The Mumbai Massacre and Pakistan’s New Nightmares: An Interview of Pervez Hoodbhoy

The Mumbai Massacre and Pakistan’s New Nightmares: An Interview of Pervez Hoodbhoy
by Christina Otten for FOCUS Online (Germany)
by, 13 December 2008

Christina Otten - FOCUS: Tensions between Pakistan and India have been growing after the Mumbai attacks. Are we close to a military escalation?

Pervez Hoodbhoy: In spite of vociferous demands by the Indian public, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has withstood the pressure to conduct cross-border strikes into Pakistan. Correspondingly, in spite of the bitter criticism by Islamic parties, Pakistan’s government has moved against the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), the jihadist organization that is almost certainly behind the attacks. For now, the tension has eased somewhat but another attack could push India over the fence.

Christina Otten - FOCUS: What makes the LeT so different from other militant groups? Is Pakistan really moving against it?

Pervez Hoodbhoy: LeT, one of the largest militant groups in Pakistan, was established over 15 years ago. It had the full support of the Pakistani military and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) for over a decade because it focussed upon fighting Indian rule in Muslim Kashmir. Today it is one of the very few extremist groups left that does not attack the Pakistani army and state; in contrast almost all others have turned into fierce enemies. We now hear that a few members of LeT, who were named by India, have been arrested. Time will tell whether this was a serious move, or if this was a ruse to ease the enormous pressure against Pakistan. If serious, then the Army and ISI will have earned the bitter enmity of yet another former ally. They are afraid of a repeat of their experience with Jaish-e-Muhammad, a formerly supported Islamic militant group that now is responsible for extreme brutalities against of Pakistani soldiers captured in FATA, including torture and decapitations. It’s a nightmarish situation for the Pakistan Army.

Christina Otten - FOCUS: How have Pakistanis reacted to the Mumbai massacre?

Pervez Hoodbhoy: The initial reaction was of sympathy. I did not see any celebrations, contrary to those that I saw after 911. But then, as the Indian TV channels started accusing Pakistan and demanding that it be bombed in retaliation, the reaction turned to that of anger and flat denial - Pakistanis did not want to accept that this attack was done by Pakistanis or had been launched from Pakistani soil. Subsequently one saw amazing mental gymnastics. Popular TV anchors, and their guests, invoked far-out conspiracy theories. Years ago, some of the same anchors had confidently claimed that Kathmandu-Delhi Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC814) had been hijacked by RAW to malign Pakistan. They had also ridiculed the notion that Pakistan was involved in the Kargil invasion. Now, pointing to the RSS hand in the Samjhota Express bombing, they are alternately ascribing the Mumbai attacks to radical Hindus, or to Jews and Americans. It is sad to see intelligent persons losing their marbles.

Christina Otten - FOCUS: Pakistan has always stressed that it will deliver the first nuclear strike if it feels threatened by India? Do you see any signs on the Pakistani sign to carry out its threat?

Pervez Hoodbhoy: About a week before the Mumbai massacre, President Asif Ali Zardari had given the assurance that Pakistan would not use nuclear weapons first. India had announced a no first use policy almost ten years ago. But Zardari is not taken seriously by the Pakistani generals who actually control the Bomb, and the Indian NFU declaration is frankly of no consequence. Cross-border raids by India could well ignite a conventional war. If that happens, all bets are off and it could escalate without warning into a nuclear conflict. For many years US defence strategists, belonging to various think tanks and war colleges, have been simulating conflicts between Pakistan and India. They say that a conventional war will almost certainly lead to a nuclear conclusion. Fear of nuclear weapons has made deterrence work. More accurately, deterrence has worked only thus far. No guarantees can be given for the future.

Christina Otten - FOCUS: Why did the assassins choose India instead of committing attacks against Western allies in Afghanistan?

PH: LeT is based around Lahore, which is on the Pakistan-India border, in a town called Muridke. This has a huge militant training and charity complex. LeT’s membership is mostly Punjabi, which makes it linguistically and culturally quite unsuited for fighting in Afghanistan. You could say that LeT is an India-specific, Kashmir-specific group. Indeed, over the years it has had many military successes in Kashmir against Indian forces. But LeT, like other militant groups in Pakistan, sees a nexus between Indians, Americans, and Israelis. Hence they are all seen as enemies and fair game.

Christina Otten - FOCUS: What did the Mumbai terrorists want?

Pervez Hoodbhoy: No demands were made and all hostages were killed. So the purpose of the attack was never formally declared. On the other hand, the stated goals of LeT and similar organizations based in Pakistan leave little doubt. The attack clearly sought to hurt India’s economy and its newly acquired reputation as an economic powerhouse, and to create a climate of war between India and Pakistan. If Pakistan moves its troops towards the eastern border the pressure on the Pakistani Taliban in FATA, which is close to the western border, would be lessened. Still another reason would be to encourage pogroms against Muslims in India. This would swell the ranks of the extremists, and also have the added benefit of destabilizing both the Pakistani and Indian states. Finally, the attack was a means of releasing hatred against non-Muslims.

Christina Otten - FOCUS: What differences and parallels do you see between the Mumbai attacks and the attack in the in Marriott Hotel in Islamabad?

Pervez Hoodbhoy: They were quite dissimilar in how they were executed. The Mumbai attacks were extremely intricate, used GPS and voice-over-internet protocols for communication purposes, involved extensive military training, and probably required planning over a period of a year. The goal was to kill foreigners, particularly Jews and Americans, although Muslims were also collateral casualties. On the other hand, the Marriot bombing in Islamabad was a relatively simple affair involving a single dump-truck with a suicide bomber, and its victims were principally Muslims. The basic purpose, however, was similar - to destabilize the Pakistani state, take revenge on the US (2 of the 58 killed were US marines), and raise the cost of war in Afghanistan and FATA.

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