The ISI and the Jews
There are perhaps 5,000 Jews in India; there are no longer any in Pakistan. So, during the 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani terrorists, how did it happen that the Chabad house was singled out and six Jews killed? And now that the victims’ relatives have sued the perpetrators in federal court, why has the State Department’s Legal Adviser informed the court that two former heads of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, ISI, are immune from suit despite evidence that they helped plan the attack?
On November 26, 2008, 10 terrorists from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) launched a series of attacks in Mumbai that lasted 65 hours and killed 195 people. Most of the targets—a train station, a hospital, two luxury hotels—were selected for their high profile and their crowds. But another target was the Chabad center, Nariman House. There, two terrorists took Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife Rivka hostage, along with four others. During the subsequent siege by Indian forces, the couple were tortured, then murdered. Their two-year-old son, Moshe, was rescued by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel.
Indian police quoted the sole surviving terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, as saying that Nariman House was the most important target, because LeT wanted to “send a message to Jews across the world by attacking the ultra-Orthodox synagogue.” Indian intelligence overheard the attackers being instructed by their handlers in Pakistan that Jewish lives were “worth 50 times those of non-Jews.” Why?
LeT, founded in 1990, receives support from ISI and from individual Saudis and Gulf Arabs. Like Hizballah, LeT maintains networks of schools, mosques, and media, providing social services directly and through front groups. Though its chief aim is “liberating” Kashmir from India (it has perpetrated a long string of bloody assaults to that end), its ideology and ambitions are increasingly global. The group’s “Jewish problem” is standard Islamism with a South Asian flavor: opposition to the “Hindu-Zionist-Crusader alliance,” a desire to “plant the flag of Islam in Washington, Tel Aviv, and New Delhi,” and attacks on Jews to “avenge the atrocities on Palestinians.”
Nariman House was surveyed many times before the attack—by, among others, David Headly, who sometimes posed as a Jew. He was born Daood Gilani, the son of a Pakistani diplomat and an American mother, and became an informer for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. In 2000 he traveled to Pakistan, where he came under LeT’s influence. He went back to Pakistan repeatedly for training—which he later testified, included direct contact with and direction by ISI officers. By 2005, he said, the ISI had put Nariman House on its target list. In 2006 he changed his name to Headly to make his international travel less conspicuous. He was arrested in Chicago in 2009 and pled guilty to participation in the Mumbai attacks. His past as a DEA informant leads some to believe that the U.S. government had advance warning of the attacks.
The State Department’s decision not to let the Holtzberg family sue former ISI officials is partly based on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which immunizes foreign governments and officials from suits in U.S. courts (though it excludes cases of “extrajudicial killing” or “material support” for such an act). But it goes beyond that.
The U.S. relationship with Pakistan is shaped by political, ethnic, and now atomic variations on the 19th century’s “Great Game,” the competition between great powers—then, Britain and Russia—over the vast regions of Central Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the threshold of India. After Britain’s withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and its bloody partition into predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, the latter found itself in desperate need of allies. India, nominally non-aligned, had defense ties with the Soviet Union; Pakistan responded by allying with America. This alliance persisted through ill-advised wars against India in 1965 and 1971, military coups, and the discovery of a Chinese-supported Pakistani nuclear weapons program. U.S.assistance was periodically cut off, but the need to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan—and 9/11—revitalized the relationship. Since 2002, Pakistan has received $15.8 billion in U.S. aid.
According to the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhuto, the ISI operates as a state within a state, seeing itself as the ultimate guarantor of Pakistan. This self-assigned role requires that it hedge every imaginable bet; what might appear as cynical duplicity is, to ISI thinking, merely strategic flexibility. Though Pakistan is a putative American ally, the ISI has worked with al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network. It let Osama Bin Laden live in the shadow of Pakistan’s military academy and continues to supply and direct the Taliban. Along with the Pakistani Taliban, the ISI may even have been involved in Bhuto’s murder in 2007. Beyond this, Pakistan is a leading nuclear proliferator, and in a de facto alliance with Iran.
Still, why such deliberate slaughter of an insignificant number of Jews in a tiny building far from Mumbai’s glitzy hotels? Part of the answer is Muslim anti-Semitism. But thanks also to the uniqueness of its geography and demography and its nearly aborted birth, Pakistan is uniquely paranoid. It is a land without Jews, but Jews loom large in its Islamists’ imaginations. Israel is one of the “Three Satans”, along with America and India. Official media regularly accuse all three of fomenting Pakistan’s problems; even the Taliban are said to be under their thumb. No absurdity is too great to be deployed or believed. Thus, Pakistani media state that the CIA, Mossad, and Indian intelligence murder polio immunization teams (even when the Taliban claims responsibility) and that the flogging of a 17-year-old girl was a “Jewish conspiracy” to destroy local peace and “distort the image of those Islamists who sport beards and wear turbans.”
The lessons of the Chabad lawsuit are plain and grim. The Executive Branch perception of national security interests will always trump individual pursuit of justice. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act will protect the occasional Israeli official falsely accused of “war crimes;” more frequently, it lets others, including Saudis after 9/11 and now Pakistanis, off the hook. Designed to keep U.S. courts from making foreign policy prospectively, it also limits the historical account retrospectively.
The broader legacy of U.S.-Pakistani relations is so fraught with lies and fear that the potential for volcanic embarrassment, sheer nuclear terror, and ordinary inertia become insurmountable obstacles to official accountability, let alone policy change. The Gordian Knot is so complex that America’s self-interest seems unintelligible. But placating a petulant nuclear-armed state has been absolutely paramount in U.S. policy for decades. This fact is not lost on others.
It is also clear is that individual justice has no place in the calculus. American Jews, portrayed as wielding legendary power, have none when compared with the forces that shape American foreign and nuclear policy. This, too, should be kept in mind.