EDITORIAL: Thoughts on the Mumbai attacks

Thoughts on the Mumbai attacks

Was this India’s 9/11? The best way of answer that is to try and imagine if this had happened in New York City.

I suspect that three days of carnage like this would have been even more deeply traumatic for New Yorkers than were the actual 9/11 attacks — and I also think such an attack could have gone on for a lot longer. The gunmen would likely have had higher quality weaponry (easily available on the US gun market) and security services would have been much more cautious than their Indian counterparts in trying to avoid civilian casualties. The 24-hour cable network news coverage would have been breathtakingly sensational.

The intelligence failure: Predictably, this is being described as India’s intelligence failure — wrong. This is America’s intelligence failure. If the US intelligence apparatus with its global reach and its heightened focus on Pakistan didn’t see this coming, let’s not delude ourselves by imagining that it would have been thwarted in the event that the target had not been India, but had been closer to home.

Pakistan. The reflex for India to blame Pakistan is so habitual it has the effect of provoking the opposite reaction among observers, namely, to conclude that the Indian government must be intent on shifting attention away from its domestic problems. In this case, however, this type of political analysis does not stand up against the evidence. The evidence overwhelmingly points in the direction of Pakistan.

We know that some or all of the attackers landed by dinghy and came off a trawler believed to have originated from Karachi. They were heavily armed and supplied with large quantities of ammunition and most importantly had not only the ideological zeal to embark on a suicidal mission, but the combat training to engage in several days of fighting. Not only that, but they carried multiple forms of identification and had been provided with detailed intelligence. For instance, according to security analyst Sunil Ram (listen to his analysis that follows a short AP video news report here), the attacks occurred during a security “trough” in the days immediately following a relaxation of security levels at Mumbai’s hotels. Having entered the Taj hotel they were able to quickly secure the CCTV control room through which they could monitor the whole building and they were able to fend off the Indian commandos from this strategic position.

The Sunday Times reported:

RR Patil, the deputy chief minister of Mumbai’s state government, said there was “proof” that the terrorists were on the phone to someone in Pakistan during the attack.

“All phone calls made by them were tapped. They were being instructed from outside regarding their movement inside the hotel – whether to go upstairs or come down or make a move left or right,” he said…

Kasav [the sole surviving gunman], who speaks fluent English, told investigators he and his fellow terrorists had trained at a camp at the Mangla dam between Pakistani Punjab and Pakistan-held Kashmir.

The group had travelled in pairs to Karachi where they boarded a boat. They had been told not to talk to each other on the journey.

Strategic implications. This is what seems to clinch the argument that this was an operation that not only emanated from Pakistan but was most likely conceived by elements inside the ISI.

At face value we have what looks like the kind of nihilistic mayhem that we’ve come to expect from individuals whose ideological zeal is far stronger than their affiliation to a localized political cause.

In fact, what we witnessed was a major move on President-elect Obama’s chessboard of foreign policy even before he’d had a chance to lay a finger on any of the pieces.

The Obama team has made it known that it wants to push for reconciliation between India and Pakistan so that Pakistani forces focused on Kashmir can be freed up to operate in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan. The effect of the Mumbai attacks has been to accomplish the opposite as Pakistan now readies its forces to defend the Indian border.

As Tony Karon writes in The National:

Police work typically begins with the question of motive, and this is plain: a ratcheting up of Indo-Pakistani tensions, possibly even threatening confrontation along traditional fault lines in Kashmir and elsewhere. The beneficiaries of an escalation of tension would be all those whose interests are threatened by Indo-Pak rapprochement – al Qa’eda and the Pakistani Taliban elements coming under sustained attack by Pakistani and US forces along the Afghan border; and hard-core elements of the military and intelligence community whose political DNA is orientated towards confrontation with India.

Not only would the Islamist militants want to reorient the Pakistani military away from counterinsurgency and towards confrontation with India – their common enemy – but so would elements in the military and intelligence services, who are hostile to deploying the army against the Taliban and who see the jihadi proxies as a key element of a continuing strategic rivalry with India.

Provoking India would not only realign the interests of the Pakistani military and the Islamists, it would threaten US efforts to reorient the Pakistani military towards domestic counterinsurgency, and to broker a deeper rapprochement with India – a development US analysts believe is key to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan.

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3 thoughts on “EDITORIAL: Thoughts on the Mumbai attacks

  1. G Hazeltine

    We know nothing of this group. All information about them comes from sources who cannot be trusted – sources with powerful agendas, and little information. Conrad’s ‘Secret Agent’ should be re-read at times like this. And Chris Floyd’s piece on ‘The Strategy of Tension,’ here:


    is a useful reminder that all is not necessarily what it seems.

    The interests potentially operating here are many, from conservative elements of the Indian intelligence apparatus and extreme right wing Hindus, to various Pakistanis, to powerful anti-Muslim groups and interests. And those interested commercially or ideologically in conflict. The losers are moderate Indians, and Muslims in general. And the rest of us.

    A piece of the Antarctic ice shelf the size of Connecticut is about to break off. More important than a few hundred unfortunate folks in Mumbai, however unfortunate they were. But will our attention will be diverted, again?

    Tidy explanations at this point are hollow. And dangerous.

  2. Ritu Chaudhry

    Which group do we know nothing about? And has anyone offered any tidy explanations so far? I seem to have missed them…

    And do feel free to focus on the ice-shelf – there are enough of us Indians around to focus on the trauma visited on Mumbai. Pray, don’t feel obliged to divert your attention on our behalf.

  3. G Hazeltine

    Not to be cold hearted, but perhaps some context is useful. According to the Times of India here:


    sixteen to twenty five people die each month in bicycle accidents in Mumbai. In addition, ‘seven to ten pavement sleepers’ die ‘when they were run over at night.’ Which puts the annual toll of cyclists and ‘pavement sleepers’ at roughly double the fatalities of the recent attacks.

    Global climate change, the issue highlighted by the ice shelf, will have terrible effects on the lives of all Indians, as would of course war with Pakistan. Vastly greater than the trauma of two, or many, days of terrorism.

    It seems reasonable to keep a sense of proportion.

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