October 29, 2020
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Mumbai & After

The Big Picture

While the pre-planned attack on foreigners has not received the attention it deserves, in our preoccupation with handling the sequel to the Mumbai strike, we should not lose sight of the investigation into the serial blasts in Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur,

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Surprisingly, most terrorism analysts in India and abroad have overlooked  what in my view is the most significant aspect of the jihadi terrorist strike in Mumbai from November 26 to 29, namely, the pre-planned attack on foreigners. 

In the past, one had seen in Kashmir two instances of deliberate attacks on foreigners-- on seven Israeli tourists by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in 1991 and  the kidnapping of some Western tourists by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) operating under the name Al Faran in 1995. 

But, one had not seen such  deliberate attacks on foreigners in Indian territory outside J&K with the main focus of the attacks on Israelis and other Jewish people. Of the 25 foreigners killed, eight were Israeli nationals --two of them with dual American nationality-- one Jewish person from Mexico, four non-Jewish Americans and 12 other foreigners. One does not know whether any of the other foreigners killed were also Jewish. 

After the Mombasa attack on Israeli tourists by Al Qaeda in November, 2002, in which 13 Israelis were killed, this was  the second most devastating attack on Jewish people outside Israel since 9/11. One notices that some Israeli analysts have compared the deliberate attack on Jewish people in Mumbai to the attack on the Israeli athletes at the time of the Munich Olympics in 1972. One has even alleged that the terrorist attack on the Jewish people in Mumbai was handled as incompetently  by the Indian counter-terrorism machinery as the attack on the Israelis in Munich was handled by the  then West German counter-terrorism machinery. There has even been a reference to alleged Indian arrogance-- which has been compared to the alleged West German arrogance-- in reportedly declining to accept Israeli offer of assistance in terminating the terrorism situation in the Narriman House where most of the Jewish people were killed. 

In an earlier article, I had  said that anger in Pakistan over the increasing Indo-Israeli strategic co-operation was one of the motivating factors for the terrorist strike in Mumbai. This is comparable to the anger over India’s strategic co-operation with the Hamid Karzai Government in Afghanistan which led to the terrorist strike outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July last. I see the Kabul and Mumbai strikes as inter-related. Governmental and some non-governmental circles in Pakistan view the Indian co-operation with the Karzai Government and Israel as detrimental to Pakistan’s national interests. It is very unlikely that such  attacks will affect this co-operation, but despite this, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and Al Qaeda will continue to target Israeli nationals and interests in Indian territory in future. 

Indian media and analysts have not taken note of the wave of anger and indignation, which swept across Israel and the Jewish diaspora outside Israel after the details of the attacks on the Jewish people came to be known. At Mumbai, among the foreigners, the Americans and the Europeans were only the secondary targets-- collateral to the targeted attack on the Jewish people -- but they, particularly the Americans, could become the primary targets in other incidents in future. 

In addition to fears of an Indian military response, it is indignation over the attacks on the Jewish people and the killing of four Americans, which should explain the American pressure  on the Pakistani civilian and military leadership  to act immediately against the LET and its office-bearers responsible for the attack. One could discern feelings of nervousness in Governmental circles in Pakistan because the Mumbai strike is being investigated not only by the Indian investigators, but also by the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and by the Israeli agencies because of the fatalities suffered by their nationals. Pakistan might be able to reject--as it always does--the evidence collected by the Indian agencies as unreliable and fabricated, but it cannot reject evidence independently collected by the American and Israeli agencies. 

Will Israel take revenge for the brutal killing of its citizens and other Jewish people? If so, how, where and in what form?  One had seen with what determination the Israelis went after the Black September terrorists, who killed their athletes in Munich. One would be surprised if they do not do so against the LET. 

The conventional wisdom among analysts not only in India , but also elsewhere is that the desire to derail the Indo-Pakistan dialogue and to afford the Pakistan Army a pretext for scaling down its military operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Pashtun tribal belt and move some of the troops from there to the Indian border is also an important motivating factor for  the Mumbai attack. 

While this could have been one of the motivating factors for the LET, one finds it difficult to understand how this could have been a motivating factor for the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) since the peace process was started by Pervez Musharraf in consultation with the Corps Commanders and the present military leadership, including Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff, was a party to that decision. If they now wanted to reverse that decision in order to justify their scaling down their operations in the tribal belt, which  are  aggravating the anti-army anger among the Pashtuns, they could have easily done it without the need for a massive terrorist strike in Mumbai, which has only hardened international opinion against the Pakistan Army. 

Only the desire to target India’s relations with the Karzai Government and Israel provides a convincing explanation for the ISI involvement in the attack, if it is proved. 

More than a week after the strike, one still does not have a satisfactory reconstruction of the  strike. In one’s anxiety to get as much information as possible from the captured terrorist, one does not seem to have paid attention to the important aspect of debriefing all the foreign survivors in the two hotels attacked as to what exactly happened. All of them have immediately gone back to their respective countries and we do not have their version of what happened inside the hotels. 

There seems to be an attempt to avoid a detailed enquiry into the deficiencies in our intelligence and counter-terrorism apparatus, which made the strike possible. Removal of  the ministers in the government of India and Maharashtra, who were responsible for dealing with terrorism,  was the easiest part of the post-mortem. The more difficult and necessary part is a detailed enquiry into the entire failure of our security apparatus. One could discern an attempt to avoid this. Public pressure should be kept up on the government to hold such an enquiry and to share its findings with the public. 

The inadequacies of our intelligence and investigating agencies  and of the legal infrastructure against terrorism were known earlier. The startling new revelation is the inadequacies in our physical security apparatus, which made the terrorist strike possible and in our rapid response mechanism, which was brought out by the long time taken to terminate the terrorism situation. 

Mumbai is our economic capital. The corporate headquarters of many leading--Indian and foreign--companies are located there. Many of our sensitive establishments such as the Bombay High off-shore oil installations and some nuclear establishments are also located there. One would have, therefore, expected that our physical security infrastructure in Mumbai would have been the strongest. Instead it was found to have been very weak and was unable to deny success to the terrorists despite the availability of advance intelligence about the LET’s plans for a sea-borne act of terrorism in Mumbai. If it was so weak in Mumbai, one has reasons to be worried regarding the shape of the physical security infrastructure in other cities. 

The terrorist strike and its sequel have also brought out the totally disjointed manner in which our entire counter-terrorism machinery-- the intelligence agencies, the Armed Forces, particularly the Navy, the Police, the National Security Guards, the National Security Council Secretariat (NSG) and the Joint Intelligence Committee --  have been functioning without any synergy in thinking or action. While the poor reflexes of the Police in dealing with terrorism were known earlier and had been crying for attention for many years, the poor reflexes of the Navy--particularly on the West Coast, which is most vulnerable to terrorist attacks by sea-- should be a matter of great concern to our policy-makers. 

After 9/11, we have been holding joint counter-terrorism exercises with many countries. Just now, an exercise with China is on. No such exercise seems to have been held among the various agencies of our counter-terrorism community in order to test periodically their ability to act jointly in specific situations. 

Our counter-terrorism strategy is a fits and starts strategy. In our preoccupation with handling the sequel to the Mumbai strike, we should not lose sight of the investigation into the serial blasts in Uttar Pradesh,  Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Assam, which involved home-grown jihadis. There is very little progress in identifying the command and control of the so-called Indian Mujahideen (IM)  and in taking action to neutralize it. The threat posed by the home-grown jihadis has not diminished. On the contrary, it could increase further due to the copy-cat effect of Mumbai. 

Now that we have an energetic and lucid-thinking Home Minister, in Shri P.Chidambaram, one hopes he will pay attention to all these aspects and remove the deficiencies to prevent any more terrorist strikes. If we fail to do so, India could lose its attraction to foreign investors.


B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.


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