The attacks in Mumbai are grisly enough, and it's a relief that they appear to be coming to an end. But the question over involvement of Pakistani groups has the potential to make things much, much worse, and really cripple any hope of stability in the region.
Pakistani militant groups on Friday became the focus of the investigation into the attacks in Mumbai as India and its archrival Pakistan jousted over who was responsible. Both sides pledged to cooperate in the probe, but tensions remained high amid fears the conflict could escalate.
Pakistan initially said Friday that it had agreed to send its spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, on an unprecedented visit to India to share and obtain information from investigators there. Later Friday, however, Pakistani officials changed their minds and decided to send a less senior intelligence official in Pasha's place, according to a Pakistani source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
It was unclear what prompted the reversal, but the Pakistani source said the Islamabad government was "already bending over backwards" to be cooperative and did not "want to create more opportunities for Pakistan-bashing." Pakistan's defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, told reporters in Islamabad, "I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents."
Worse, the preliminary speculation focuses on Kashmiri militants.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said some "signatures of the attack" were consistent with the work of Pakistani militant groups known as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed that have fought Indian troops in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and also are reported to be linked to al-Qaida.
At this point, it's not particularly relevant whether or not these allegations are true (and it may not be). It's that they are being made at all. Because the charges themselves are enough to raise tensions between the two nuclear superpowers. India and Pakistan have been at war over Kashmir almost since Pakistan has become a sovereign nation. National pride demands that neither side surrender. And if the voices continue to rise about Pakistani involvement, India will react, whether by massing forces at the Pakistani border or even engaging in a first strike, which under cover of the Bush Doctrine has a patina of sanction.
A lot of basically sensible people [...] who may well find themselves with positions in the Obama administration, have suggested that maybe we don’t want to throw the alleged baby of preventive war out with the bathwater of Bushism. I always think people thinking along these lines need to keep in mind that the United States isn’t the only country on the planet. I don’t think we want a world in which India claims to have a U.S.-endorsed right to launch preventive military strikes on Pakistan, or a world in which Pakistani policymaking is dominated by fear of a potentially imminent preventive Indian military attack.
Ultimately, our so-called "strategy" in that region of the world, including Afghanistan where we have a shooting war, means exceedingly little in the eyes of the Indians and the Pakistanis compared to the threat posed by each other. We have very little ability to shape these events, and any attempt to choose sides or play one country off of the other will have devastating consequences. Pakistan's anti-terrorism efforts will be consumed by anti-Indian efforts. Afghanistan could become a proxy fight between the two East Asian powers, as we saw when the Indian embassy in Kabul was bombed.
This is a terribly explosive situation and it had better inform the incoming Administration's continued presence in the region.