An opportunity that Pakistan missed

Leaked secret cables from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, just after the November 26, 2008 attacks in Mumbai, reveal a more complex narrative than that chronicled so far.

The Pakistan government was willing to work with India; New Delhi was not painting Islamabad and the military nerve centre in Rawalpindi with the same brush, and the Europeans were initially keen on dousing any tensions that might have erupted.

Three cables form the basis for the initial account. The fourth and the last cable, sent three months later, details how the media in India and Pakistan, along with the Opposition in Pakistan, led to erosion of enthusiasm in Pakistan to get at the bottom of the Mumbai attack conspiracy.

The four WikiLeaks cables, though forming a narrow window, are a story of a missed opportunity for Pakistan to step up the friendship with India, being constructed through the comprehensive dialogue process.

The cables begin disclosing the story through American eyes on the day National Security Guard commandos ended the bloody holdup in Mumbai, and Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab had been captured. It begins with Pakistan making all the right noises.

“President [Asif Ali] Zardari, PM [Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza] Gilani and FM [Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood] Qureshi have made all the right public statements...Government of Pakistan (GoP) is sending ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] chief M.G. Pasha to India to participate in the investigation...[Mr.] Zardari is meeting with appropriate Cabinet members to discuss further possible GoP reaction and NSA [National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali] Durrani forwarded a message on the need to jointly fight militants that threaten both Pakistan and India.”

The cables list at least a dozen GoP initiatives that suggest it was in sync with the feeling of awfulness and revulsion felt by the rest of the world. Apart from telephonic commensuration at the highest levels, Islamabad was willing for hotlines between the two intelligence chiefs, saw the attacks as a threat both countries needed to fight together and agreed to an Indian request to send ISI officers to Mumbai.

However, the British got alarmist even before India and Pakistan could begin discussing the modalities of their cooperation. They agreed with the rest of the world for quick, credible action by GoP. But among the U.K.'s fears were “increased [where there was none] proxy action” by India in Balochistan and aerial attacks on Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The cables later reveal that the large PoK-origin population had coloured British views.

The Americans felt London was “overreacting,” but agreed on the need for a coordinated message urging concrete GoP action against Lashkar. And in a forecast, that remained true for over two years, noted: “If the militant plan was to ensure that the Pakistan Army would not shift troops from the eastern border to the tribal areas, the horrific Mumbai attacks may have succeeded.”

Meanwhile, the Pakistani media “reacted predictably” with denials of Pakistani involvement and demands for proof.

Internally also, the GoP was trying to form a similarity of opinion with other stakeholders — the Army and the Opposition parties — and succeeded to some extent. But the Pakistan Army, according to the Americans, while not moving more troops to the Indian border, had started increasing alert levels. Mr. Zardari saw the attacks as “an opportunity” to crack down on militants, but criticised the “Indians” for statements that pushed Islamabad to make a defensive response and “made my job harder.” He also told the British Foreign Minister of not having had “any specific information about the individuals named in the information passed [by the British] to ISI.”

The third cable chronicles the erosion of the resolve in Islamabad to act jointly with New Delhi, and the growing hawkishness in the Indian media that had a reverse effect across the border. “Mr. Qureshi complained about the negative effect of the Indian media hype.” Despite the Indian media reporting plans of pre-emptive strikes, troop movements and severing of diplomatic contacts, the Government's views remained balanced. It felt the GoP was in the clean, while the same could not be said about the ISI. The fourth cable, after a gap of a couple of months, reveals hardening of the GoP's stand. “President Zardari said he would have no choice but to respond militarily to an Indian attack.” Meanwhile, his chief political opponent Nawaz Sharif and his brother appeared to be playing a double game, the U.S. thought.

“Zardari also discussed his increasing frustration with Sharif's government in Punjab, whom he believed had tipped off the Jamat-ul-Dawa about the assets freeze ordered by the federal government.”

Mr. Zardari continued to attempt trying to work with the Indians. He approved the release of information to New Delhi and reminded the U.S. “that it had only taken a phone call from the U.S. to ensure that Pakistan did not oppose the U.S./India civil nuclear deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.”

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 6:19:04 AM |

Next Story