Who Was Responsible for Mumbai?

Posted: December 3, 2008 in HSToday
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Some musings on the Mumbai atrocity for HST. I see everyone else has expressed an opinion at this point…


Who Was Responsible for Mumbai?
by Rafaello Pantucci   
Wednesday, 03 December 2008

Violence on the scale of the Mumbai attacks is not unheard of in India.


LONDON, ENGLAND—It’s still unclear who directed last week’s grim terrorist attacks on Mumbai, India, even though for many blame logically rests inside Pakistan. The one captured terrorist, Azam Amir Qasab, who hails from Pakistan’s Punjab province, has apparently told interrogators that his orders came from Pakistan and that he was trained in a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) terrorist training camp.

Indian officials understandably are wary of pushing this link too vigorously, but at the same time the modus operandi fits with LET’s tendency towards aggressive attacks in which trained fighters use machine guns and grenades.

While there was much speculation in the immediate aftermath of the attacks that the coordinated nature and Western and Jewish targets suggested an Al Qaeda style attack, the lack of major explosions, suicide vests, and the fact that Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri released a video interview concurrent with the attacks—and failed to mention it—suggests Al Qaeda did not necessarily have a hand in directing the plot.

This does not mean, however, that some connections to Al Qaeda might not be drawn. Since being banned by the Pakistani government in 2002, there has been increased interaction and cooperation between LET and Al Qaeda, with Al Qaeda essentially sub-contracting training of some recruits to LET and other similar groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed, JEM), which was responsible for a similar attack in 2001 against the Indian parliament. Often when digging into the background of connections between Western plots and Pakistan, one finds that training occurs in camps run by one of these organizations, or that plotters have connections to one or the other.

The original motivation for many of these groups can be found in the long-standing tensions over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir between Pakistan and India, and Hindu-Muslim tensions in South Asia that date back to the British partition of India in 1947.

As the British Empire slowly wrapped itself up following the Second World War, it decided to solve the sub-continent’s Hindu-Muslim tensions by creating a specifically Muslim state. Under the direction of the last Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten (who was later blown up by the Provisional Irish Republican Army), a new map was drawn of South Asia that defined India and the Dominion of Pakistan (Pakistan translates literally as the Land of the Pure in Urdu).

This land had two separate pieces: Modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh, which was at the time known as East Pakistan, and only became an independent state after the Indo-Pak war of 1971.

The partitioning caused chaos in the region. People fled inter-communal violence to get to their new territories. There were unknown millions of deaths. The savagery of the violence brought about by the partitioning has entered popular folklore, with distinguished historians and fiction writers pointing to it as a defining moment in the region’s history.

This also set the tone for Hindu-Muslim (and, consequently, Indian-Pakistani) relations in South Asia which have subsequently been scarred by periodic outbreaks of extreme inter-communal violence. It is worth remembering that not all Muslims left during the partitioning and India still has a Muslim population in excess of 150 million, the world’s third largest.

The resulting violence has traditionally expressed itself in two main ways: Massacres of Hindus or Muslims which result in tit-for-tat violence causing thousands of deaths; or externally directed terror groups like LET or JEM.

In 1992, Hindu hardliners destroyed the Babri Masjid, a historical mosque in India, which led to riots in Mumbai which caused some 900 deaths. In 2002, riots erupted in Gujarat after an attack on a trainload of Hindu pilgrims that led to hundreds of deaths.

This tit-for-tat violence often expresses itself in other ways. For example, in 1993 Mumbai was struck again, this time by a series of bombings that targeted more than a dozen locations around the city. Some 250 killings were blamed on a Muslim criminal warlord named Dawood Ibrahim, who, it is alleged, conducted the attacks with Pakistani support. Ibrahim is believed to be living in Pakistan and was on a list that India recently handed over to Pakistan of individuals they wanted turned over as part of a recent rapprochement between the two countries.

Ibrahim has an almost mythical status as a multi-million dollar criminal mastermind with alleged ties to Al Qaeda. His name is often associated with events in South Asia and some reports have suggested that the boat the Mumbai attackers used was one of his.

The final piece in this extremist jigsaw puzzle is a more home-grown element that initially was suspected of being behind the latest attacks. And that is the Deccan Mujahedeen (Deccan is a part of central India), a shadowy group that claimed responsibility for the carnage. According to some early reports, one of the attackers mentioned the Babri Masjid in a phone call to an Indian television station.

The nature of these groups is best exemplified by the relatively new terrorist organization, Indian Mujahedeen, which claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated bombings beginning in November 2007 in Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmadabad, Delhi and, most recently, possibly in Assam.

The modus operandi has been to plant a number of small explosive devices in public spaces that are intended to kill indiscriminately. So far, these attacks have caused casualties in the low hundreds.

An apparent off-shoot of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the Indian Mujahedeen appears to be more home grown than LET and other groups who have clear external connections, and at this point is not being blamed for the Mumbai attacks. In the longer-term, though, it is likely that this group (and ones like it) will take on a greater prominence as its home grown roots seem to be born out of the extreme dissatisfaction many Muslims in India feel about their lot in Indian society.

When factoring this problem into the deep history of Hindu-Muslim violence, groundwork is being laid for a problem that India is not currently focusing on.

If it turns out that LET or some other Pakistani elements were behind the Mumbai attacks, however, the immediate question is why and why target Westerners?

One reason might prove to be that more radical elements in Pakistan do not approve of the direction that the new government is taking the country in. President Zardari recently announced a raft of measures aimed at bringing India and Pakistan closer together, and this might not appeal to certain elements in his nation.

On the other hand, the July bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and the fact that planning for the Mumbai attacks began six months ago point to deeper tensions that pre-date Zaradari’s latest moves.

Another point to remember is that while violence in Kashmir of late appears to have risen, it is distinctly lower than it was in the period of 2000-2001. Consequently, one could start to possibly see the contours of some sort of resolution of the problem as both India and Pakistan work together to solve the age-old dispute.

A brazen attack like that in 2001 on the Indian Parliament by a similar group almost brought India and Pakistan to nuclear conflict. The Mumbai attackers could be attempting to spark a similar confrontation. The decision to target Westerners may simply be a case of recognizing that their deaths will guarantee media attention. Violence on the scale of the Mumbai attacks is not unheard of in India, but it is unlikely that many Westerners will have heard of any of the aforementioned massacres that resound among Muslims in India.

Ultimately, the shape of the puzzle will take a long time to come into focus. And while India undoubtedly will want answers, it is unlikely that it will once again find itself on the brink of nuclear war with Pakistan.

What is disconcerting is that it now appears AS THOUGH five of the Mumbai attackers may still be on the loose. If they are indeed linked to extremist Muslim groups based in Pakistan, then there will be further pressure on Pakistan’s already weakened civilian government to crack down on these organizations.

As it’s repeatedly been demonstrated, in the context of counterterrorism, a stable and secure Pakistan is the key.


Rafaello Pantucci is HSToday’s London Correspondent

  1. johnny says:

    1qxEqu Thanks for good post

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