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Seeing Mumbai From Pakistan

Seeing Mumbai From Pakistan

Author: Matthew Rosenberg
Publication: The Wall Street Journal
Date: February 12, 2009
URL: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123444626418577381.html

There's a report on the Mumbai attacks that has been making the rounds in Pakistan, e-mailed between friends in the last few weeks and occasionally ending up on the desk of one official or another. Its title pretty much sums up its content: "Mumbai: Dance of the Devil; Hindu Zionists, Mumbai Attacks and the Indian Dossier against Pakistan."

The dossier referred to in the title is a packet of evidence the Indians handed over to Pakistan in early January. They, along with the U.S. and its allies say it provides clear evidence linking a Pakistani Islamic militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, to the Mumbai attacks. It's an accusation that few outside Pakistan dispute.

Inside Pakistan, it's a different story, as the "Dance of the Devil" shows. If you're wondering why it has taken Pakistan so long to acknowledge that its people were the key players in the Mumbai attack - as India and the U.S. have been saying from the outset and Pakistani Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said Thursday - the report offers the start of an answer.

The gist of the 101-page report, prepared by a hawkish security think tank, is that Hindu extremists working with Israeli Mossad agents plotted and carried out the attacks. Their aim: destroy Pakistan by sparking a fourth India-Pakistan war that would force Islamabad to pull its forces away from the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda on the border with Afghanistan. That, in turn, would give the Americans an excuse to send their forces from Afghanistan into Pakistan, and eventually dismember it and take away its nuclear weapons at the behest of the Hindu radicals and Israeli conspirators.

The report relies on a mix of circumstantial evidence and fringe Indian writings and is easily dismissed, even by many in Pakistan.

But the paranoid worldview it represents isn't, and for every Pakistani that dismisses it there are plenty of others who don't. You hear it from Pakistani officials, like the one who pulled out the report during an interview and told me: "You should read it. It makes an interesting case."

You hear it from ordinary people, like Mohammed Khan, a 43-year-old shopkeeper in Islamabad. He hadn't read "Dance of the Devil" but when asked about the Mumbai attacks, he didn't miss a beat: "How come they always blame Pakistan. What about the Hindus? What about the Jews?"

You hear it from officers in the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, elements of which Indian officials allege played some part in the Mumbai attack, a charge Islamabad denies. One ISI officer, in a conversation before the report began circulating, conveyed pretty much the same theory and said that it was making the rounds among Pakistani military officers and intelligence agents. He said he didn't believe it, but that many of his colleagues did. "It tells you how some of us see the world," he said.

Again, it's not to say that everyone believes such theories, But you do hear them from a lot of people in a lot of different quarters.

Consider the massive September truck bombing that gutted Islamabad's Marriott Hotel. The Pakistani government says it was the work of Islamic militants. But a recent poll by Washington-based International Republican Institute found that while 7% of Pakistanis believed it was the work of the Taliban or "terrorists," 13% thought the government was behind it and 20% believed it was the work of the Americans. Half of those polled said they were unsure.

Those who disbelieve the conspiracy theories explain their prevalence partly as a function of Pakistan's creation in the bloody partition of Britain's Indian colony, forever destined to be smaller - and weaker - than India. From that point on, many in Pakistan have assumed that India, if given the chance, would destroy Pakistan. Watching the U.S. and Israel grow closer to India over the past few years has only added another wrinkle for those who already fear Indian domination.

Take the ISI officer. He may not believe that the U.S. and Israel are actively working to destroy Pakistan. But he does believe both countries would gladly deprive Pakistan of its nuclear weapons, and that India remains a mortal threat.

"You convince us differently and that will solve a lot of differences," he said.
-Mr. Rosenberg is The Wall Street Journal's Pakistan correspondent.

- Write to Matthew Rosenberg at matthew.rosenberg@wsj.com

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