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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mumbai to Mehran, Al Qaeda , ISI & Indo-Pak War

This cruel month of May has ended with another body blow: the torture and brutal murder of a fearless journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad. The wanton cruelty inflicted upon him leaves one numb with grief. What kind of higher purpose is served by such viciousness? 

I did not know Saleem Shahzad but read what he wrote with great interest. He always had newer angles on stories done to death with conventional interpretations. And he had information. Not knowing his background, I often used to wonder who his sources are. 

He found himself in the midst of the most dangerous war of our times. When countries and armies fight each other, there are certain rules of the game framed by international conventions. This is a no-holds-barred conflict conducted on all sides by shadowy organisations. 

Regular countries have thrown their assets into the field, including CIA, MI6, RAW, some others not so well known, and of course the ISI. Their adversaries are anything but visible, Al-Qaeda, varieties of Taliban and assorted Laskhars associated with them.

This is a murky world for a journalist, not straightforward war reporting. The best, and Saleem Shahzad was the best, dig deep into it, creating sources that are potentially lethal. Sensibilities that on all sides are raw and unconstrained by any rules or laws; put a reporter in a terribly dangerous environment.

It takes courage, and a huge reservoir of it, to penetrate this treacherous world. Saleem Shahzad had made it his mission to do just that. His knowledge of what is going on within this grey zone was without parallel. He knew better than anyone, for instance, about schisms and inner conflicts within Al-Qaeda and the terror networks attached to it. 

And also knew about the operations conducted by it. His take on the Mehran base attack was unique: he described it as the result of a breakdown of negotiations between naval intelligence and the Ilyas Kashmiri group. Even on the Mumbai attack in India, he named names and details of the process and planning, and that was unmatched.

He writes in his just-published book: “With Ilyas Kashmiri’s immense expertise on Indian operations, he stunned the Al-Qaeda leaders with the suggestion that expanding the war theatre was the only way to overcome the present impasse. He presented the suggestion of conducting such a massive operation in India as would bring India and Pakistan to war and, with that, all proposed operations against Al-Qaeda would be brought to a grinding halt. Al-Qaeda excitedly approved the attack-India proposal.”

This excerpt shows deep knowledge of the process leading up to the attack. It fits in with the narrative that it has always been, and continues to be, in the interest of Al-Qaeda and allied terrorists to provoke a war between India and Pakistan. 

Saleem Shahzad’s take also gives a lie to something that was always missing in the Indian narrative about the ISI being involved in the Mumbai episode. Why would the ISI and, by extension, Pakistan want a war with India? Behind every rumour, innuendo and conspiracy theory there has to be some logic. 

A reality check of such stories often reveals lack of what can only be called rationality. One has to assume that human beings, and indeed nations, promote their self-interest through rational choices. What kind of reasoning would provoke the Pakistani state to seek war with India? 

There can, of course, be rogue elements or people within the state structure who are either bought over with cash or absorb the objectives of the enemy. Saleem Shahzad’s story on the naval attack suggests that there were Al-Qaeda-affiliated people within the navy and that this cell had been broken. This, he suggests, led to the targeting of the naval base.

It is also possible that some current or ex-ISI official – Saleem, in fact, does mention someone in the context of the Mumbai attack who was a former ISI official – could be involved in that operation. But there is no logic that shows that the Pakistani state would have benefited from a war with India. 

Of course, within the blogosphere and outside there are some who believe that the entire institution of the military is a rogue element. For them the ISI and the army cannot do anything right and are virtually an evil force within the country. There is no logic or argument that can convince them otherwise.

The armed forces have indeed a lot to answer for throughout our existence, but to imagine they have no faculty to determine what is in the nation’s interest, or indeed act counter to it, is also illogical. They make mistakes and have made many, but to paint all our defence institutions as malevolent is beyond the pale. 

Even if one looks at the narrow interest of a particular institution, how would it help the Pakistani army, for instance, if the country is destroyed in a war? Or, what great advantage would it give the ISI, an institution already under fire for not knowing of Osama’s presence in Abbottabad, to commit the foul murder of a journalist?

I mention this because many on the internet blogs have convinced themselves that no one other than the ISI could have been involved in Saleem’s killing. A rare anguished denial by the ISI cuts no ice with them. Their minds would not change. They would refuse to countenance the possibility that those Al-Qaeda affiliated groups so brilliantly exposed by Saleem Shahzad could also have a motive.

For saying this, I would of course be labelled an ISI agent. But since there is no evidence to go by, one can only try and analyse who gains from this awful murder. In other words, make an attempt to try and apply logic to a murky situation.

Would the ISI, under more pressure than it has ever been, with its chief “surrendering” himself to being grilled in parliament, have a rational reason to add to its woes by going on a murder spree? And a murder on which fingers would, without a doubt, be pointed at the agency? Unless everyone in the ISI has gone mad, it gains nothing from doing this.

Let us look at the other suspect. How pleasant it would be for a terror group to be so exposed as Saleem Shahzad had repeatedly done? He obviously had cultivated sources within it, which was a huge breach in the group’s security shield. Would it not suit it to kill him brutally, safe in the knowledge that blame will fall on the ISI?

The entire world out there is trying to demonise our security institutions. One can easily forget that they are our last wall of defence. Imagine, if their discipline erodes, or they suffer, where would we be. Let us not sully the memory of the brave Saleem Shahzad by playing this self-destructive game. 

The military and its intelligence arms need to change and open themselves to civilian scrutiny. Democratic institutions must prevail in the end. But, in the midst of war, undermining them only gives strength to the forces trying to destroy us.
"Murder most foul" by Shafqat Mahmood


Related Links:

1.       Mumbai to Mehran, Al Qaeda , ISI & Indo-Pak War http://t.co/Kd6fosU
2.       Pakistan and the US: A Too-Close Embrace? http://t.co/EQqCBQY 
3.       Don’t be Deceived, Know the Real Enemies of PEACE: http://fb.me/128f56sVg
4.       Big Change on the Cards: Imran Khanhttp://t.co/Gx10sWf
5.       The Woes of an Ostrich Republic  http://t.co/QRoVhBq
6.       USA Friend or Foe -2:  http://t.co/KAVIdp6
7.       USA - A Friend or Foe of Pakistan-1 http://t.co/MzEkrPV
8.       How is India Reacting to the PNS Mehran Crisis? http://t.co/NVcRKD8
9.       Analysis-Terrorist Attack at Pakistan Naval Air Base...http://t.co/DzNdtvb
10.     Pakistan must Stand Up for itself: http://t.co/eBvzMEC
11.     Shattering Some Mythshttp://t.co/QEfQjpY
12.     Wisdom and Faith http://t.co/OTjaGV5
13.     Genocide of Muslims in Europe - Mladic’s Killing Fields in Srebrenica: http://t.co/dZZmY0N
14.     Genocide of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila: http://t.co/3hyqO8H