To the ISI, Its Hidden Agenda for the Mumbai Attacks Made Perfect Sense

Political entities such as states are notorious for the hidden agendas behind their policies. The most obvious recent example is the Iraq War. First, the Bush administration used two reasons that were false — responsibility for 9/11 and hiding nonexistent weapons of mass destruction — to hide its real motives for invading and occupying Iraq.

Selections from that palette of pretexts included: establishing a more tractable base in the Middle-East than Saudia Arabia, staking a claim to Iraq’s oil, opening up the country to free markets, simply showing the Middle East who’s boss (never mind that the 9/11 attackers were predominantly Arab). But, looking back, the Bush administration wasted an opportunity to introduce some clarity to its hidden agenda — against the day when it was bound to be revealed. Instead of marginalizing its intelligence agencies, Bush & Co. would have been wiser to let organizations such as the CIA and DIA take the lead — like Pakistan does with its Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (the ISI, of course).

On Monday, Jason Burke of the Guardian reported on the interrogations that Indian investigators in America are conducting on David Headley, the Pakistani-American suspected of scouting targets for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 168. His confirmation of ISI support for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Islamist organization that carried out the attacks, is no surprise. Just as it uses the Taliban to keep India from making incursions into Afghanistan, the ISI was presumably using the LeT to keep India off balance at home. Turns out there was more to the attacks.

Burke reports that “Headley . . . told the investigators that the ISI hoped the Mumbai attack would slow or stop growing ‘integration’ between groups active in Kashmir, with whom the [ISI] had maintained a long relationship, and ‘Taliban-based outfits’ in Pakistan and Afghanistan which were a threat to the Pakistani state.” It seems, said Headley, that the “aggression and commitment to jihad shown by [those groups] influenced many committed fighters to leave” LeT.

Apparently, to show that it could be as jihadic as the next Islamic extremist group, LeT conjured up, with the support of the ISI, this massive strike in the middle of a major Indian city. It would not only put LeT back in the headlines but, reports Burke, shift “the theatre of violence from the domestic soil of Pakistan to India.”

At Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf sheds more light on the ISI’s motives (emphasis added).

Further, [Headley tells] an unsettlingly logical story of how the Mumbai attacks were undertaken as part of a deliberate strategy by the historically more regionally-focused Lashkar-e-Taiba to remain relevant in a world in which competing terrorist groups were attracting members seeking the grander mission of jihad against the West.

It is a nauseating image: officials of a government nominally allied to the United States working with terrorists to plan a murderous attack on innocents as a marketing ploy on behalf of their stone cold terrorists of choice. Nauseating, but despite Pakistani denials that it is baseless, with the unmistakable ring of truth.

To put it another way: Nauseating, but damned if Pakistan’s hidden agenda, however baroque, was more logical than the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.