Mumbai's Multiple Crippling Ripples

The unprecedented terror attacks in Mumbai are bound to have a profound impact on the domestic politics of India, with elections due in several states including the explosive Jammu and Kashmir region. General elections are also due in a few months.

More importantly, the attack, which has taken the life of as many as 200 people and left India’s financial capital in shock, appears certain to scuttle any attempt to improve bilateral relations between India and neighboring Pakistan. Despite the fact that President Ali Asif Zardari has pledged full cooperation, the important thing is that the attacks make it appear that that the government of the day in Pakistan is hardly in control of the affairs of state. This will make India ponder whether there is any sense in having peace talks euphemistically called a “composite dialogue” with a government whose decisions appear not to not matter, and the people who actually rule Pakistan’s roost are hardly interested in a “peace dividend.”

The Union government in Delhi itself is facing severe criticism for its inept handling of terror and is now trying to reorganize itself. Heads have rolled within the government with the Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, having been asked to go. A similar fate possibly awaits the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, on the basis that intelligence agencies had provided plenty of warning of an impending attack. Outrage and distress at the handling of the attack, which included long delays in getting commandos into place, is filtering down through the layers of India's overstuffed bureaucracy,with other heads certain to roll as well.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party thinks these steps are too little and too late and appears certain to exact a political price on Congress, as just taking the moral high ground by forcing some politicians resign is not going to help. People are looking for a blueprint through which the party in power is going to solve the menace of terrorism.

Although the attacks were claimed by a hitherto unknown group, “Deccan Mujahiddin,” authorities now believe that was nothing more than an attempt to mislead investigators. Azam Amir Kasab, the only militant who taken alive, told interrogators that he and his accomplices were put up in a house in Karachi's Azizabad district before boarding a mid-sized vessel. They travelled 20-25 km southwest before they were picked up by a group of Pakistanis aboard a ship under the registration of Al Hussaini. The terrorists later switched to an Indian trawler they commandeered after killing three of the occupants.

Indian officials as well as US intelligence and counterterrorism officials are now convinced that the militants were linked to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been involved in a large number of terror attacks against India. Their cadres have in the past received training and support from Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Directory for Inter-Services Intelligence, known by its initials ISI. The US has accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Kashmir.

The Mumbai attackers were also trained in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. The arrested terrorist has claimed that, along with other operatives, they were trained in marine commando techniques on Mangla Dam, a reservoir stretching from Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir to Punjab in Pakistan.

Indian agencies claim they have enough evidence to prove Pakistani involvement in the attack. Police have recovered a satellite phone from one of the rafts that the jihadis used to enter Mumbai which has yielded evidence of the direct involvement of top Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives in the Mumbai mayhem. The phone records show the gang remained in touch with an operative codenamed Muzammil, alias Yusuf, who is in charge of Lashkar's anti-India operations. Azam has also told his interrogators that a top-ranking jihadi and one of the founding members of Lashkar, Zakiur Rahman, took a direct interest in the anti-Mumbai plot. The GPS device, programmed to help the Lashkar operatives chart their way to India and back, is additional evidence.

Azam Amir Kasab has revealed names and addresses of at least five people from Mumbai who helped the terror operation, including providing shelter, taking them around and showing them locales and passing on information on police stations. This link, however, is yet to be ascertained. Mumbai police have recovered fake identity cards of colleges in Mumbai and credit cards of ICICI Bank, a major Indian bank.

{mospagebreak}

Kasab has told police that they were sent with a specific mission of targeting Israelis to avenge atrocities against Palestinians. This was why they targeted Nariman House, a complex meant for Israelis. Some of Kasab's colleagues killed in the operation had stayed in Nariman House earlier. The terrorists were also asked to do maximum damage and if possible take hostages. But this time the Indian government had made it plain that unlike in the past they were not going to engage in negotiations with terrorists. Thus the talks of negotiation were done only to gain time.

US analysts theorize that the attack, which also targeted westerners, was not a localized attack arising from home-grown militancy. The apparent focus on killing or capturing foreign businesspeople, specifically US and UK nationals, has never occurred before, suggesting a wider global anti-Western agenda. This stands in contrast to the national issues that appeared to motivate the Indian Mujahideen.

There is spreading public anger over reports that the attacks could have been averted or at least the damage could have been minimized had the Mumbai police heeded intelligence provided by other law enforcement agencies. It had received intelligence information from the Maharashtra anti-terrorism service, the Uttar Pradesh police, and Jammu and Kashmir police of rising concern about an attack. Similar information was provided by Indian intelligence agencies, particularly the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau as well as US intelligence agencies. The delayed response gave the attackers enough time to spread terror and entrench themselves in various high profile targets.

The anti-terrorism service in Mumbai also warned the city’s five-star hotels about possible attacks. This was confirmed by Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group. But, he told reporters, he felt that nothing could have stopped the gunmen as "they knew what they were doing.” They went through the kitchen and not the front door after killing a sniffer dog and his handler.

The management of the Oberoi and Trident Hotels stated that they had beefed up security after the terror attack on the Hotel Marriott in Pakistan on September 20, when a truck filled with explosives and driven by a suicide bomber detonated in front of the hotel, killing 54 and injuring at least 266. But they also felt that security and hospitality cannot go together. The concept of hospitality, they said, would change if guests are subjected to increased security checks.

The repeated failure of law enforcement agencies and administration to thwart attacks is putting pressure on the Union government to develop a more effective response. Analysts are suggesting that terrorism should be handled differently from regular law and order issues. In terror incidents expeditious trials are needed and pleas for clemency should not be equated with other clemency pleas. There is also a need for trained police personnel with technological force multipliers. Policemen and elite NSG commandos did not have even proper bullet-proof jackets while meeting the challenge in Mumbai.

It is also felt that terrorism should not be politicized. Afzal Guru, the mastermind of the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament which killed 12, was convicted by the Supreme Court on staggering evidence. However, his hanging has been delayed for political reasons since 2006.

Pakistan initially agreed to send ISI chief Shuja Pasha to India at the request of Indian prime minister to help in investigation and sharing intelligence. But almost immediately the decision was reversed and Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was in India, was called back and a cabinet meeting in Islamabad decided that the ISI chief would not be going to India. The military prevailed upon the government and asked them to reverse the decision. The decision to send the ISI chief was also criticized by the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and other sections of Pakistani society, which has been taken in New Delhi as a signal that the ISI and Pakistan military are not so ignorant about the terror attacks as they are trying to pretend.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has started a damage control mission with the use of its diplomats in western countries. In the forefront is Hussain Haqqani, its envoy in Washington DC, who has been earlier known to be critical of the Pakistani military and its ways. Another diplomat is Munir Akram, a former Pakistani envoy to the UN known for his corrosive views on India.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already asked his cabinet to take a call on the composite dialogue. India possibly can put more pressure on Pakistan by not mobilizing its military at this time, which would only give the ISI and the Pakistani military the excuse to direct additional jihadis. At present, it will be more useful if India gives attention to put its own house in order and strengthen its own domestic security apparatus.