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Trump takes a tougher line on Pakistan, but the 2008 Mumbai attack goes unpunished

Trump takes a tougher line on Pakistan, but the 2008 Mumbai attack goes unpunished

In a sharp break from the warning and inertia of his predecessors, President Donald Trump has slashed U.S. army assist to Pakistan and warned that Washington will take additional punitive measures until the Pakistani authorities acts decisively towards Islamist terrorists.

“They were just one of many countries that take from the United States without giving anything in return,” the president tweeted about Pakistan on Nov. 19. “That’s ENDING!”

But whereas the Trump administration has freely vented its frustration with Islamabad, present and former officers stated it has been sluggish to hunt justice for the 2008 bloodbath of 166 individuals — six of them People — in Mumbai, India, by a terrorist group that has labored intently with Pakistan’s intelligence service.

In 2011, federal prosecutors in Chicago indicted 4 Pakistanis, together with a serving officer of the nation’s highly effective intelligence service, in reference to the Mumbai assaults. But after an preliminary flurry of effort by the Obama administration, the authorities has carried out little to press Pakistan to arrest these suspects or to situation U.S. help on progress in the hunt for the suspects, the officers stated.

On Sunday, the State Division marked the 10th anniversary of the assaults with the administration’s first robust assertion about the case. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed solidarity with the individuals of India and stated the “barbarity” of the bloodbath had “shocked the entire world.” He additionally added a rebuke to Pakistan.

“It is an affront to the families of the victims that, after 10 years, those who planned the Mumbai attack have still not been convicted for their involvement,” Pompeo stated in a assertion. “We call upon all countries, particularly Pakistan, to uphold their UN Security Council obligations to implement sanctions against the terrorists responsible for this atrocity, including Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and its affiliates.”

As well as, Pompeo introduced that the division was providing $5 million via its Rewards for Justice Program for info resulting in the arrest of anybody concerned in planning or facilitating the assaults.

Nonetheless, critics say the administration’s lack of effort and a spotlight till now exhibits that the matter has not been a precedence. Earlier this yr, a multi-agency group of nationwide safety officers agreed to organize monetary sanctions towards the Mumbai suspects to attempt to pressure motion by the Pakistani authorities. But quickly thereafter, the officers concerned have been reassigned to different duties, together with a State Division marketing campaign of counterterrorism measures towards Iran, a number of officers stated.

“The administration said they were going to get tougher, but it didn’t translate into action,” on the Mumbai case, stated Jason Blazakis, who lately stepped down as director of the State Division’s workplace on counterterrorism finance and designations. “What are you doing as a government to bring these people to justice? Not a whole heck of a lot — and that’s unfortunate.”

The Pakistani authorities’s help for the lethal Mumbai assaults was particularly brazen, U.S. and Indian investigators say. A well-trained staff of 10 militants, deployed by boat and directed by telephone from Pakistan, slipped into the metropolis and stormed a Jewish middle, Chabad Home, in addition to two luxurious resorts, a restaurant and a practice station. The three-day rampage of shootings and bombings outraged India, Pakistan’s neighbor and nuclear-armed rival.

The assaults uncovered the Pakistani authorities’s patronage of and management over Lashkar, a militant group that has served as Islamabad’s proxy in the longtime battle with India over the disputed border area of Kashmir. Successive governments have additionally lengthy supported or tolerated the Afghan Taliban and different Islamist teams, a circumstance underscored by the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden at his hideout in the Pakistani metropolis of Abbottabad, lower than a mile from a main army academy.

The Mumbai investigation offered in depth new proof of the partnership between Lashkar and the highly effective Inter-Providers Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, of Pakistan. The FBI arrested a Pakistani-American businessman, David Coleman Headley, who confessed to conducting undercover reconnaissance in India. Headley was an operative of each Lashkar and the ISI, and he testified that they collectively designed, financed and directed the plot, aspiring to kill People and Jews in addition to Indians.

An ISI officer recognized solely as Main Iqbal served as Headley’s intelligence handler, overseeing his missions and serving to choose targets, in line with case information. Headley recognized his superior inside Lashkar as Sajid Mir, a veteran militant who was charged with coordinating the plot. Telephone intercepts recorded Mir’s calls from a high-tech command publish in Karachi as he talked to a hostage in Chabad Home, then ordered one in every of the gunmen to shoot the lady in the head.

Even earlier than the al Qaeda assaults of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. officers persistently subordinated their considerations about Pakistan’s ties to militants to different bilateral points, together with containment of the nation’s nuclear weapons program. The Trump administration, like these of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has targeted primarily on urging Pakistan to behave towards the so-called Haqqani community — a Taliban group based mostly in the nation — and different Taliban teams that struggle U.S. and Afghan troops from bases in Pakistani border areas.

Following the Mumbai assaults, the Obama administration pressed Pakistan to crack down on Lashkar. Chicago prosecutors indicted Main Iqbal in the murders of the American victims, making him the first serving ISI officer to face U.S. terrorism expenses. Pakistan responded by arresting the chief of Lashkar’s army operations, but it took no recognized motion towards Main Iqbal, Mir or others accused of planning and directing the assaults. Along with these indicted in Chicago, U.S. counterterror businesses have assisted an Indian investigation by which prosecutors have charged greater than two dozen suspects.

Publicly, the Islamabad authorities denied any position in the assaults and questioned whether or not Main Iqbal even existed. But behind the scenes, U.S. officers stated, the ISI moved him to a new unit and promoted him to the rank of colonel. Mir, in the meantime, stays “incredibly active” in Lashkar operations, one nationwide safety official stated.

Pakistan has continued to guard the suspects not solely to protect its relationship with the militant group it sees as a bulwark in its operations in India and Afghanistan, but to defend itself from embarrassment or sanction and to safeguard delicate info that they could reveal if arrested, counterterrorism officers and specialists on the area stated.

“It would require the introduction of the kind of evidence that the military and the ISI do not want shared,” stated Stephen Tankel, a professor at American College and former Pentagon adviser on South Asia. “There’s also the risk of alienating a reliable proxy and setting a precedent that could come back to haunt the Pakistan military and ISI down the road.”

Of the few suspects whom Pakistan did arrest, a number of have been launched. Others who stay in custody have been permitted by Pakistani authorities to supervise terrorist plotting whereas imprisoned, U.S. and Indian officers have stated. The trial of seven suspects in Pakistan has lasted for years, and the proceedings have been repeatedly delayed by authorized and technical issues.

In 2012, the Obama administration provided $10 million rewards for the seize of Lashkar’s spiritual chief, whom it accused of being concerned in the Mumbai assaults, and one other senior militant in the group. But as years handed with out progress, Washington’s consideration to the case pale, officers stated. The Obama administration additionally stopped in need of slicing help in order to not imperil its collaboration with Pakistan on points associated to the struggle in Afghanistan, officers stated.

Virtually from the begin of his presidency, Trump has taken a extra confrontational strategy, accusing Pakistan early this yr of “nothing but lies and deceit.” His administration later lobbied efficiently to place Pakistan on a world terrorism financing watch record. In September, the Pentagon redirected $300 million in army help slated for Pakistan, and a whole lot of tens of millions extra in help have been suspended. Throughout a current Fox Information interview, Trump alleged that Pakistan had sheltered bin Laden.

Responding on Twitter, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan criticized U.S. actions in South Asia and stated his nation had suffered 75,000 casualties preventing the struggle on terror. “Can Mr. Trump name another ally that gave such sacrifices?” Khan demanded.

But Trump has not talked publicly about the Mumbai case or Pakistan’s failure to seize the accused killers of People, together with at the least one Pakistani official. The White Home and State Division did criticize Pakistan’s launch final yr of Lashkar’s spiritual chief from short-term home arrest. And Pompeo despatched a message Sunday to Pakistan together with his assertion about the anniversary and the $5 million reward supply.

Lashkar nonetheless poses a formidable menace, officers stated. The group is loyal to the Pakistani state, and it wields energy by means of hospitals, charities and a political get together. Lashkar has not carried out one other main attack, but it stays a concern due to its curiosity in creating weapons of mass destruction and its exercise in Afghanistan and Kashmir. U.S. intelligence detected an uptick this yr in Lashkar operations involving drones and paragliders, counterterrorism officers stated.

“I absolutely see Lashkar as a current threat,” stated Blazakis, now a professor at the Middlebury Institute of Worldwide Research at Monterey in California. “It has a state patron. It has sanctuary. It has a freedom to operate. What would happen if the group carried out another Mumbai? I shudder to think about India’s response. It could steamroll into a full war between India and Pakistan.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Join their publication.

Sebastian Rotella

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