"You don't plan operations like this in some safe house." - Macleans.ca

“You don’t plan operations like this in some safe house.”

Michael Petrou on the attacks in Mumbai

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You don't plan operations like this in some safe house

This afternoon, the World Desk spoke with Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University who has studied terrorism and insurgencies for more than three decades. He was formerly a scholar-in-residence at the Central Intelligence Agency, advised the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and has recently returned from Pakistan. I have written briefly about Hoffman in a previous post. I consider him an insightful source.

While cautioning that it’s still too early to draw firm conclusions about the identity of the attackers, Hoffman says the sophistication of the attacks, which required high levels of training, manpower, and logistical coordination, points to “outside planning.” The terrorists assaulted several targets simultaneously; they took and kept hostages; and they carried enough weapons and ammunition to fight for several days. Pulling this off would have required planning and practice.

“It’s not like planting a bomb,” he said. “You don’t plan operations like this in some safe house.”

Hoffman confirmed that links between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency and local Islamist terror groups are “very close,” but noted that this doesn’t mean the ISI played a role, or even knew about, the Mumbai attacks. “It could mean that far down the road in the past, these groups got the training they needed from the ISI,” he said.

The Pakistani government, through the ISI spy agency, was behind the creation of several of South Asia’s most violent Islamist militant groups, including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir. But the Pakistani government doesn’t necessarily control the ISI, and the ISI doesn’t necessarily control its guerilla offspring. There’s a lesson here about not sowing the wind, but it’s a little late for Pakistan to learn it now. The entire country is at risk of being torn apart by the same brand of Islamist terror that was almost certainly behind the atrocities in Mumbai.

Bruce Hoffman says he believes Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, is sincere in his belief to advance peace between India and Pakistan and cooperate against the Islamist militants who threaten both countries. Terrorists assassinated Zardari’s wife, Benazir Bhutto, so his motivations might be personal. He may also be enough of a realist to recognize he doesn’t have much choice.