Indian Decade

WikiLeaks on 26/11 Attack

‘Cablegate’ gives a glimpse of just how high tensions were between India and Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

WikiLeaks has given a new insight into India-Pakistan brinkmanship in the immediate aftermath of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. Immediately after the November 2008 incident, both nuclear powers began to put their armies on alert. The WikiLeaks cables demonstrate how an Indo-Pakistan military conflict loomed large as then Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee apparently threatened Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari over the phone with war. ‘Both Chief of Army Staff General (Ashfaq Parvez) Kayani and President (Asif Ali) Zardari have stated flatly to Ambassador that the government of Pakistan would have no choice but to retaliate if attacked, and post has no doubt they are sincere,’ reads a classified US dispatch.

The cables say that New Delhi was convinced that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) had prior knowledge of the attack, and indeed had actually approved it. During these chaotic days, communication between Pakistan’s military and the civilian government had become muddled and confused. Zardari, who according to the cables, is more powerful than his bête noire Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, but less powerful than Pakistan Army Gen. Kayani, gave his army chief cursory information about his contacts with the United States, its allies and India. At this point, Zardari’s main task was to de-escalate tensions with India and he floated a trial balloon in suggesting that he was willing to send ISI Chief Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to cool things down.

In the end, Pasha never travelled to New Delhi, apparently because Kayani vetoed Zardari’s offer saying that it would set a precedent and could encourage the Indians to next time demand his head. As a result, Zardari reportedly later told the Americans that it was ‘too early’ for a meeting with the head of the intelligence agency: ‘Let the evidence come to light, let the investigation take its course. Then perhaps there is a position where the directors general could meet…The DG (Pasha) is too senior a person to get into who overall looks into the investigation.’

Shortly after, Pakistani law enforcement officials arrested 124 suspects and tensions eased somewhat. But it took some time for Islamabad to press charges against seven of those detained and it has taken an eternity to bring the trial of these seven men to a logical conclusion.

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Meanwhile, in December 2009, the FBI informed Islamabad about the big fish they’d caught in their net: David Coleman Headley, an UScitizen of Pakistani origins. Pakistan sought access to Headley as he pleaded guilty to the charges, but the Americans refused. The US-Pakistan disconnect on terrorism issues is reflected by the fact that the Pakistanis paid the US back in kind and refused to allow the Americans direct access to Ilyas Kashmiri, an alleged accomplice of Headley. Incidentally, Kashmiri is an officer of the elite Special Services Group that was trained by the Americans. The wheel comes full circle!