India, Pakistan: Islamabad's Kashmiri Militant Strategy
19 July 2006
Islamabad: Indications continue to trickle in that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may have played a role in the July 11 Mumbai transit attacks. Though Islamabad has stopped actively backing Kashmiri militant organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, the government of Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf continues to allow Pakistan to be used as a base for jihadists to target India in hopes militant operations can check the rise of India as a major player on the global stage. Recent details from the July 11 Mumbai transit blast investigations indicate the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) likely played some role in the attacks. Pakistan allows jihadist groups targeting India, such as the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to operate under the guise they are civil-society groups, sparing Islamabad the repercussions of openly backing militant entities. By allowing such groups to operate from Pakistan, Islamabad hopes it can check India's rise as a global player. The recent disclosure by Indian security forces that the explosive RDX was used in the Mumbai rail attacks indicates a link to Kashmiri militants. RDX is used by militants throughout South Asia, including LeT and other Kashmiri militant groups, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, and Islamist militants in Bangladesh with some links to Kashmiri groups. New Delhi has broken up several LeT cells equipped with RDX and rifles planning to bomb infrastructure across India. A group calling itself Lashkar-e-Qahar (LeQ) - thought to be pseudonym intended to provide cover for LeT - claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attacks, and warned of more. In response to the attacks, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Pakistan was not doing enough to rein in Kashmiri militants and that 'terrorist modules are instigated, inspired and supported by elements across the border.' New Delhi also postponed peace talks - unproductive so far - between India and Pakistan. These talks were of little consequence to India, as New Delhi steadfastly has said it will not make concessions to Pakistan as long as militant attacks continue. This response is tame compared to New Delhi's reaction to the LeT attack on India's parliament building in December 2001. During that crisis, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government massed troops on Pakistan's border within weeks, and conducted skirmishes accompanied by artillery shelling into Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Several factors account for this difference: The more level-headed Congress party now heads the government, and the 2001 raid took aim at the physical center of the Indian government. The biggest difference between the response in 2001 versus today is that India will have a hard time proving Islamabad directly controls LeT - ironically because of the 2001 crisis. Following the dramatic escalation of tensions in late 2001, which brought the two countries to the brink of a potential nuclear exchange, the government of Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf overhauled the nature of its relationship with Kashmiri militant Islamist outfits under pressure from New Delhi and Washington. This required altering the tactical dimensions of its investment in Kashmiri militant groups. Realizing that in the post-Sept. 11 world it could no longer operate the way it used to, the Pakistani military and its intelligence apparatus moved away from direct control of these groups to a more subtle, hands-off approach. This entailed allowing Kashmiri militant groups ostensibly to operate as social groups engaged in cultural, social, and humanitarian activities. Thus, groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawah, the successor to Markaz Dawah wa al-Irshad (MDI), was banned in Pakistan after the parliamentary attack along with its military wing, LeT. Jamaat-ud-Dawah is allowed to exist as a 'nonprofit' group collecting contributions and engaging in social activities. This means LeT and groups like it have infrastructure and funding that are difficult to trace back to Pakistani intelligence operatives. Unlike before, when the Pakistani state openly ran militant training facilities on its side of the Line of Control, Kashmiri militant groups now have a great degree of autonomy in their training operations. In the past, the ISI played an active role in masterminding operations of these 'state-owned' jihadists. But now, the ISI merely encourages attacks, leaving the operational aspects to the militants themselves. It is possible, however, that special cells within the ISI occasionally dispatch liaisons to have tea with 'former' LeT operatives and 'suggest' future operations. Pakistan has a complex relationship with the Kashmiri militant phenomenon. Islamabad firmly controls some groups, such as Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The government allows other groups with agendas diverging from its own to function. Still other groups have gone rogue, functioning without Islamabad's permission and moving into al Qaeda's orbit. Some of the groups in the second category have ties to transnational jihadism, which the Pakistanis know, hoping they can cooperate with al Qaeda to ensure attacks in India will continue and that Islamabad can avoid the blame. This pattern explains why the Indians continue to say Pakistan needs to do more to curb terrorism, but acknowledge that Islamabad's support for militants has gone down. It also explains how militants continue to stage attacks not just in Kashmir, but as far south as Mumbai. Islamabad gave up the idea that it could secure Kashmir's secession from India through supporting militant outfits in the aftermath of 2001. Instead, it sought to keep the Indians stuck in a quagmire in Kashmir until such a time as Islamabad can negotiate a settlement of sorts with New Delhi. The postponement of peace talks with India hurts Musharraf, who needs some sort of diplomatic breakthrough with India in order to convince his population he is accomplishing something. Instead, Musharraf has looked weak by practically begging the Indians to return to the negotiating table. Musharraf has decided his only hope to escape obsolescence is to try to stem India's growth. Geopolitically, the Pakistani generals fear that Pakistan's status as a major U.S. ally is not going to last. Musharraf's government clearly has fallen out of favor with the United States; simultaneously, Washington has chosen to ally itself with India. Slowly but surely India is becoming a more prominent geopolitical player, and its relationship with the United States will only accelerate its accumulation of power. Islamabad also sees its Balochi insurgency as the work of India's premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, through India's five consulates in Afghanistan. Through the ISI - and, according to some sources, Pakistani military intelligence - Islamabad will continue very discreetly to encourage the LeT and groups like it to expand their fight in India. Meanwhile, the Kashmiri militant groups most likely are increasing their contacts with al Qaeda handlers who reportedly have set up shop in Kashmir. Kashmiri militant groups like LeT almost certainly will begin cooperating with them on large attacks on India. While these attacks could target monuments and government facilities, the best way for Pakistan to hurt India would be to attack India's international business hubs, such as Mumbai and the information technology hotspots in Bangalore and Hyderabad. By giving multinational corporations the jitters, Pakistan and the LeT can cut down on the most crucial component of India's rise to power: foreign direct investment. India likely can weather periodic attacks by the LeT without changing its measured policy toward Pakistan. Two things, however, could force India to escalate against Islamabad. First, the LeT (or LeQ) could get too far off of its chain and conduct a major attack significantly impacting India's economic lifeline, generating public outcry. It is not clear yet whether or not the Mumbai attack constitutes such an incident. Second, proof of a Pakistani link to LeT would cause India to escalate. Whether or not such evidence will come to light out of Mumbai also remains to be seen, but it is not likely since Pakistan's entire strategy depends on plausible deniability - meaning Islamabad probably took care to cover its tracks. It thus appears the Pakistani military continues to have its feet in both the Kashmiri and Taliban jihadist camps. Given these assets, Pakistan has the tools at its disposal to make sure India remains tied down by internal conflicts while Islamabad scrambles to catch up with its South Asian rival.