The attacks could have been carried out as a diversionary tactic
Guest columnist Ahmed Rashid in Lahore argues that rising tension between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks might provide the two countries with an opportunity to extract a more lasting peace.
If Lashkar-e-Toiba is indeed responsible for the attacks - as Indian authorities claim and Pakistan denies - it will be the second time that the group has single-handedly put the two countries on a war footing. In 2002 each mobilised one million men for nearly a year after Lashkar attacked the Indian parliament.
The attacks have led to rising public anger in India against Pakistan and right wing Pakistani jingoism against India, in which some have even called on the moderate President Asif Ali Zardari to go to war.
When the Pakistan army finally stopped allowing Pakistan-based militant groups from infiltrating into Indian-administered Kashmir in 2004, groups like Lashkar, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul Mujheddin splintered and fragmented.
Some militants went home, others got jobs or stayed in camps in the mountains.
However the youngest and most radicalised fighters joined up with al-Qaeda and the Pakistani and Afghan Taleban in the mountains of Pakistan's tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
They embraced the global jihad to fight US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and later attacked the Pakistan government and army as the Pakistani Taleban developed their own political agenda to seize power.
The group that attacked Mumbai may well include some Pakistanis, but it is more likely to be an international terrorist force put together by al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taleban, who are besieged by the Pakistan army on one side and a rain of missiles being launched by US forces in Afghanistan against their hideouts on the other.
Al-Qaeda is looking for some relief and a diversion.
What better way to do so than by provoking the two old enemies - India and Pakistan - with a terrorist attack that diverts attention away from the tribal areas?
Such a move would force Pakistani troops back to the Indian border while simultaneously pre-occupying US and Nato countries in hectic diplomacy to prevent the region exploding.
A diversion such as this would preserve extremist sanctuaries along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and would provide militants with a much needed respite - especially considering that in the next few months President-elect Barak Obama is due to send an additional 20,000 US troops to Afghanistan, backed by more Nato troops.
This strategic diversion ploy for the sake of al-Qaeda and its surrogates is the principle motive behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks.
It worked well in 2002 when the Pakistan army moved away from the Afghan border to meet the Indian mobilisation, thereby allowing al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban to escape from Afghanistan and consolidate their positions in the tribal areas.
If the two countries mobilise along the border, they will be walking into a trap
If the two countries now mobilise their forces against one another they will be walking straight into the trap laid for them by al-Qaeda.
Charges that the Pakistan government, army or its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were behind the attack appear unfounded.
Pakistan can hardly contemplate a rise in tensions with India when it is beset by a monumental economic crisis, insurgencies in Balochistan and in North West Frontier Province, rising violence in Karachi and one-third of the country out of control of any constitutional authority.
Certainly Pakistan is not blameless. The army and its former military ruler President Pervez Musharraf must be faulted for refusing after 2004 to properly demobilise Kashmiri militant groups and being so reluctant to deal with the insurgency in the tribal areas. It was not until August when the army finally began a sustained offensive there.
And despite Musharraf's own peace overtures to India after 2004, the army itself has been slow to make the strategic shift from seeing India as the primary threat. It has taken time to understand that local extremists now pose a far greater danger.
The aim of the attacks was to create tension on both sides of the border
As the militants working under the umbrella of al-Qaeda have targeted the army in the mountains and in its cantonments, the army has retaliated but it has been slow and late in doing so.
If India and Pakistan can understand that they are both victims of a strategic diversion by al-Qaeda and if international mediation can help deepen that understanding, then there is perhaps a greater opportunity for the two countries to address the conflicts that have bedevilled their relationship for 60 years - Kashmir and other lesser issues.
It will certainly be difficult for the two countries to walk away from the brink. India has a weak government whose counter-terrorism policies have been a failure and which faces an election in the next six months. The Indian public and media are demanding revenge - not co-operation with Islamabad.
Pakistan also has a weak government that is still trying to set parameters of co-operation with an army which dominates foreign and strategic policy and controls the ISI, the most powerful political entity in the country.
Pakistan's other problems could well overwhelm the government - a troops mobilisation is the last thing it needs.
To turn the possibility of war into the possibility of peace, the leadership of both countries need to show statesmanship, determination and authority even if they have to defy the public mood in their respective countries to do so.
Ahmed Rashid is the author of the recently published Descent into Chaos: How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
This debate is now closed. Here is a selection of your comments:
The Mumbai attacks should be deplored by any sensible person - be it a Pakistani or an Indian. But Pakistan already has its hands full, dealing with millions of refugees from Afghanistan and its struggle with militancy. How can Pakistan with limited resources tackle all this? If India wants to tackle terrorism, it should do more itself. For a start, it could have a better navy, army and intelligence network to protect its own borders. Furthermore as a bigger and more powerful country it could work harder to ensure that the peace process never ends and by stressing that a war is out of question. Both countries need to so their bit if stability and peace in the region is to flourish.
Azam Khan, Karachi, Pakistan
It should be noted that in the past the Indian authorities have blindly blamed both the Pakistani and Bangladeshi governments for supporting "Islamic extremism" without offering any convincing proof of external involvement while also blatantly overlooking the fact that both the Bangladeshi and Pakistani people have suffered immensely from that very strain of terrorism for decades. This allegation is especially outrageous to me as a first generation Bangladeshi-American whose parents have lived through and witnessed atrocities committed by brainwashed fundamentalists in the name of Islamic unity during both our liberation struggle as well as for decades after independence.
Atif Ahmed Choudhury, Nashville, USA
The veiled accusations from India and the US about the ISI's involvement seem to lack any logic. Why would the Pakistan government, army and ISI want to open a whole new front when it is already dealing with militants and terrorists in Bajaur Agency, Mohmand Agency and Swat? The assertion by the US and India seems to indicate that in fact Pakistan has been put in a "guilty unless proven innocent" situation. It is pretty clear to Pakistanis that US and India have teamed up against Pakistan with an ultimate aim to destabilise and neutralise us. It is a open secret that India (and possibly the US) are aiding the militants in Bajaur, Swat and Balochistan.
Yasir Ahmed, Karachi, Pakistan
You seem to be very biased to Pakistan, but of course, it is your own country. You say with somewhat perverse logic: "If India and Pakistan can understand that they are both victims of a strategic diversion by al-Qaeda and if international mediation can help deepen that understanding..." First of all, Pakistan encouraged terrorists, you have admitted that earlier. So, Pakistan cannot act as a victim when it has been a propagator of violence.
Ashish, Goa, India
The government of India does not say that the Pakistani government is involved in the Mumbai atrocities. It says that Pakistani land is being used by the militants to train, plan and execute their plans - not only in Pakistan but also in India. That is a very important distinction.
HN Murthy, Hyderabad, India
The key to enduring peace between the two countries lies with the Pakistan army and the ISI. Ever since Pakistan's independence, they have been enjoying unparalleled power and economic advantages. The Pakistani public has tolerated this due to the fear of the Indian threat. Further, from General Zia's time, significant elements of the army (and ISI) become radicalised under the influence of fundamentalist Islam. These institutions are at risk of being marginalised if peace between India and Pakistan becomes an enduring reality. It is in the vested interest of these institutions to de-rail the peace process from time to time to preserve their position of privilege. I have no doubt that both the civilian government and majority of the Pakistani people sincerely want friendly relations with India. Recall the warmth generated following the cricket tours. Peace between the countries will only have a chance if and when, Pakistan conducts a root and branch reform of its defence institutions.
The logic that both India and Pakistan are victims of Jihadi terrorism cuts no ice - because while the former has been its biggest victim, the latter has been one of its biggest sponsors.
Tathagata Mukherjee, Calcutta, India
Pakistan would have done well to educate its population and increase the standard of living of its masses during the post independence era, but instead fell into the trap of blaming India. The cold war put all of this in abeyance with the super-powers courting the two. Now, it is a free for all. As to whether Pakistan and India will use this opportunity to set aside the past and embark on a policy of pursuing policies of mutual benefit to each is a decision only Pakistan can make. With nuclear capability on both sides to annihilate each other, they can no longer play the game between little boys as who can pee the farthest. In the end, however, remember "countries do not have friends, only interests".
Jaime Cesar, Houston, Texas, USA
I think we missed that chance Ahmed Rashid is talking of. Instead of co-operation from Pakistan, the Indian politicians and media are demanding something else. They are prompting a similar response from the Pakistani media and politicians. I would say India should blame nobody other than its electronic media, which really mishandled the situation by mainly looking for any smaller or bigger evidence against Pakistan instead of humanising the story.
Iqbal Khattak, Peshawar. Pakistan
A very comprehensive analysis. It's a fact that Pakistan is not behind the attacks. The Indian government and Indian people should try to analyse their position and move in a more sensible, less knee-jerk way.
Mohammad Ayub, Afghanistan
I think that Mr Rashid is right - it is indeed a trap for the Indian and Pakistani governments. If they do mobilise their troops to their common borders, Al-qaeda and the Taleban will have some break and apply more pressure on American and Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Irfan Elahi, Vancouver, Canada
Pakistan must understand that it cannot liberate Kashmir from the clutches of India by force or any proxy war. India on other hand must also understand that it can not keep Kashmir under its domination by state power. Kashmiris must be given a free and fair chance to either join India or Pakistan or stay independent. Everything else has failed. If both countries realise this and the world at large helps them to understand these realities the Jihadi organisation(sympathetic to Kashmiri cause) would automatically lose their raison d'etre. This would isolate the Taleban in the tribal areas of Pakistan, who could then be neutralised more effectively. A tall order, but it is achievable if leaderships in both countries in particular and of the free world in general make genuine efforts for peace on this planet.
Mir Moatazid, Lahore, Pakistan
The analysis is correct that al-Qaeda want to derail the peace process and at the same time wants a breather on the Afghan border. But you have to admit the fact that these people who ran around the city carrying rifles and grenades were Pakistani. I think we should praise the Indian government for not taking the bait by amassing troops on its borders. My message to the militants of Pakistan is this: you can hurt us but you cannot kill the spirit that India possesses.
Arpan Patel, Bangalore, India
India and Pakistan should be cautious of any third party manoeuvrings in the Mumbai attacks. Both countries have millions of people short of food and without life-saving drugs. They should look after these people rather than go to war and add to the miseries of the common man. A war would be disastrous for the entire South Asia region.
It is only a matter of time when these militants will strike the US and the West. Pakistan will again deny any involvement and will have its usual excuses while the ISI will remain busy at work.
Praful R Shah, Houston, Texas USA
The civilian government in Pakistan may not have anything to do with these attacks, but the statement that the Pakistani army and ISI also had nothing to do with them is absolute nonsense. Officers from the army and navy trained these terrorists and the Pakistan military had the most to gain from these attacks. They are desperate to withdraw their troops from the Afghan border where they are taking a beating from the Taleban in a war that is extremely unpopular in Pakistan. The army were hoping that a terrorist attack in India would cause India to mobilise and give them an excuse to shift their troops to the Indian border. Let me make this clear. The civilian governments of Pakistan are powerless before the army. There will never be peace between India and Pakistan as long as the army rules the roost in Pakistan. Every time there is any movement towards normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan the ISI and the army step in and scuttle it. Since no one is willing to attack the source of the problem do not expect anything to change in the near or distant future.
VT Abraham, Cleveland, USA
As a citizen of Mumbai, one can most certainly sense the anger in the air. People seem to have reached the highest peak of frustration possible. And since the attack has been the first of its kind, it is difficult for people to come to terms with it. Half of it is directed towards our own incompetent government and the other half is towards Pakistan. But what we need to realise, as mentioned in the article, is that we are facing a common enemy here. Terror. And as the saying goes: "united we stand, divided we fall". A war between the two nations can only create disharmony and steer away from the main problem, terrorism.
Riddhi Dave, Mumbai, india
Peace talks, confidence building measures are all up in air. There has been no result for the last six years of bilateral talks. Every time bureaucrats meet to discuss the problem of India-Pakistan relations, they sit, drink and leave. India is not willing to solve the Kashmir issue by peaceful means. They didn't even answer positively when President Musharraf went to so much effort to find common ground.