Tags: cold | war | mumbai

Mumbai Attack's Roots Stretch Back to Cold War

Wednesday, 03 Dec 2008 03:37 PM

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The Mumbai massacre postmortem is wide of the mark. Of course, it's Pakistan. And of course, it's Pakistani extremists. We knew that before the siege was over by talking to Pakistani sources in Islamabad and Peshawar. But it's not one group; it's a culture that the United States helped create during the Cold War.

Almost 100,000 young boys are graduated every year from some 12,000 madrassas, Koranic schools in which the sole discipline is the Koran, which they have to learn by heart. The curriculum is larded with slogans about the hated American, Indian and Israeli infidels who are out to destroy Islam. Sons of poor and jobless parents who can't afford school fees, they get a free meal and learn how to read and write in a dirt-poor country with low literacy, high unemployment, and still higher inflation. Madrassas are free. Most of the boys leave these religious schools at 16 and are easy prey for recruiters from politico-religious extremist movements.

It all goes back to the clandestine war the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan fought together against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989). The coalition's secret weapon: Islam and the cult of jihad.

In the early stages of the Soviet invasion and occupation, many of the Soviet troops were drawn from the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union. It was a colonial configuration: brown faces with white officers.

The anti-Soviet resistance, funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia to the tune of $1 billion a year (which was real money in those days), flooded towns occupied by the Soviets with Korans and pamphlets declaring jihad, or holy war, against the Russian occupier.

These also appealed to potential recruits for jihad throughout the Arab world. That was Osama bin Laden's main contribution to the anti-Soviet war effort. Using family funds from Saudi Arabia, bin Laden paid for their trips to Peshawar where he kept a roster of volunteers and their next of kin. Al-Qaida propaganda to the contrary, bin Laden didn't see much action against the Red Army. But it wasn't long before Moscow decided to replace its brown faces with more trustworthy Soviet Caucasians.

At the same time, Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq (killed in a mysterious place crash in 1988) decided to erect what he called ideological and religious barriers against the penetration of communist ideology. Hence, the creation of madrassas, Koranic schools, along the Pakistani-Afghan border. Zia also took advantage of the clash of ideologies to appoint Islamic chaplains at battalion level throughout the army in a drive to Islamize the armed forces.

Following the Kremlin's decision to abandon Afghanistan as a lost cause in 1989 and Washington's decision to turn its back on the region, madrassas soon spread to the entire country. Anti-Americanism progressed in tandem with U.S. punitive measures against Pakistan for its secret nuclear weapons program. Diplomatic, economic and military sanctions facilitated the work of religious extremists who proselytized against the American and Indian heathens. Young volunteers joined all manner of extremist groups.

Many were trained by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence to conduct commando-style attacks and acts of terrorism against Indian troops in Kashmir. And it was ISI that midwifed a group of Afghan jihadis that became the Taliban and conquered Afghanistan in 1996. Even Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated moderate leader whose widower is now President Ali Zardari, backed the Taliban's conquest of Afghanistan.

When Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and proclaimed himself president, the country was awash with madrassa-trained youngsters eager for action. Extremist groups enjoyed official recognition, most of them with ISI links; Kashmir was their leitmotif.

Sept. 11, 2001, compelled Musharraf to heed U.S. calls to action against extremists. Lashkar-e-Toiba, the group nailed for India's Sept. 11 in Mumbai, was one of the groups disbanded. But like the others, they dropped one name and reopened across town with a new shingle.

A demonstration of their numbers came when the United States invaded Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, three weeks after Sept. 11. Mullahs mobilized some 5,000 madrassa-trained boys in their teens and moved them across the border into Afghanistan from the Mohmand tribal agency to fight the American invader. They never got to do any fighting because the Taliban regime had already collapsed. The teenagers were rounded up and secretly shipped back to Pakistan, courtesy of U.S. clandestine services.

Prior to the U.S. invasion, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and its 20-odd al-Qaida training camps supplied terrorists for Kashmir. After the Taliban's defeat, they all fell back to FATA, Pakistan's seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where they still benefit from safe havens today. From FATA, they battle a reluctant Pakistani army and feed manpower to the anti-U.S./NATO insurgency in Afghanistan.

Until Feb. 18, when the MMA coalition of six politico-religious parties lost the elections, extremists governed two of Pakistan's four provinces -- Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province. The chief minister of NWFP told this reporter he was a good friend of Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief, and that he admired Osama bin Laden. Baluchistan's capital, Quetta, under a coalition of religious zealots, became a safe haven for Taliban fighters, from R&R to hospital treatment for wounded fighters.

Now that MMA types no longer have government responsibilities, they are free again to encourage their more extreme extremists to engage in anti-government mayhem. Former members of the coalition have long been fearful of a U.S.-engineered rapprochement with India, as they are convinced it would be a Pakistani sellout to its emerging superpower neighbor. The terrorist strikes against at least seven targets in Mumbai were clearly designed to provoke India and torpedo any chance a new American president might have of negotiating a deal.

Britain's intelligence agencies are tracking some 200 terrorist plots among Pakistani Britons and some 2,000 are under observation. Some 400,000 travel back and forth between the United States and Pakistan each year.

Does ISI control some of Pakistan's terrorist groups? No longer. But little escapes its notice about groups it originally sponsored. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the new head of ISI, was in India to see his counterparts a week before India's Sept. 11. It will be at least a year or two before he knows all the facets of a huge organization that is involved in every detail of political, economic and military life. Pasha has ordered ISI out of politics, which is like ordering the CIA out of spying.

ISI knew that something "big" was planned for the United States in September 2001. Confirmation of this knowledge was presented to the Sept. 11 Commission -- but arrived in Washington three days after the document had gone to the printers. The head of ISI at the time, Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, was in the United States when the attacks took place.

Back in Pakistan, Musharraf ordered him to see Mullah Omar in Afghanistan and to force the surrender of Obama bin Laden — or face a U.S. invasion. He disobeyed the order, advised Mullah Omar to keep bin Laden and was fired by Musharraf. There is still a lot of untold history about Pakistan's unholy war culture.

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