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Mumbai ­ Murky Piece
Of A Tangled Web

Terrell E. Arnold
Beginning on the evening of November 26, Mumbai, India, a city of 13 million people, was disrupted by a terrorist attack that was worse than anything it had ever before experienced in a long history of exposure to violence. Ten determined terrorists, equipped only with rifles, handguns and grenades, took the lives of nearly 200 people, defaced and nearly destroyed famous Mumbai landmark hotels, and wounded over 300 more people before they were stopped. It was a well-planned and executed piece of carnage that took Indian police and counterterrorism forces nearly sixty hours to bring to an end.
Why it took so long to contain this attack of only ten shooters will remain a serious question, but the terrorists, only one of whom was taken alive, were obviously well prepared. They separated, attacked at least five separate sites, knew their way around the places they assaulted, and in some degree were aided by the early unwillingness of police to shoot back. Moreover, the terrorists apparently came prepared for the long haul with ample supplies of ammunition and bags of sliced almonds to stave off hunger. In that respect they did not behave like martyrs, although they certainly had reason to expect death. But the puzzles they left behind are certainly much larger than life.
The official Indian narrative, at least as of now, is that the terrorists were members of a Pakistani group called Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). That group is usually associated with the half-century old Indo-Pak struggle for Jammu and Kashmir, and it reportedly has a suicide group called the fidayeen. However, the principle link of the Mumbai attacks to the LeT is the confession of the surviving member of the group of ten. That statement appears to have been obtained after several hours of interrogation by Indian authorities who have no qualms about torture, and therefore the smooth and complete story that emerged could be as much if not more a matter of what he was led to say rather than what he confessed. We are unlikely to know.
Pakistani authorities have not bought the story, and they have asked for proof. Meanwhile, they have rounded up a number of LeT members, but they have refused an Indian request to extradite the Let members to India. The LeT prisoners, say Pakistani authorities, will be dealt with under Pakistani law.
There are many loose ends. The present narrative has the group arriving by a boat they seized earlier from its owner, coming ashore with all their gear in hand, and openly taking two taxis to their target destinations. That appears inconsistent with the report that they knew the sites they attacked very well and had well-planned approaches to them. Such preparation could mean either prior planning visits to the sites or the aid of people on site who provided planning information. Those preparations also plausibly suggest that the attacks were domestic.
Further inconsistencies have been introduced by police reports that one or more of the shooters had yellow wrist bands, a trademark associated with a domestic Hindu extremist group. Furthermore, so far the people arrested by Indian authorities in connection with the attacks have been Indian nationals. The inconsistencies lead knowledgeable observers of the India terrorism scene to assert that the Mumbai attacks were domestic in origin.
Domestic roots for such an attack are not improbable. Over the past decade India has lost more than 50,000 casualties to terrorist/ insurgent attacks. Although they tend to be concentrated in two main areas, Jammu/Kashmir and the northeast region including major states of West Bengal and Assam, India has almost 200 terrorist, extremist, separatist groups. Many of these groups are small and/or inactive, but as many as a dozen Jammu/Kashmir groups are active and important, while about an equal number of group are active in the northeast. Hindu extremists have led brutal attacks on Muslims.
Sticking out in this landscape is a sub-continental reality of which few outsiders may be aware. Three former British territories (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh-the former East Pakistan) share numerous trans-border population problems. To begin with, the population of Pakistan is about 105 million, of which nearly 2 million are Hindus. On the Indian side of the frontier, Hindus dominate the country's 1.3 billion population, but there are an estimated 150 million Muslims of Indian nationality. In the east, Bangladesh has a Muslim population of roughly 150 million, but its Hindu minority (about 30% of the population when the territory was formed in 1946) has been systematically expelled and probably numbers no more than a million.
Historically complicating this landscape are trans-border affiliations, loyalties, and periodic conflicts. Present states of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are geographic products of the British retreat. While loyalties and tribal affiliations may extinguish or become less important in time, there are still strong Indian and Pakistani feelings about the region called the Punjab, now divided between India (roughly one third) and Pakistan. That region remains an unsettled ethnic and cultural mix as do Jammu and Kashmir, and the northeast region that mainly is defined by the Ganges River that flows through the Indian heart of it and the Brahmaputra River that flows out of the Himalayas, across India's state of Assam and through Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal. The potential clashes in these regions are only partly about Hindu/ Muslim differences. Assamese groups, for example, want to secede from India.
One of the problems with assessing Mumbai is that there are political pros and cons with all the choices. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh probably would prefer an outsider attack, because a domestic source, whether Hindu or Muslim, has enormous political implications. If his government has to go after Hindu extremists, for example, such prosecutions could undercut Congress party political chances.
Singh probably understands the politics of the situation better than most. He was born in 1932 in the town of Gah in pre- independence Punjab in what is now Pakistan. He is the first member of the Sikh faith to become prime minister, and as a leader of India's Congress Party, he undoubtedly has struggled with the problems of minority religious affiliation that complicate Indian politics. Addressing a congress of jurists on December 13, he cited the history of deadly terrorist attacks across India in the past several years (cases of Hindu, Muslim and other domestic attacks) but said the problem needed to be approached with caution. His dilemma is that attacking Muslims on either side of the Indo/Pak frontier will unsettle communities on both sides of that frontier, and even proof of guilt-which is by no means obvious at this point-- is no defense against such consequences.
The US War on Terrorism complicates the situation as well. US raids into Pakistan have angered many Pakistanis and threatened the stability of Pakistan's newly reinstalled democratic government. A crass reality of the post Mumbai decision environment is that US justification for continuing its operations in Afghanistan and its raids into Pakistan is supported by proof of a Mumbai attack by Pakistani extremists, but an indigenous Hindu or Muslim attack would be no help in that regard. If the US and Israel encourage and support an Indian attack on reported Lashkar-e-Taiba sites in Pakistan, the situation of that government would probably deteriorate further.
The reality of the Mumbai attacks is that they were a product of enduring racial, cultural and religious differences within regional societies as well as trans-border tensions and animosities that plague the entire subcontinent. Those conditions are not new, and they are by no means close to resolution. Realistically they cannot be resolved by mere exercises of police power or a heated up war on terrorism. Should India succumb to the temptation to respond by conducting raids into Pakistan against Lashkar-e-Taiba, that will only increase tensions between two nuclear-armed countries; it will also exacerbate Hindu-Muslim tensions within India and the rest of the subcontinent.
Reportedly, Indian authorities have asked for Israeli help in mounting an attack on LeT sites in Pakistan. If the Israelis respond to this nod, they will do so only with full US awareness and blessing. Such a move fits the US and Israeli models for fighting terrorism; under those models, national borders do not matter, and civilian casualties are unimportant. The brutal fact, however, is that even if such raids succeeded in eliminating LeT as a group, nothing would improve in India, tensions would mount between the two countries, and warfare could easily result between two nuclear powers in which either side could decide the way to end it is to go nuclear. A no more cheering prospect is that in the aftermath of Indian raids the already fragmented Pakistani political system would simply collapse, creating the first situation in which the government of a nuclear power loses control of its nuclear weapons and materials. Only the terrorists and their supporters would benefit from that outcome.
Those prospects demand patience and careful action by concerned regional governments, but the situation requires total hands off by outsiders. Governance in Pakistan is fragile. It is not helped by US raids into Pakistani territory which weaken the authority of an already challenged government. An India raid could possibly cause Pakistanis to rally around their present democratic leadership, but it could as easily cause that government to disassemble.
On the Indian side, Manmohan Singh knows that if he fails to look decisive his party's political prospects are dim. However, if he were to choose to attack the Hindu right that may have arranged, sponsored, or facilitated the Mumbai attacks, his party could well be voted out in the next election. This boils down to a situation in which the least costly response may be to stand still. That choice could take the form of investigating the attacks while buying as much post attack time as possible for matters to cool. This choice would be wise, but it takes a great deal of political nerve, perhaps more than may be available.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at
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