Washington: Two days after al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the creation of a South Asian branch of his outfit to "raise the flag of jihad" in the Indian subcontinent, a US intelligence analyst accused the Pakistani military of `stage-managing` the terror outfit's latest advance into India.
In his column, Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and National Security Council official for South Asia, also said that Pakistan should be warned that it will be placed on the list of states sponsoring terrorism.
Riedel, now director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution, has directly blamed the Pakistan military and its intelligence outfit ISI for the renewed terror threats against India in order to secure gains in their country's political arena. There was no uncertainty that Zawahiri recorded the latest video in his hideout in Pakistan, secured by the ISI, claimed Riedel.
"Zawahiri made the tape in his hideout in Pakistan, no doubt, and many Indians suspect the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) is helping to protect him," he wrote.
"Zawahiri has longstanding links" to Lashkar-e-Toeba (LeT), the group which attacked Mumbai in 2008, and to its leader Hafeez Saeed," the senior fellow at the Washington think-tank added.
"The domestic politics of Pakistan are central to this drama, and to this threat," he said.
"In short, the Pakistani Army and its ISI spies are once again playing with fire — with India, the LeT and Kashmir — in order to secure domestic gains against their civilian leaders."
The analyst further underlined the increasing risks of renewed confrontation between Pakistan and India, adding the US should ponder over a unilateral step if another 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks take place.
"America would treat Pakistan as a pariah like North Korea. It certainly meets the criteria and has for decades. The first Bush administration seriously considered this measure in 1992, although such a step obviously would have immense consequences for US-Pakistan relations," Riedel wrote.
"A targeted sanctions move against specific Pakistani military officials would send a strong deterrent message to the Pakistani Army and could be a warning shot before putting Pakistan on the list of terror patrons," Riedel further proposed.
He also advised that there should also be contingency planning between the US and India in case the latter faces another crisis with Pakistan.
The US State Department, Riedel noted had publicly blamed LeT for an attack on the Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, right on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's swearing in to which he had invited Sharif too. He added that the attack in Herat was aimed at discrediting Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and provoking Modi.
"Since he was elected in his own landslide victory last year, the Army has become increasingly unhappy with Sharif. They are very upset that he has put the former Army dictator Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason and did not just let him leave the country quietly. Musharraf ousted Sharif in a coup in 1999, and while the Army doesn't care that much for Musharraf, it does not like the judicial system holding a general accountable for coups. For them that sets a bad precedent," Riedel said.
Notably, Sharif's urge to deescalate the Indo-Pakistan rivalry has also upset the Army hardliners.
He further noted: "LeT is very close to the Pakistani military's Inter Services Intelligence Directorate or ISI. LeT would not have taken such a highly provocative action without at least some advance nod from the Pakistani spies in the ISI and the generals who command them. LeT's leader, Hafeez Saeed, lives openly in Pakistan, frequently appears on television denouncing the United States, and is the darling of the ISI.”
Urging the US to keep a check on Pakistan, Riedel warned: "If there is another LeT attack like the one in Mumbai or the one in Herat, it will provoke the most serious crisis in years between India and Pakistan, and the more that can be done by the United States and other to prevent such a disaster the better. But it won't be easy.”