The Mumbai Bombings' Message
The terrorists behind the three bombings in Mumbai on July 13 that killed at least 23 people obviously want to torpedo any dialogue between India and Pakistan, but the Pakistani government (or at least the ISI and other extremist factions) may want to send a message: You need us.
The attacks came around the anniversary of the July 11, 2006 train bombings that killed over 200 people in Mumbai. A leader of a group called the Indian Mujahideen (IM) confessed to his role in this attack, and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) has also been linked. The latter displayed its lethality with its sophisticated attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 that killed 164 people. Suspicion for these latest attacks is falling upon the IM, but the LET may have used the IM as a front, given their close links.
"When LET's terrorists were arrested, ISI had a problem internationally. So their strategy was to train more and more people of Indian origin," said New Delhi Joint Police Commissioner Karnail Singh in 2008. Top IM leaders, specifically the Bhatkal brothers, are currently sheltered by the LET in Karachi. India's Intelligence Bureau has even suspected that IM is made up altogether by the LET and presumably, its Pakistani backers.
The attacks happened shortly before scheduled meetings between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers on July 26. They are believed to be part of a campaign called the "Karachi Project," which was conceived by the LET and retired officers from the Pakistani army. The IM has also been linked to Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, an Al-Qaeda affiliate. Rising jihadist star Ilyas Kashmiri served as the group's operational commander until he was killed in a drone strike on June 3. Kashmiri sought to spark a war with India to halt Pakistan's counter-terrorism operations. This should also be considered an objective of the perpetrators.
The LET operates openly in Pakistan under the name of Jamaat ud-Dawa, and is unlikely to undertake an operation that would result in the loss of its safe harbor. The LET's leader still preaches to the public, and the group has boasted of having over 200 facilities in the country, including schools, hospitals and charities. The Long War Journal says the group "essentially runs a state within a state." If the Pakistani government, or factions inside of it, approve of the operation, then they are also trying to send a message.
The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is at the breaking point. The Obama administration has suspended $300 million in aid, some of which was supposed to reimburse the Pakistanis for the cost of operating their military along the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan is threatening to pull its forces back now, and is also pushing the U.S. to end the drone strikes. The director of the ISI warned, "We will be forced to respond if you do not come up with a strategy that stops the drone strikes." The Pakistanis are also hinting that they will look to China to replace the relationship with the U.S.
If elements of the Pakistani government sanctioned the July 13 attacks on Mumbai, then the bombings are a form of a shakedown. The U.S. and its allies are being told to stop pressuring Pakistan or suffer. It also means that the Pakistanis should be expected to reinforce their message by loosening whatever weak handcuffs they had on groups fighting NATO in Afghanistan. Pakistan's goal would be to force the U.S. to come crawling back, as well as to exert influence through proxies.
This does not mean that the U.S. should backtrack and stop pressuring Pakistan. When CIA Deputy Director Michael J. Morell was asked to rate Pakistan's cooperation on a 1-10 scale, he gave them a 3. That's not worth the $2.7 billion in military assistance given to Pakistan every year. Even now, Pakistan is refusing to shut down the terrorist camps that the U.S. has pinpointed.
It is simply offensive that, after the killing of Osama Bin Laden on its territory, Pakistan is being even more duplicitous and yet still expects the money to keep flowing. The U.S. should not hesitate to eliminate terrorist camps and leaders on Pakistani soil. Our soldiers serving in Afghanistan shouldn't have to put their lives on the line while the Pakistan-based camps and safe havens that allow the enemy to kill them remain immune from attack. The U.S. needs to defend and expand its drone campaign, and remind the Pakistanis that the only reason the drone strikes are necessary is because of their own inaction.
The Mumbai bombings are a reminder why the war on terrorism cannot focus solely on Al-Qaeda, and why the vast network of non-Al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan must be dismantled. The Pakistanis should be told that they have one final chance to take their counter-terrorism obligations seriously. If they do not, then the U.S. will do Pakistan's job for them, and their complaints will fall on deaf ears.