A terrorism trial in Chicago is likely to expose links of the Pakistani agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with the Mumbai attacks in 2008 that killed more than 166 people, including six Americans. It is also expected that two Pakistani expatriates will be implicating the Pakistani government and its intelligence agency, the ISI, in the terrorist attack.
Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana, a Chicago businessman, is accused along with his childhood friend, David Coleman Headley, a Pakistan-born American national --who changed his name from Daood Gilani -- of having helped to carry out the 2008 Mumbai coordinated attacks on luxury hotels, a railway station and a Jewish center, among other targets.
The trial will have consequences on India-Pakistan relations, straining US-Pakistani relations even further. The trial comes after the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the disclosure that the top Al-Qaeda leader was located near the main Pakistani military academy.
In court documents which have surfaced ahead of the trial in Chicago, according to the India Times, Rana says his acts of providing material support to terrorists in the Mumbai attacks "were done at the behest of the Pakistani government and the ISI." The documents also cite Rana invoking his "friend David Headley's Grand Jury testimony in which the latter too implicates ISI." If these allegations will be proven in the trial, how will the US keep cooperating with the ISI if the ISI itself would be the main obstacle in the fight against terror?
The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has always been a thorn in the side of the Pak-US alliance. The ISI, or parts of it, keeps close ties with jihadist movements in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is a long-standing partnership going back to the days of the war in Afghanistan against the USSR, when Pakistan armed and trained Islamist groups to defeat Moscow. Pakistan was the country that helped the Taliban seize power in Afghanistan, and later it was one of the few countries to recognize the Taliban regime. Those ties have never been severed even when these movements began targeting the West.
After the killing of bin Laden, the US is asking Pakistan to stop any double-games and give it a real hand in rooting out other Islamist leaders, in particular Mullah Omar, the head of the Afghani Taliban. That group is directed by the so-called "Quetta Shura," a council of "wise men" headed by the Mullah Omar. Quetta is the capital of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, where Mullah Omar and other eminent Taliban leaders are thought to be hiding, supposedly under the motherly wing of ISI. But, according to the New York Times, Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani – who happens to be a former head of ISI -- is unlikely to respond to American demands. Says the NYT: "…those who have spoken with General Kayani recently said that demands to break with top militant leaders were likely to be too much for the military chief… While the general does not want to abandon the alliance completely, he is more likely to pursue a strategy of decreasing Pakistan's reliance on the United States, and continuing to offer just enough cooperation to keep the billions of dollars in American aid flowing," as since 9/11, Washington has granted Pakistan more than $20 billion in military and development assistance.
Unfortunately, for geo-strategic reasons, the U.S. cannot win the war in Afghanistan without the logistical support of Pakistan. The U.S. and Pakistan, for different reasons, do not want to break up. It could be called a marriage of convenience. However, since the common ground of understanding appears to be only the flow of American aid, then the U.S. should condition, more than ever, the disbursement of financial means to the achievement of consistent results in the war on terror, and probably consider paying after commitments are met rather than before.
In the aftermath of the killing of bin Laden the ISI chief, Shuja Pasha, visited Washington DC supposedly to restore "trust." However, the India Times reports that Pasha went to Washington "with a laundry list of demands." It seems the US has been trying to repair ties already severed by the case of CIA operative Raymond Davis, accused of a double murder in Pakistan, and recently released by the Pakistani authorities. Further, Indian papers report that a top Pakistani general cancelled a scheduled visit to the US "in a show of the Pakistani military's pique and anger against Washington" for the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
So instead of US demanding from Pakistan to stop harboring terrorists, it is Pakistan that is playing the tough game with the US. The Obama administration, apparently concerned about losing Pakistan as an "ally," seems to be bowing down to Pakistan -- even though the administration realizes that with an ally like this, who needs enemies?
Islamabad might not need the US as much the US needs Islamabad. Pakistan is developing a strong bond with China, which might be an economical alternative to the US. However, the China-Pak alliance would endanger the continuation of the war on terror in Afghanistan: China and Pakistan have political and economical ambitions in Afghanistan, and would not allow the US military presence, or fly-over rights.
Obama's fears clearly come out in the handling of the Chicago trial, which poses new challenges to the US-Pak relations. The Obama administration seems careful not to give publicity to the trial. As the India Times puts it: "The US effort comes despite growing disquiet about ISI's role in fomenting terrorism. Still, the Obama administration is scrambling to control fallout from the court proceedings in an effort to save its ally from being publicly exposed as a state sponsor of terrorism."
The US cannot close its eyes. Washington cannot cooperate in a fight against terror with a State that allegedly sponsors terror. The words of the defendant, Rana, to the Illinois court on the deadly terror attacks in Mumbai should sound as an alert for the US: he stated that he acted pursuant to his exercise of "public authority on behalf of the government of Pakistan and the ISI."