Jihadi Terror in Mumbai

The 25-odd attackers who strew death, terror and chaos in India’s financial capital of Mumbai Wednesday are believed to have been dropped onto speedboats from ships in the Arabian Sea, officials say, going after Americans, Britons and Jews. The attackers, identified as Pakistanis, are either an Al Qaeda-allied group, officials say, or sent by Pakistan’s notorious Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

As a weapon to kill any possible rapprochement between Indian and Pakistan, the attackers, whoever they were, couldn't have done much better. In addition, the attacks seem almost certain to fuel the already distressing rise of communalism in India and make the country's 150-odd million Muslims a target. (See Asia Sentinel: Nov. 11, The Rise of India's Saffro-Nazis)

Indian commandoes Friday were scouring three luxury hotels room by room Friday in the aftermath of attacks that have left more than 125 people dead and nearly 350 injured, including almost all the top leaders of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS). Among the dead is ATS Chief Hemant Karkare.

Video footage captured by CCTV cameras indicates that all the attackers, clad in T-shirts and khakis, were highly trained and were heavily armed. So far 10 have been killed, with one taken alive. The arrested terrorist has been traced to Faridpur in Pakistan. One of the three speedboats seized by police was heavily laden with explosives.

After reaching Colaba fishing harbor, the attackers scattered in small groups and moved towards different targets. They targeted the city’s three prominent hotels, hospital, railway station and most importantly Nariman House, an office building that houses a Jewish center. Though the terrorists were indiscriminate in their killing, in Hotel Taj Mahal, one of Mumbai’s most famous landmarks, they asked for British and American passport holders.

A hitherto unheard-of group calling itself "Deccan Mujahedeen" took responsibility for the attack, which is dramatically different from the anonymous bombings of the past. Previously bombs were surreptitiously planted in different localities, with attackers choosing softer targets and unsuspecting victims. But this time the attackers, armed to the teeth, were essentially on a suicide mission. The operation involved a large number of gunmen and was carefully and professionally planned. Officials said the attackers were familiar with the layout of all of the hotels and other buildings they invaded.

The attack served many objectives, creating terror in the country as well as heightening the tension between India and Pakistan and if possible creating war hysteria. They also wanted to take revenge on Britain and the United States, the main players in the War on Terror, by taking their citizens hostage or by killing them.

Although the detention of two ships in the Arabian Sea gives further credence to the involvement of Pakistan, along with the satellite phones captured from the attackers, it is possible that the Pakistani government may not be directly involved. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari earlier this week offered an olive branch to India, seeking to decrease tensions between the two countries.

In separate messages, Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani deplored the Mumbai attacks although Pakistan’s condemnation has started looking hollow as more and more evidence pointing towards that country’s involvement although the jihadi groups and Pakistan’s notorious Director for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI are almost outside its control. These attacks have managed to embarrass the Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who was in India to "build bridges."

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Certainly, the attacks could not have come at a worse time for the Manmohan Singh-led government, which already is facing severe criticism for its weak handling of terror. Indians both at home and abroad are outraged. The attacks are being termed India’s 9/11 and the government is under severe pressure for a response.

Speculation on the motive and source of the attacks varies. Indian officials have a tendency to blame the ISI for any attack that takes place on Indian soil. That doesn’t mean, however, that they didn’t have something to do with this one. The attacks took place immediately after the agency’s political wing was ordered disbanded by Zardari. US officials have been pressuring Pakistan to do something about the powerful spy agency since they concluded that the ISI was involved in a July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul.

Indian officials say the ISI might have hoped the attack would destabilize the civilian government in Pakistan and give the organization a chance to regain lost ground. Others say the restrictions placed on the ISI are hardly effective and in an earlier case when the government tried to bring the agency under the Interior Ministry the decision was almost immediately reversed.

It is also suggested that al-Qaeda or allied groups might be involved in a bid to do something spectacular to boost sagging morale after the organization lost some of its top leaders in recent US attacks. Another possibility is that successful elections in Kashmir, where voter turnout has been nearly 65 percent might have made the jihadi forces.These attacks might also have been launched with the objective of sabotaging the ongoing election process in several Indian states.

Whatever the motive, the Mumbai attacks are likely to have serious implications for India, affecting the trade and business environment. They forced closure of the country’s stock and commodity exchanges and drove up its risk premium in international credit markets. Foreign investors have already withdrawn about US$13.5 billion from the Indian stock market this year. Coming at a time, when foreign investors have been selling Indian assets, the attacks raised fears of a steeper fall in the rupee and a further blow to market confidence.

Clearly it will be negative for the sentiment at a time when the world is already looking to be highly uncertain in terms of growth prospects. The global recession is likely to bring down India’s annual gross domestic product growth rate to 7.5 percent. The attacks may well worsen the situation, particularly affecting tourism as the terrorists have attacked three major and very popular hotels of Mumbai.

India’s Commerce minister, Kamal Nath says that there is no economic component to these attacks. But the business community is far from convinced. The attacks have rattled the business community, which is now demanding tougher laws along with "stronger and firmer" leadership to tackle terrorism. Industry leaders, including heads of the apex chambers, feel the country needs to be on a high alert since their institutions are becoming vulnerable.

Though Mumbai has bounced back after earlier attacks the industry leaders are of the view that the latest attacks are different from the earlier ones and the city might take time to adjust.