Pakistan’s ISI is really, really, really not on our side

WBEZ, the NPR affiliate in Chicago, reports that the jury has now been selected for the trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, one of several men indicted as co-conspirators in the 2008 coordinated terror attacks in Mumbai. WBEZ notes,

The trial will be closely watched by U.S., Indian and Pakistani officials. That’s because it’s expected the trial may reveal that the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, played a role in the Mumbai attack.

Indeed. David Headley, an American born to a Pakistani father and an American mother, is also alleged to have conducted intelligence preparation of the attack sites for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant organization responsible for the attacks. Foreign Policy‘s Stephen Tankel summarizes the information investigators have gotten from Headley:

According to Headley, every major LeT operative had an Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) handler and all of the group’s major operations were conducted in coordination with these officers. His hander was allegedly one Maj. Iqbal, who Headley said provided approximately $25,000 for surveillance trips to India…. Headley also asserted that a man whom he understood to be from the Pakistani navy helped to plan the maritime insertion, instructing him to explore the position of naval vessels and possible landing sites during subsequent surveillance trips. Finally, he stated that his handler was aware of the targets chosen and of the LeT’s leadership need to keep their jihadist credibility in order to retain control over elements within the organization.

If Headley is to be believed and every major LeT member had an ISI handler, then it is reasonable to assume others in the ISI were also aware of the operational details given that a number of the group’s senior leaders were involved in planning the attacks. Security officials familiar with the case say they believe a small coterie of serving and retired officers played a role in or had knowledge of the attacks, though that knowledge may not have been uniform. Indeed… as Headley describes it… the new ISI leadership was out of the loop, at least with regard to the scope of the plot…. LeT was allowed to operate openly, and its ability to execute the Mumbai attacks owed partly to the state support the group continued to receive. Moreover, despite the outcry following Mumbai, Pakistan took no significant steps to degrade LeT’s military capabilities. [emphasis added]

It’s not terribly surprising to hear that Pakistan engages in state-sponsored terror attacks inside India. But the pivotal role played by Pakistani-Americans and -Canadians in collecting target intelligence for the terrorists, the careful selection of targets most likely to result in the deaths of European foreigners and Jews, and the involvement of two conspirators also connected to attempted attacks against Danish newspapers, should sound serious warning bells to U.S. policymakers. ISI is working LeT, which is connected to a worldwide network of jihadists capable of serious, methodically-planned attacks. And those jihadists are not confining themselves to narrow territorial disputes between the two powers of the subcontinent. They’re at least as interested in taking on those ready scapegoats, the decadent West and the Jews.

Tankel again:

[T]he surging jihad in Afghanistan, and eruption of violence in the Tribal Areas led to fierce ideological debates among militant outfits regarding where to focus their violence. Headley described how the aggression and commitment of those fighting in Afghanistan influenced some fighters to leave Kashmir-centric groups like LeT, which he believed contributed to LeT’s decision to “consider a spectacular terrorist strike in India.”

It’s probably fantastical, at this point, to say that the ISI is interested in planning attacks against the West. But it’s absolutely correct to say that the while the ISI attempts to empower the LeT for its own purposes (i.e., harassing India), the LeT’s more radical members are pushing it toward a more globalist view of jihad, one that could easily involve attacks in the U.S. We’re playing a dirty, dangerous game in continuing to treat Pakistan as an ally rather than an enemy — and this is apart, mind you, from the ISI’s ongoing support of the Taliban.

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