Editorial -- Pakistan's Task in the Wake of the Mumbai Terrorist Attack

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

WITH EACH passing day, suspicions of a Pakistani link to the slaughter of 174 people, including six Americans, in Mumbai grow stronger -- and more plausible. A captured terrorist has reportedly confessed to Indian officials that he received training in Pakistan from Lashkar-i-Taiba, a guerrilla organization that was nurtured by Pakistani military intelligence to fight India in the disputed Kashmir region. It has previously been linked to murderous attacks within India; Lashkar-i-Taiba was behind an assault on the Indian Parliament in 2001 that killed more than a dozen people and almost triggered all-out war on the subcontinent.

Indian security officials are being forced to resign for failing to foresee and prevent the Mumbai massacre, even as public pressure mounts for action against Pakistan. Whether or not the crime originated there, the outcry underlines some past failings of U.S. policy -- specifically, the paltry dividends from years of Bush administration cooperation with former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Musharraf promised strong anti-terrorism measures in return for the billions of dollars in U.S. aid he received. He even went so far as to ban Lashkar-i-Taiba and arrest suspected participants in the attack on India's parliament. This ban existed mainly on paper, however; Mr. Musharraf released the detainees, and the group, renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa, resumed training under the cover of its charities and schools. It may actually be larger and better financed than it was seven years ago.

This is not to say that the attacks in Mumbai were Mr. Bush's fault. Nor is Pakistan's new civilian democratic government to blame. To the extent that Pakistan-based terrorists still enjoy support from within Pakistani military intelligence, those connections are shadowy and perhaps beyond the civilians' ability to control. Indeed, Lashkar-i-Taiba and whatever allies it still has in Pakistan's army are trying to stir up conflict on the subcontinent so as to undermine the new government and preserve their own power.

Nevertheless, India, which has the ability to strike terrorist targets in Pakistan, is rightly demanding an end to the threat -- and it's getting harder and harder for Washington to counsel patience. One positive signal, Pakistan's promise to send its military intelligence chief to India to help the investigation, has apparently been retracted, though lower-ranking officials may yet go. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it yesterday while en route to South Asia, "this is a time for complete, absolute, total transparency and cooperation. And that's what we expect." She was, of course, being diplomatic. Pakistan holds the key to this crisis. The best way to salvage Pakistani democracy, and to prevent a slide toward war between two nuclear powers, is for Islamabad to shut down Lashkar-i-Taiba and similar organizations, swiftly, permanently and verifiably. Pakistan should enjoy U.S. support, both from this administration and the next, to the extent that it presents not only credible plans for accomplishing this goal -- but also tangible results.

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