With the Mumbai terrorist attacks looking more and more like a Pakistan-based operation, Islamabad is now moving quickly to limit the political damage.  The government announced this morning that it will send the head of the ISI to India to cooperate in the investigation, even as many people speculate that the Pakistani intelligence service may have helped stage the attacks:

Pakistan will send its spy chief to India to help probe the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the government said Friday, scrambling to avoid a crisis with its South Asian neighbor after India linked the atrocity to Pakistan’s largest city.

Clear Pakistani fingerprints on the attacks would chill relations between the nuclear-armed rivals and could wreck U.S. hopes of persuading Islamabad to focus on battling the Taliban and al-Qaida near the Afghan border.

According to a Pakistani government statement, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his Pakistani counterpart in a telephone conversation on Friday that “preliminary reports” about the attacks “point to Karachi,” Pakistan’s main port and financial hub. …

Pakistani premier Yousuf Raza Gilani agreed to Singh’s request for the head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency to travel to India to share information, the statement said.

ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha will head to India “at the earliest,” the statement said.

The transition back to a civilian government in Islamabad raised hopes that tensions between Pakistan and India could cool, allowing for a peaceful resolution to the disputes over Kashmir and other open issues between the two nations.  Those hopes are fading quickly in the realization that the Mumbai attacks took a great deal of coordination and logistical support.  With the capture of the mother ship and at least one of the terrorists, Indian intel has a pretty good idea that at least some factions within the ISI may have provided assistance to the terrorists.

A war between Pakistan and India would be disastrous.  Both nations have nuclear weapons, and both appear willing to use them on each other.  The US wants stability between the two so that the focus can remain on the terrorists in Pakistan.  Even a conventional war would almost certainly spread to Afghanistan and eventually entangle NATO and the US.

The dispatch of Pasha to India could help cool tempers.  Pasha got appointed as a reformist by new president Ali Zardari, replacing a Musharraf favorite.  Pasha could use the attacks to justify a much-needed purge of the ISI, which could help relations between Pakistan and India as well as Afghanistan, but also could destabilize Pakistan.  In the short run, it might help al-Qaeda by creating another political crisis in Islamabad and encouraging the army to intervene yet again.