Lashkar e Tayyiba, Al Qaeda, and Pakistan: Time to Clean House

While in Kabul this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that “somebody in this Pakistani government does know where Usama bin Laden is hiding” within Pakistan. It is an extraordinary statement, one that the Secretary has made before, and it illustrates dramatically the difficulty America has in working with Pakistan. On the one hand, we suspect elements of the Pakistani army remain closely connected to the global Islamic jihad movement that they helped nurture for three decades; on the other we need their help to defeat the terrorists. As the Secretary pointed out Pakistan has helped us kill or capture many al Qaeda operatives but it is also still where bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar are hiding out. Pakistan is our most important ally in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, and our most difficult ally.

The Secretary also commented on another issue—reports in the Indian media claiming that the November 26, 2008, Lashkar e Tayyiba (LeT) terror attacks in Mumbai were controlled by Pakistani intelligence from start to finish. In past statements, David Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani origin who has plead guilty to being a conspirator in the Mumbai attacks, confessed to making five trips to the city between 2006 and 2008 to reconnoiter the targets. According to Headley’s past statements, his trips included visits to the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Chabad House, where six Americans were eventually killed during the 26/11 attacks (as they are known in India). According to Headley’s own confession, he was intimately involved in every aspect of the planning for the Mumbai attacks, and then went on to work with LeT and al Qaeda on a plot to attack Denmark. Arrested by the FBI last October, Headley eventually made these confessions in March.  In the months that followed, Indian officials continued to interview Headley extensively.

Headley is a convicted conspirator and may have his own reasons to mislead and lie, but his newest accusations are raising a firestorm in India. According to  leaked information to the Indian press last week, Headley reportedly told his Indian interrogators that Pakistani intelligence paid for the boat that took the ten terrorists from Karachi to Indian waters and that Pakistani naval frogmen had provided intensive commando training for them. The sole survivor of the terror team who has been convicted of murder in India apparently has also told Indian investigators about the naval training. India’s Home Secretary G.K. Pillali said last week that the Headley revelations show that Pakistani intelligence was “literally controlling and coordinating the attack from the beginning to end.”

The Secretary in Kabul said that Headley’s comments have included “a revealing set of facts” which the United States has now shared with the Pakistanis. Washington and New Delhi are both now waiting for Islamabad to respond. The Indians who have resumed their official dialogue with Pakistan after suspending it in the wake of 26/11 seem uncertain about how to proceed next. They have suspected Pakistani collusion in the Mumbai attacks from the start but could not prove it before Headley’s statements. Headley revelations, if true, paint a picture of official Pakistani military cooperation in an act of mass causality terror that raises very worrisome and alarming questions about our most important partner and India’s nuclear-armed neighbor.  

The truth about Mumbai and the future of Lashkar e Tayyiba is the ticking time bomb that could wreck the nascent U.S.-Pakistan partnership Secretary Clinton is rightly trying to build and that could take the subcontinent to disaster. Thanks to David Headley’s extraordinary confessions, we now know how thoroughly LeT planned its 2008 Mumbai attack and how closely linked it is to al Qaeda – and perhaps to the Pakistani military. There is no excuse for not executing a more robust crack down on Lashkar e Tayyiba and its front organizations from the Pakistani government and for not conducting a thorough house cleaning within the Pakistani army.