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Who Are the Bombay Terrorists?

"We are going to see a bloodbath."

According to Pakistani journalist and Taliban specialist Ahmed Rashid,[1] Islamists linked to al-Qaeda and to Kashmir's jihadi movements are the ones who organized and executed the Bombay operation.

Le Nouvel Observateur: Who is responsible for the Bombay attacks?

Ahmed Rashid: This attack was coordinated and conceived by al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban with the help of Kashmir jihadi movements, with the objective of creating a resurgence of tension between Pakistan and India. The Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda are under fire from the Pakistani army in the Bajaur and tribal regions and they hope this Bombay attack will force the Pakistani Army to redeploy its troops along the Indian border. India today is a victim of global jihad.

Have the tiny groups of Indian Muslims had a part in this attack?

Indian Muslim groups do, in fact, exist; their mobilization is growing and their very artisanal attacks have caused thousands of death in India. But those groups would not have been capable of this degree of sophistication and coordination. No, the attack was executed by Punjabi jihadists who are fighting in Kashmir. After the 2004 cease-fire, the Pakistani secret services stopped authorizing militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (the Army of the Virtuous) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (the Army of Mohammed) from going to Kashmir. But they didn't plow them back into civilian life. Those groups then fragmented into a multitude of entities. Some demobilized. Some joined al-Qaeda, others joined the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal regions. Still others waited for the right time to go back into action. They are educated and live in cities. They are responsible for several of the attacks that have recently bloodied Pakistan.

Why didn't the Pakistani government encourage and control their demobilization?

Because the Pakistani secret services wanted to keep them within their orbit, just in case.... At the time of the October 2005 earthquake, they helped those who had continued to train in camps recover some respectability. They pretended to have transformed themselves into NGOs and so siphoned off the majority of the funds and the assistance intended for victims.

Ahmed Rashid has just published "Descent into Chaos," in which, most notably, he shows how Pakistan allowed the Taliban to reconquer part of Afghanistan." (Photo: Forum Barcelona 2004).

Does the Pakistani government share responsibility for these attacks?

The Pakistani government is not responsible for the Bombay attacks. No one has an interest, neither the Army nor the secret services, in seeing a rise in tension between India and Pakistan while Pakistan is bankrupt, can't pay its soldiers' salaries and terrorism is destabilizing the whole country. It's possible that certain former secret services leaders who controlled those organizations (Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba) during the war in Kashmir participated in the attacks. But not the Pakistani government.

What will the consequences for Indo-Pakistani relations be? Could one envisage the two countries joining forces to fight against what has become a common enemy?

They so distrust each other! Especially their secret services, the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence and the Indian Intelligence Bureau. Of course, the CIA could try to bring them together, as it has the Pakistani and Afghan secret services. For that to happen, Pakistan will have to be transparent about the aid its secret services have provided those groups and communicate all the intelligence it has available. But if there's the slightest suspicion that India is mobilizing, Pakistan will mass its troops along the border, as in 2001. Remember, after the battle of Tora Bora, the Americans asked Islamabad to deploy troops to the Afghan border to prevent al-Qaeda members from escaping. That's when a commando terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament by a group of Pakistanis provoked a resurgence in tension that led Pakistan to concentrate its troops along the Indian border: for four years, there had been no soldiers in the tribal regions! That's what allowed al-Qaeda and the Taliban to grow stronger at their leisure. In fact, it was after the battle of Tora Bora, in the course of which bin Laden escaped, that the connections between Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaeda were forged: Lashkar escorted al-Qaeda fighters to Karachi, where they supplied them with false passports so they could return to their home countries ...

How do you think the situation is going to develop in the region? Are you worried?

In the coming months, we are going to see a bloodbath, a massive al-Qaeda attack in Afghanistan and in Pakistan to demoralize Westerners and Barack Obama before they send troop reinforcements. The jihadists are ready to do anything to maintain their fief in the tribal regions and southern Afghanistan, to open new fronts and distract the enemy ... and the Bombay attacks are the first round of this diversionary strategy.

[1] From the June 2008 New York Review of Books: Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and writer. He is the author of "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia and Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia," which is published this month. He is a BBC contributor and writes for the Daily Telegraph and the International Herald Tribune.

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Translation: Leslie Thatcher.

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About Sara Daniel

Portrait of Sara Daniel
Sara Daniel, a French journalist, war correspondent, expert on the Middle East.
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