Allegations made public by the Indian intelligence agencies as they question Syed Zaibuddin Ansari, the suspected mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, are producing a bitter chill between Pakistan and India, just as Islamabad is working on an uncertain thaw in relations with the United States.
Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, who was arrested last week, has stunned a Pakistani government embroiled in challenges including pressure inside from the judiciary and opposition vis-a-vis how to revive ties with Washington, with allegations of state involvement in the November 26, 2008, carnage. Pakistan has rejected the claims as propaganda intended to defame the country’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Sources in the Pakistani civil and military establishment claim that India has triggered the Abu Jundul issue on the directions of United States to cast Pakistan in unfavorable light so Washington can gain maximum advantage as it seeks to persuade Pakistan to open North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply lines into Afghanistan.
Pakistan and United States are likely soon to announce new terms of diplomatic engagement, with an unexpected move from the United States to apologize over an air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and led Islamabad to block supply routes in November 2011.
Revelations from Abu Jundal, suspected of being one of the key handlers of the 10 Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists who carried out the Mumbai attacks, come at a sensitive time in the push to reopen the blocked routes.
According to the sources, United States Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides and Senior Pakistani government and defense officials are expected to meet in Islamabad for discussions that could lead to Pakistan formally announcing the reopening of the NATO supply line. General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force arrived on Sunday for his second visit to Islamabad to hold talks with military and civilian leadership over the routes, while on Monday NATO Secretary General Andres Fogh Rasmussen reportedly urged Pakistan to cooperate.
Outlook newsmagazine has said the “most significant revelation” made by Ansari so far “is of the presence and involvement of two majors in the conspiracy meetings in Karachi”. He has apparently mentioned “Major Iqbal”, a shadowy figure who is believed to be of the ISI, and a Major Sameer Ali of the Pakistan Army.
The Pakistan army has serious reservations on the restoration of NATO routes and strongly opposes their reopening without an apology for the US air strike that Washington has so far been unprepared to offer, while the authorities in Islamabad accuse the Indian media of mounting a propaganda campaign against Pakistan.
Former ISI head Hamid Gul, in an exclusive discussion with Asia Times Online, said: “India has always sought to dominate Pakistan by using such kinds of baseless propaganda.” He claimed that whenever developments in the peace process begin to reach a level of maturity, India spreads misinformation against Pakistan in national and international media, which halt this process.
Gul ruled out the chance of NATO supplies being opened in the absence of a US apology for the deaths at Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and an end to US drone attacks in Pakistan. The restoration of NATO supply lines by the government would be a major setback to Pakistan if it was unaccompanied by US acceptance of its demands, he said.
Zahid Hamid, the head of the Pakistan BrassTacks Defense and Security think tank, writes in his latest weekly column, “India is wrongly sensing a collision between Pakistan and US and hence is trying to ride the wave. What it does not realize [is] that [the] US’s back is already broken and there is no way [the] US can threaten Pakistan militarily when NATO’s lifeline remains in Pakistan’s hand.”