Monday, December 1, 2008

Opinion: Al-Qaeda wants Pak to divert army to Indian border

(thanks to alibi "a" for sending me this piece!)

by Dinesh Narayanan for ibn live:

In the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, the question that everyone is asking is 'Why'. India already claims it has evidence of Pakistani hand. On Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made a stern call to Pakistan and had asked them to send the head of its intelligence agency, the ISI, to India. However, Pakistan has refused to do the same.

But is it a bit too soon to jump to conclusions? In an attempt to get some answers, we speak to Lahore-based journalist Ahmed Rashid, an expert on South and Central Asia who authored bestsellers such as Jihad, Taliban and Descent into Chaos. He tells Forbes Network 18's Dinesh Narayanan on phone from Rome that the attacks are a conspiracy to drive a wedge between the two neighbours. Excerpts from the interview:

QUES: Do you think the attack on Mumbai was planned to de-stabilise the conciliatory efforts of the Indian and Pakistani governments?

Ahmed Rashid: I think the attacks were strategically planned by al-Qaeda through the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants they train. It is trying to work out a space for itself in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). They have been hurting very badly in there because of pressure from the Pakistani army and US missile attacks.

QUES: What is the objective?

Ahmed Rashid: It is a military strategic objective to get the army out of Bajour and stop the US from stepping in. If tensions between India and Pakistan escalate, the army will be moved to the Indian border, as happened in 2002. After the attacks on the Parliament House in Delhi, India built up troops on the border. Pakistan responded by moving its army from the Afghanistan border to the Indian one. And al-Qaeda had a free run of FATA. They are looking to repeat the exercise.

QUES: Do you think they are likely to succeed?

Ahmed Rashid: The danger is the escalation of India-Pakistan accusations. They should not fall into the al-Qaeda trap. The Indian Government has already jumped the gun a bit. It is a weak government and is under pressure to do something.

QUES: What would happen if the Indian and Pakistani governments see through the trap?

Ahmed Rashid: Then there will be more attacks in Pakistan. This is a very critical period for al-Qaeda. It has only a few months. The US is preparing to send 20,000 troops into Afghanistan by April. The al-Qaeda is under tremendous pressure. They need to do something.

QUES: Will the new government in Pakistan be able to genuinely change the relationship with India?

Ahmed Rashid: It is a weak civilian government, just like the Indian Government. It is a Government that is besieged by a collapsing economy and tensions with the army. But it has its heart in the right place. The army needs to come under a democratic government for the outlook on national security to change.

Dinesh Narayanan is Associate Editor at the new business magazine to be launched by Network 18 in alliance with Forbes, USA.