This was irony at its cruelest. Just as David Headley took the stand in Chicago and alleged that the terrorists behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks were trained by Pakistan Navy’s Frogmen, troops in Karachi were almost done retaking the PNS Mehran naval air base after a 17-hour standoff that left 10 soldiers dead.
Amid the cacophonous confusion as most talking heads on television suggested outside involvement in the attack, a few lone voices stated the eminently sensible: This was an inside job, the work of enemies within. Such voices run the risk of extinction. Journalist Saleem Shahzad’s bruised body was discovered on May 31, days after he filed a story for Asia Times Online suggesting Al Qaeda had infiltrated the ranks of the Navy. Headley’s trial will throw up more uncomfortable testimony.
Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders have roundly denied Headley’s allegations. But even if the half-Pakistani, half-American is telling half-truths, we may be in over our heads. Headley says top officials of Inter-Services Intelligence were not in on Mumbai, but that an Army major and a Navy officer were. Secret arrests were made days before PNS Mehran and after, including of persons linked to the Navy. Low-rank military officers were also arrested and quietly court-martialed for the assassination attempts on Gen. Pervez Musharraf, whose purge of jihadists within and on-the-fencers clearly didn’t go far enough.
We have heard these whispers before and always decried them to preserve our sense of security—and sanity. This worldview may slowly be changing. “I think there’s no doubt that this Maj. Iqbal was in touch with [Headley],” said Shaharyar Khan, a former foreign secretary, to CNN-IBN. “But the crucial question is, did Iqbal act under instructions from the ISI hierarchy or is he one of these people operating on their own at lower levels?”
Khan’s candor competes for space against the woe-is-us conspiracies that clutter mainstream discourse and water-cooler discussions. The usual suspects are lined up in importance of their imagined and actual betrayals of Pakistan. There is, of course, the U.S., which everyone seems to believe is funding anarchy here as an excuse to denuclearize and enslave us. Then there’s Enraged India, which many people—including senior government officials speaking on deep background—hold responsible for the PNS Mehran siege. Our obsession with India continues to obscure self-reflection. One minister even blamed Imran Khan for the May 22 attack, complaining that his sit-in the same day diverted precious security resources away from key installations like PNS Mehran.
Even when Pakistan suggests foreign involvement in acts of local terrorism, it fails to provide anything beyond retread sound bites to distract from the painfully obvious introspection that is merited. Look at the reaction to the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan has so far failed to make public any convincing evidence in response to allegations that it is still maintaining its links with groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. In 2002, Musharraf cracked down on these groups only to blink weeks later. This continues to be our policy. We seem to be allowing space to these groups, these “nonstate actors,” out of fear of retaliation or sympathy or, simply, to hedge our bets. Pakistani investigators haven’t made much effort to pursue the 20-odd low-level fugitives, mainly crew members of the boats for the Mumbai attacks, and little is known of the seven men arrested here in connection to the attacks. If we’re serious about punishing the perpetrators of Mumbai, this is a fine way of showing it.
In Pakistani officialdom, Headley’s name is mud. Nothing he says is worth commenting on, even if ISI chief Gen. Shuja Pasha is named in the case. In media circles, the slow and painful unraveling of Pakistan is being viewed inflexibly in the context of deflowered sovereignty and wounded pride. What we forget is that honor is not just about making free choices, but also about dealing with the consequences of those choices. And the banquet of consequences has finally come to town here in Pakistan. The militancy, manufactured and fed by the security establishment, is on the prowl. After having lunched across the border and in our lawless frontiers, it’s arrived in Pakistan’s cities ready for the main course.
(From Newsweek, Pakistan)