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Making Sense Of The Mumbai Finger-Pointing

Indian media, quoting unnamed sources, are saying in fairly definitive tones that Indian investigators have "concrete proof" that Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Agency was involved in last weeks attacks. The story is appearing in some of the leading papers and on at least one of the 24-hour news channels.

Someone has been briefing, and is using the media to send a signal to Pakistan that India will not back down, and that if India does not see evidence of real action, the current war of words could threaten to become something else.

The evidence cited is not that specific. The Indian source claims investigators have "names of ISI trainers and handlers, the locations where the training was held, and some of their communications through Voice over Internet Protocol have addresses that have been used by known ISI people there."

Both Indian investigators and U.S. intelligence have pointed their fingers at the banned Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. There is no question of L-e-T's links to the ISI; it was founded, funded and controlled by the intelligence agency as a useful surrogate in the ongoing Indo-Pak conflict in Kashmir.

However, under U.S. pressure, it was banned by Pakistan's government in 2002, and put on the U.S. government's list of terror organizations in 2003. All Pakistani government links were to have been severed. The founder of L-e-T, Mohammed Hafiz Saeed has morphed into the head of a new organization known as the Jamatt ud Dawa, located in the L-e-T's fairly palatial headquarters outside Lahore. Western intelligence agencies believe JuD is a front for L-e-T, and that Saeed remains active in their operations. India is demanding Pakistan hand Mr.Saeed over.

A local cameraman working for CBS News talked to Saeed's spokesman Abdullah Muntassir in Lahore. JuD, he said has no links with L-e-T. "They were not part of JuD. This was an allegation. And you can say that there is an error of perception that JuD is part of L-e-T and L-e-T is part of JuD." As for arresting Saeed, Muntassir said, "There should not be any pressure on him. He is a law abiding person and he is a peaceful citizen of Pakistan. The Indian government is covering up their intelligence failure."

What investigators and counter-terror specialists see is a sophisticated attack, requiring complex planning and logistics, and extensive training. One analyst based in the UK describes the training as "old-school commando training," far beyond the typical militant camp work of learning how to construct an IED or become a human bomb. "They were prepared for a long siege, know how to handle weapons expertly and showed no mercy whatsoever."

Another counterterror specialist says "the quality of the training is far beyond previous L-e-T operations. L-e-T does not have that capability." So someone helped somewhere.

Increasingly intelligence agencies are looking towards a "murky nexus" between al Qaeda (which does have both the training and complex planning skills), L-e-T (which has also seen disaffected militants join up with AQ) and some elements of Pakistan's military or intelligence services, active (and rogue) or retired.

One analyst says: "to say that ISI is behind the attack is wrong. The ISI has been fighting alongside the U.S. in the war on terror, and the USD is keeping a very careful eye on the ISI." But, adds another analyst, ISI-U.S. co-operation is increasingly limited, and the Pakistani agency is "riddled with in-fighting."

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