Pakistanis Dispute Full Blame For Mumbai Attacks

Pakistani students shout anti-Indian slogans during a protest in Lahore on Dec. 2, 2008. i i

Students shout anti-Indian slogans during a protest in Lahore, Pakistan, on Dec. 2. Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani students shout anti-Indian slogans during a protest in Lahore on Dec. 2, 2008.

Students shout anti-Indian slogans during a protest in Lahore, Pakistan, on Dec. 2.

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

India holds Pakistan responsible for last month's terror attacks in Mumbai, which killed at least 170 people. The two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors have had a contentious relationship for decades. But many in Pakistan resent being the immediate prime suspects in the three-day siege.

Tayyab Siddiqui, a former Pakistani ambassador to several countries, says there is a deep well of distrust between the two rival nations.

"There is a kind of built-in defensive mechanism. The moment something happens, instead of getting to the truth or the bottom of it, they indulge in kind of a blame game — the one party saying, 'I'm totally flawless, totally innocent,' the other saying, 'You are evil incarnate,'" Siddiqui says.

There is widespread disbelief in Pakistan that a small group of Pakistani men could be behind the siege. Author and analyst Zahid Hussein is one of those who question the allegations.

"I'm not denying the fact that some of the attackers could have come from Pakistan, but is it possible for a few people who are completely unfamiliar with that town to launch such a big scale of operation?" Hussein asks. "It's amazing ... like something seen in Hollywood films."

India says the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba coordinated the attacks. The group was created in the 1980s by Pakistan's intelligence agencies to act as a proxy fighting force in the disputed area of Kashmir. Shuja Nawaz, the author of a recent book on Pakistan's military, says Lashkar-e-Taiba could have had a hand in the Mumbai attacks, but most likely, they were the result of a transnational effort.

Nawaz says he thinks the Pakistani group had help from Islamist radicals in neighboring countries: Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, with an equal distribution among the three.

Nawaz says one popular theory in Pakistan is that planning and coordination for the attacks may extend as far as Dubai. He says the Gulf state could have been used as a "transit station," where final training and indoctrination occurred and where technical and other support was located.

It may take Indian and international investigators months to determine who was behind the Mumbai attacks. In the meantime, the allegations against Pakistan resonate. The government is on the defensive, there's a simmering anger that the United States is taking sides with India, and there's a collective disappointment that the world views Pakistan as a terrorist haven, says security analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais.

"Many Pakistanis are pained over the way Pakistan is depicted in the international media. We should not be known by the character of terrorist organizations. These are small groups; we are a larger society," Rais says.

Still, Pakistan's fledgling civilian government is being pressured — by the U.S., India and even the United Nations — to crack down on suspected Islamist radicals. The army has shut offices of several major militant groups. Western analysts say it's in the Pakistani government's interest to go after them — but not only because of the Mumbai attacks. It's believed such groups have banded together to fight Pakistan's security forces along the border with Afghanistan. Rais says the government understands what it needs to do, but probably doesn't have the public support.

"It is in a very difficult situation. This is not a government which has widespread national support, weak leaders," says Rais. "I don't think that they have that capacity to go after [militant groups] in a big way without the support of all the political parties. And that is not forthcoming."

Rais says too many of the political parties have their own agendas. Because of that, Pakistan can disrupt — but not easily eliminate — its homegrown militant groups. And that inability will do nothing to dampen suspicion and distrust from its neighbor, India.

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