The terrorist massacres in Mumbai are India’s 9/11. The parallels with the 2001 attacks in New York are eerie. They represent a devastating terrorist attack on a central Indian landmark, the Taj Hotel, in India##s commercial capital, Mumbai.
They represent, too, a probably definitive merger of internal Indian conflicts with the global war on terror. They also represent a formal notice of combat to the American president-elect, Barack Obama. The implications for the US of these attacks are in fact enormous.
There is much still to be discovered, but the Pakistan connection has become clearer and clearer.
Pramit Chaudhuri, senior editor of the Hindustan Times and one of India’s most influential strategic analysts, outlines a theory. He says that the attack could have been a combined effort by Laskar-e-Tayebah (LeT) and al-Qa’ida.
“That would explain the schizophrenic nature of the Mumbai attacks,” Pramit tells me. “If you look at the attacks, half were directed entirely at killing Indians. Going to the railway station and the hospital, you won’t find foreigners there. That’s exactly the sort of attack the LeT engages in.
“The other half of the attacks were directed entirely at foreigners. Indian Muslims have never attacked foreigners and never attacked Jewish targets, of which there are plenty in India. The attackers at the Taj Hotel were interested only in Americans and Brits. There was a guy there with an Italian passport and they let him go. They weren##t interested in Indians at all in that attack.
“Then the attack on the Chabad House. This is a New York Jewish organisation. They weren’t even looking for Indian Jews but going after an American organisation.” These attacks, Pramit says, have al-Qa’ida written all over them.
US intelligence agencies also believe the attacks were, if anything, even better organised and more highly co-ordinated than the 9/11 attacks in New York.
Other Indian sources say the terrorists in the Taj and Oberoi hotels operated with a high degree of competence. Indian counter-terrorist forces found them to be much more technically proficient, not least at armed combat, than the average LeT recruit.
Several things follow from the overall nature of the attacks. One is a high degree of preparation, which means the terrorists had local supporters or an advance team. The intelligence agencies believe there was so much preparation that the two dozen or so terrorists probably had a support team in Mumbai of roughly the same size.
Another is that they were extremely well trained, which means the training almost certainly took place in Pakistan.
Pramit believes there is a compelling strategic logic to an LeT-al-Qa’ida joint operation. LeT hates the Indian state and is incensed that Kashmir, which it believes should not be part of India, is holding democratic internal elections. Al-Qa##ida wants to show it can strike back against Western targets, especially as a new US president comes to office.
Al-Qa’ida’s No2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, recently exhorted all jihadists to continue killing Americans and Brits. He also mocked Obama, and called him America’s “house negro”.
Those who thought George W. Bush was the cause of radical Islamist hostility to the US and the West are set for a sore disappointment. The terrorists didn’t hate the US because of Bush. They hated Bush because of the US. Similarly, they will not love the US because of Obama: they will hate Obama because of the US.
Increasingly, al-Qa’ida has been operating recently on a coalition, or almost contract, basis. It sets out a target, such as the murder of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and other Islamist groups volunteer to carry out the operation. When al-Qa##ida approves, the two groups then collaborate on training, technology and other operational issues. Al-Qa’ida gives the local group a sophistication it could not otherwise attain, while the local group gives al-Qa’ida intimate local knowledge, new recruits and a reach it could not otherwise achieve.
In this case, the internal situation in Pakistan could play directly into al-Qa’ida’s calculations. If the Indians become convinced of a Pakistani involvement, they may mobilise some troops near the Pakistani border. This would force Pakistan to withdraw troops from its fight against jihadis in the tribal areas of Pakistan. In other words, the military pressure, such as it is, would come off al-Qa’ida.
Thus the Mumbai strike would serve a whole range of al-Qa’ida objectives: harming the Indian state, demonstrating al-Qa’ida’s continuing lethality, hitting the Americans when they are celebrating their new president and relieving military pressure on them in Pakistan.
Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy, a former high commissioner to Pakistan, does not believe the Pakistani Government or military was involved. But he does not rule out the support or involvement of rogue elements of the Pakistani state.
Further, Pakistan’s civilian President Asif Ali Zardari has been making strong peace overtures to India. However, this happened once before. When Nawaz Sharif, a civilian prime minister, was making peace with India, Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan’s military commander (and later its military dictator) mounted a military attack on India through Kashmir. This nearly brought war between the two nations, but it also had the effect of torpedoing the peace process, which the military didn’t like.
Such a peace process is also bitterly opposed by Pakistan’s Islamist extremists.
“Pakistan is now becoming seriously dysfunctional,” Parthasarathy says. Pramit agrees: “There’s no one in charge in Pakistan. There’s no one you can talk to, no one home. The multiple centres of power in Pakistan traditionally mean jihadis get a lot of leeway. Pakistan is now a net exporter of terrorism. No one’s in charge and we’re likely to see a spiral of violence out of Pakistan.
“The old model was that the different centres of power were vying for the jihadis’ support and the bargain was, come and support us internally and you can do what you like externally so long as you keep it out of this country.”
This bargain, Pramit says, is breaking down because several of the jihadi groups have come to see the Pakistani state as the enemy and are attacking it internally. As a result the Pakistani army has had to fight back against them. But they are not doing very well, according to Pramit: “The Pakistani Army is appalling at counterinsurgency. Its army is riven between Sunni and Shia, Pathans and Punjabis. Their army is learning counter-insurgency from scratch.” Even today, he says, the Pakistani army targets only some jihadi groups while letting others flourish.
Even if the Pakistani Government is not involved, its growing status as a failed state is evident in the home that regional terrorists have found in its lawless provinces. Al-Qa’ida now has more Pakistani and Afghan recruits than Arabs.
But the Mumbai tragedy presents the Indians with a raft of new challenges.
The Indian Government, senior think tank figures and others, have had a lot of communication from the Obama team in the past few days. This is a heartening sign because one of the strategic objectives of the terrorists was surely to harm India-US relations.
In this, they seem, to have failed. On other questions, the jury is still out.
The Australian (abridged)