It has been a bad week for Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment. In a high-profile trial in Chicago, confessed Pakistani-American terrorist David Headley has revealed that his handler in the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence chose a Jewish center as part of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and plotted against a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.
Headley’s claims of direct ISI involvement in attacks that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans, could not come at a worse time for an intelligence agency already under the scanner for failing to detect Osama bin Laden’s safe house in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad. Though the ISI’s ties with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group behind the attacks, is hardly news, Headley’s testimony, if true, provides a damning insider’s account of how those ties work in practice.
At the same time, Pakistan is grappling with the aftermath of Sunday’s audacious attack by local Taliban on a naval base that killed ten people and destroyed two expensive P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft. Though the popular response in Pakistan has included rallying behind the army and, predictably enough, blaming America for the attack, some of Pakistan’s more thoughtful commentators are raising questions similar to those raised after the Abbottabad raid. In the Express Tribune, columnist Aqil Shah says the attacks shatter myths about the military’s ability to safeguard Pakistan. Says Shah: “Rather than blaming others for its own failures, the military should start doing its actual job for once. And managing real estate, hounding journalists and propping up political alliances is not really a part of it.”
It remains to be seen how Pakistan responds to growing evidence that it needs to rethink its priorities by abandoning adventurism outside its borders and focusing instead on improving its sclerotic economy. (Pakistan’s GDP grew by 2.7 percent last year, about a third as fast as neighboring India’s.) But the events of this month—Abbottabad, PNS Mehran, and the Headley trial—add up to a pattern that even the blindest general ought to be able to recognize.