradesh police located Ahmad last summer at Bithoor on the outskirts of Kanpur. Neighbours knew him as Rajesh Kumar. Ahmad had obtained a driving licence and a voter-identification card to support his ‘fiction,' the term spies use for their cover-identities. Investigators allege that Ahmad was a covert ISI operative, tasked with recording the movements of Indian military units. A grade X dropout, the 25-year old Waqas was recruited by the ISI, say the police. Following a year of training in spycraft, he was despatched to watch out for military movements across northern and western India.
For months, no one outside the intelligence community in New Delhi — and few within it — paid attention to Ahmad's story. He was, after all, a bit actor in the ISI's India operations. This spring, though, after the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigations began to share details of the interrogation of Pakistani-American jihadist David Coleman Headley, Ahmad's story gathered a startling new significance. The phone number he used to contact his handlers for funds, it turned out, was among those Headley had used to speak with three serving Pakistan Army personnel who, he told the FBI, had helped organise his mission to carry out the reconnaissance that would lead the Lashkar's assault team to its targets in Mumbai.
Islamabad reacted with anger to media accounts of Headley's claims about the ISI. But the case of the Kanpur spy suggests that a great part of the truth about Mumbai is either unknown to, or is being hidden from, Pakistan's civilian government.
Early last year, after weeks of denying that its nationals had any role in Mumbai, the Pakistan government finally ordered its Federal Investigation Agency to act. The Lashkar's second-in-command, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, is now being tried in Rawalpindi along with the organisation's head of operations targeting India, Mazhar Iqbal; the head of the communication cell who facilitated the Mumbai operation, Abdul Wajid; and Karachi-based cadre Hammad Amin Sadiq and Shahid Riaz Jamil. In July last, the FIA also held Jamil Ahmad and Muhammad Younis Anjum, who it says helped organise funds and communications for the attack.
But ever since the FBI charged Headley with having conducted the reconnaissance operation in Mumbai, doubts have mounted on the integrity of the investigation in Pakistan. In February, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram bluntly charged Pakistan with “hiding the real culprits.”
Perhaps the most important gap in Pakistan's investigation is the absence of any detail of just who carried out pre-attack reconnaissance — and on whose orders. Kasab told the Mumbai police that the assault team was shown detailed videotape of the targets. Headley, the FBI's investigation shows, harvested that footage. His operation, however, finds no mention in the trial now under way in Rawalpindi. Nor was it mentioned in a July 2009 dossier handed over to India by Pakistan. The dossier stated the suspects the FIA had arrested “admitted their guilt and their contribution in planning, preparation, financing, arranging boats, logistics, training, facilitating and launching.” Presumably, the FIA would have asked them questions on the reconnaissance issue — but chose not to share its findings with India.
From Headley's testimony to the FBI, it is evident that he was not the first Lashkar operative engaged to undertake reconnaissance in Mumbai. Before his first, September 2006 visit to India, Headley was shown a cardboard mock-up of the Taj Mahal Hotel and asked to conduct surveillance on its second floor, which, among other things, housed the closed-circuit television. Early on during the November 26, 2008 strikes, the attackers were able to locate the room and destroy the surveillance system — a move which successfully made efforts to track their movements in the hotel difficult.
In an April 13, 2009 questionnaire to investigators in India, the FIA sought details of the alleged Lashkar operatives, Fahim Arshad Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed. No further requests for information on the two men followed. First held in February 2008 on charges of facilitating multiple terrorist operations, the two men have since been cleared of the Mumbai-related crimes. Likely, the FIA knew they were innocent all along. Had the U.S. not held Headley, the truth might never have emerged.
The second major gap in the FIA investigation is this: it tells us next to nothing about Lashkar commanders who used satellite phone connections and voice-over-Internet connections from a still-undetermined location in Pakistan. FIA analysts, the July dossier states, determined that three suspects — Riaz, Sadiq and the still-fugitive Mohammad Amjad Khan — were in contact with one another, and with an unidentified cellphone number, through the attacks. The assault team also called the unidentified number from a satellite phone. Jamil Ahmad and Anjum, the FIA says, helped to acquire this satellite phone. But the FIA is yet to tell the world who used the unidentified number, who was in the control room and where it was.
By the FIA's account, the communication cell was controlled by Mazhar Iqbal, using the code-name ‘Zarar Shah.' Pakistan has, however, refused to give India voice samples which would establish whether Iqbal was indeed among the individuals guiding the assault team. The Indian authorities have also been denied photographs of Wajid, which would allow the Mumbai police to confirm his identity. Nor has the FIA offered information on a Hindi-speaking suspect, likely an Indian national, who helped to guide the attack.
Thirdly, the FIA investigation offers little insight into the training of the assault team. The July dossier offers no detailed account of the camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Lahore where the team was trained. Nor has the FIA been able to arrest other jihadists who trained with the group. Pakistan claims it has been unable to locate the key Lashkar operative,Muzammil Bhat, who is alleged by the Mumbai police to have overseen the training of the group. But in December 2009, journalists Adnan Khan and Michael Petrou, reporting for the Canadian magazine, Macleans, located Bhat at a Lashkar facility near Muzaffarabad. “He was in constant contact with our brothers carrying out the attack,” a Lashkar operative they interviewed said, “[h]e was giving them instructions as the operation progressed.”
Finally, Pakistan's July 2009 dossier dealt at some length with the question who financed the attacks — but the FIA has chosen not to prosecute most of those who put up the cash. Sadiq and Jamil Riaz, the FIA found, had admitted to having opened accounts with the Mehran Cooperative Bank and the Allied Bank branches in Karachi. The FIA investigators found, the dossier states, “that various LeT activists and office-bearers transferred funds to their account from Khanewal, Gujranwala, Multan, etc., for terrorist activities and operations in Mumbai.” None of those office-bearers has, however, been charged with this crime.
Last week, the former Indian diplomat, Chinmaya Gharekhan, called on the government to test Pakistan's commitment to act against anti-India terrorists by using “quantifiable criteria which can be spelt out.” Pakistan's willingness to fill the gaping holes in its investigation will clearly be key to these criteria. Early this year, Mumbai authorities quietly buried the bodies of the nine Lashkar jihadists, who were killed during the attacks, after months of waiting for Pakistan to reclaim them. Eighteen months after the carnage, the FIA has identified just three of those men: Mohammad Altaf, Imran Babar, and Nasir Ahmad. Nothing could better illustrate Pakistan's disinclination to discover the truth about Mumbai.