Suggesting that Pakistani army and its spy agency ISI were targeting India and their own Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a dangerous game, a former CIA analyst has advocated greater US-India intelligence cooperation.
Release of a new Al Qaeda videotape of its leader, Ayman Zawahiri, announcing the creation of an Al Qaeda franchise in India had further complicated the situation, according to Bruce Riedel, now director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution.
“Zawahiri made the tape in his hideout in Pakistan, no doubt, and many Indians suspect the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) is helping to protect him,” he wrote in an article in The Daily Beast.
“Zawahiri has longstanding links” to Lashkar-e-Taeba (LeT), the group which attacked Mumbai in 2008, and to its leader Hafeez Saeed,” the senior fellow at the Washington think tank added.
The US State Department, Riedel noted had publicly blamed LeT for an attack on the Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, right on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing in to which he had invited Sharif too.
Noting that LeT is very close to the Pakistani military’s spy agency ISI, he wrote, “LeT would not have taken such a highly provocative action without at least some advance nod from the Pakistani spies in the ISI and the generals who command them.”
“LeT’s leader, Hafeez Saeed, lives openly in Pakistan, frequently appears on television denouncing the United States, and is the darling of the ISI,” Riedel added.
“One of the goals of the Herat operation was to discredit Sharif,” he wrote, as the army has become increasingly unhappy with Sharif for putting the former army dictator Pervez Musharraf on trial and his reluctance to take on the Pakistan Taliban.
Violence has also surged along the line of control in Kashmir, he noted even as “Sharif had been urging deescalating the Indo-Pakistan rivalry and cutting back on the arms race, positions the army hardliners find threatening.”
“In short, the Pakistani army and its ISI spies are once again playing with fire-with India, the LeT and Kashmir-in order to secure domestic gains against their civilian leaders,” Riedel wrote.
The US should step up intelligence cooperation with India to prevent and deter attacks such as the ones in Mumbai and Heart, he suggested.
“Even if a terrorist action cannot be foiled, the more information exchanged about Pakistani ISI involvement with LeT, the more likely the US will have credibility with New Delhi if a crisis does occur,” Riedel wrote.
The United States should also consider a unilateral step if another attack occurs, threatening to place Pakistan on the State Department list of states sponsoring terrorism, he suggested.
Alternatively, Riedel wrote a “targeted sanctions move against specific Pakistani military officials would send a strong deterrent message to the Pakistani army and could be a warning shot before putting Pakistan on the list of terror patrons.”
Finally there should be contingency planning between Washington and New Delhi about managing a future Indo-Pakistan crisis like the Mumbai crisis, he wrote.
“This would be intended to create dialogue, not create a platform to gang up on Pakistan. But in any case it would be prudent to plan for the worst,” Riedel wrote.