President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan was under fresh pressure last night after India accused his intelligence agency of masterminding the Mumbai train bombings that killed 186 people.

Hours after the broadcast of an interview in which Gen Musharraf claimed that the US and its allies would fail in their “war on terror” without the support of Pakistan and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the senior police officer in charge of the investigation into the bombings dropped a diplomatic bombshell.

Mumbai police commissioner AN Roy said the ISI began planning the July attack in March and later provided training to the Islamic militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, that carried it out.

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The row coincided with the return to Pakistan of Gen Musharraf after a three-week foreign tour during which he has faced questions about Pakistan’s commitment to the “war on terror” and the role of his intelligence agency. 

But in an interview yesterday on Radio 4’s Today he defended the ISI and claimed that the Taliban, not al-Qaeda, posed the greatest threat in the region.

“You will be brought down to your knees if Pakistan doesn’t co-operate with you. That is all that I would like to say. Pakistan is the main ally. If we were not with you, you would not manage anything. Let that be clear,” he said in the interview, which was recorded after he had held talks with Tony Blair in London on Thursday. ~The Daily Telegraph

This is one of those ugly predicaments that playing the hegemon brings upon America.  We have been compelled to ignore the reality that the ISI and Pakistan are and long have been the leading sponsors of jihadi terrorism in the world–a dubious distinction that our government routinely pins on Iran with remarkable duplicity–because if we should push them too hard to stop their anti-Indian terrorism the ISI will go back to its old habits of arming and supporting the Taliban, making life in Afghanistan even more grim and dangerous for NATO forces and the Afghan government.  Musharraf’s remarks on Radio 4 are a not-so-veiled threat that he effectively holds the leash on the Taliban and that if he chose to let go, if Pakistan stopped “cooperating,” Afghanistan would quickly become unmanageable.  The resurgence of the Taliban would soon enough become a full-blown restoration–and one that we are hard-pressed to combat, of course, because so many of our armed forces are stuck in Iraq. 

If the U.S. really were fighting jihadis no matter where they were–as the more crazed of the neocons seem to think we are supposed to be doing–we would be absolutely obligated to take the fight to Pakistan, which does not merely harbour but actively aids and abets jihadis in Kashmir and the rest of India proper.  This is one of the worst-kept secrets in modern international affairs.  It is also an arch-proliferator of nuclear weapons and probably today represents the single greatest threat to the peace of Asia and the world–but why worry?  They are on “our” side, right? 

If the goal of our foreign policy instead is to neutralise anti-American jihadi groups, stabilise Afghanistan and pursue American national interests, we might well have to temper our reaction to Pakistani treachery.  But if the ISI was involved in supporting and preparing the Mumbai train attacks–and I have little reason to doubt that at least some elements within the ISI were involved–then the ISI and the Pakistani government have shown that they have not changed in the least and are no better than the Taliban in their deliberate support for jihadi terrorism.  The logic of the so-called Bush Doctrine would lead to the United States and India allying together against this arch-sponsor of terrorism.  Jai Hind and let’s roll, right?  This is why the Bush Doctrine is an idiotic doctrine–it would, if followed strictly, force us to push Pakistan back to the side of the Taliban and give our enemies access to the power of the world’s only nuclear Islamic state.  We would take our strong moral stance and bring disaster to South Asia. 

All of this has got to be tempered with the realistic assessment that any major conflict between India and Pakistan would almost certainly lead to a nuclear exchange with disastrous consequences for India and Pakistan, the entire region and all of Asia.  It is, however, imperative that Washington show some integrity and courage vis-a-vis Pakistan for a change and push Musharraf to hand over the ISI members responsible for supporting Lashkar-e-Taiba and also push to suppress the camps for Lashkar-e-Taiba that he was supposedly suppressing five years ago after the Parliament attack.  Our good relations with India require us to make holding the elements in Pakistan responsible for this atrocity a priority.  Our long-term national interests in the region dictate that we support India in demanding justice for its murdered citizens. 

If Musharraf is incapable of meeting reasonable demands to hand over those responsible (the example of A.Q. Khan shows that we cannot trust Pakistan to seriously punish its own), because his position is too weak and he does not really control what the ISI does, it should be clear that he has no effective control over the apparatuses of his own state and can only be relied on to keep the lid on the boiling cauldron that is Pakistan. 

If he continues to deny any ISI involvement, we can be more and more sure that he remains as committed as ever to the jihad in Kashmir and against India, which should not surprise us when we know that he came to power through the Kargil War and that he was one of the architects of that war, but it will tell us what kind of ally we have in Islamabad and what we can expect from him.