- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There is enough horrible and tragic about the terrorist attacks and killings of innocent people in Mumbai (the city long known in the West as Bombay) in the last several days without some careless media reporting and premature accusations by Indian officials suggesting Pakistani government responsibility making matters worse.

Full disclosure: I represented Pakistan in the 1990s, have visited the country several times, and made many close Pakistani friends during the time I helped Pakistan recover hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. government owed it.

It is not clear whether the government of India has actually made charges that the government of Pakistan was involved in the attacks or simply remained silent while certain of its officials anonymously suggested such involvement, broadcast through speculative media reporting rather than waiting for the facts to emerge.

For example, Saturday´s New York Times quoted unnamed U.S. intelligence officials that early “evidence” indicated that Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group based in Pakistani Kashmir, “might” have been involved in the terrorist attacks. (Kashmir remains divided between Pakistani-controlled and Indian-controlled territories, and Islamabad in years past has reportedly allowed militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba to operate against Indian forces from their base in Pakistani Kashmir).

The Times paraphrased the Indian foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, as stating that “early evidence explicitly pointed to Pakistan´s involvement.” Note the words “explicitly” and “Pakistan´s involvement.” But the actual quote from the foreign minister is a bit more ambiguous. He is quoted as actually saying, “Preliminary evidence, prima facie evidence, indicates elements with links to Pakistan are involved.”

“Elements” with “links” to “Pakistan”? That is pure innuendo. That certainly implies the government of Pakistan was involved, but it could also mean, simply, that some of the murderous terrorists happened to be Pakistani.

Exacerbating the innuendo suggesting Pakistani government involvement are references to the secretive Pakistan intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. It has often been reported that in years past the ISI has supported, directly or indirectly, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant groups in Pakistani Kashmir supporting the reuniting of Kashmir as part of Pakistan. It has also been frequently reported that the ISI supported the Taliban during the pre-9/11 years when the Taliban controlled the Afghan government and served as a base for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

But that does not mean the ISI, especially under the new democratically elected government of Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, had anything to do with Mumbai.

Nevertheless, the Indian government at the highest level needs to control casual remarks by senior officials suggesting a connection between the Mumbai horror and the government and people of Pakistan. The times are too dangerous to get out in front of the facts - especially between two nuclear powers.

Perhaps just as important, it simply isn´t fair.

Buried in the weekend´s press reports are statements from the same anonymous U.S. intelligence “officials” briefing the New York Times reporters about the possible involvement of a group of Pakistani Kashmir-based militants was the statement that there was “no evidence that the Pakistani government had any role in the attacks.” But that sentence either was downplayed or omitted from most other media reporting.

Mr. Zardari, the Pakistani president, wasted no time immediately issuing public statements abhorring the terrorist attacks and offering full cooperation to find out who was behind the attacks.

On Friday, as the attacks were unfolding and there were already published reports of Pakistan’s involvement spreading around the world on the Internet, Mr. Zardari immediately stated, “Non-state actors wanted to force upon the governments their own agenda, but they must not be allowed to succeed.”

During a four-day visit to India, which happened to fall during the terrorist attacks, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reacted to the innuendo apparently coming from Indian politicians and officials by saying to the Indian government, “Do not bring politics into this issue. This is a collective issue. We are facing a common enemy, and we should join hands and defeat the enemy.”

The Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. - Husain Haqqani, a former professor from Boston University and an old personal acquaintance - endorsed “confronting the menace of terrorism with great vigor.” He also made the obvious point - but not so obvious from reading most media reports - that it is “unfair to blame Pakistan [for] terrorism even before an investigation is undertaken.”

To demonstrate its bona fides, Pakistan took the unusual - indeed from a historical standpoint, breathtakingly unprecedented - position of offering to send a representative of the ISI to India to help with the investigation. If such a suggestion had been made as recently as last year, the person suggesting it would have been seen as taking leave of his senses.

India and Pakistan are two truly great countries with which America must maintain close relations - in the war against terror, to deal with the global economic crisis, in trade, and most important, to work together to avoid violence and even a nuclear confrontation over Kashmir, giving a new President-elect Barack Obama a chance to facilitate a final, peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute as one of his highest foreign-policy priorities.

There are no easy answers. India and Pakistan cannot, as Mr. Zardari stated, allow murderous non-state terrorists to get in the way of peaceful solutions and cooperation between these two great nuclear powers on the subcontinent.

The facts will come out about who is behind this terrorism. All, including the media, need to be patient and wait for that to happen, rather than whisper - and publish - inflammatory and unsubstantiated innuendo.

• Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton, served as a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006 to 2007. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America.”

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