With the latest accusations from India that the militants who attacked its financial capital, Mumbai, on November 26 belonged to a Pakistani militant group, tensions between South Asia's nuclear-armed neighbors are mounting yet again. Indian security officials say one of the captured attackers revealed under questioning that he was from Pakistan's Punjab province, belonged to the extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and had been trained in militant camps inside Pakistan (Hindu). This could implicate Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). which experts say in the past backed the LeT to fight in Indian-administered Kashmir. LeT has denied any responsibility for the attacks.
Pakistan's government also denied any role in the attacks and has asked the Indian authorities to share evidence on the identity of the assailants. The country's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi promised government action (The News) against any group within Pakistan's borders found to be involved in the Mumbai attacks. Experts fear, however, that the neighbors may move troops to the border (WSJ) in a replay of December 2001, when New Delhi's accusations against Pakistan for an attack on the Indian parliament nearly resulted in war.
In the 2001 flare up, Washington played a significant role diffusing tensions by formally acknowledging links between Kashmiri terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and the Pakistani state. Washington's addition of LeT to its Foreign Terrorist Organizations List in 2002 forced former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to ban the group inside Pakistan. But as this Backgrounder notes, the group continues to operate freely inside the country. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who travels to India on December 3, said Washington is emphasizing to the Pakistani government "the need to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and to do that in the most committed and firmest possible way." As President-elect Barack Obama nominated his new national security team on Monday, CFR's Senior Fellow for South Asia Daniel Markey predicted (ABCNews) that Pakistan "is going to be tremendously challenging" for this new team.
Pakistan's own troubles with terrorism raise further questions. Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari told the Financial Times that even if the militants are linked to the LeT, "who do you think we are fighting?" Some experts say India's allegations fail to take into account the drastically changed relationship between the Pakistani military and some Kashmiri militant groups since Pakistan itself has increasingly become the target of extremist violence. Shuja Nawaz, author of the book "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within," told CFR.org earlier this year the ISI has "lost control" of Kashmiri militant groups. However, Ashley Tellis, an expert on South Asia at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told CNN's Fareed Zakaria he's not sure whether the Pakistan army can bring itself "to enforce the writ of the Pakistani state" over groups which they might have supported in the past.
Still others argue that the ISI as well as the Pakistani army is beyond the control of the elected government in Islamabad. Experts say Islamabad's recent reversal of the decision that ISI chief will visit New Delhi to aid in the investigations raises further questions about who's really in charge in Pakistan.
For the United States, this spells problems beyond the India-Pakistan border. U.S. officials have been working with the Pakistani and Afghan governments to secure the border between them so that militants in Pakistan's tribal areas are unable to launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan targeting international troops. These efforts will suffer a setback if Pakistan moves its troops from the Afghan border fighting militant groups to fortify the border along India to the east. President-elect Obama said in an October interview with TIME magazine that working with Pakistan and India to try to resolve the Kashmir crisis was a critical task for the next administration, and a key to peace in Afghanistan. But if any form of Pakistani involvement in the attacks are confirmed, it might make this goal much tougher.