Mumbai: Indian foreign minister accuses Pakistan
The US intelligence community in terms of a report styled “Global Trends 2025”, suggested that the planet will be living with the daily threat of nuclear war over the period of the next two decades. As we watch the events in Mumbai unfolding the bleak picture that they have painted for our medium to long-term future certainly appears to have some merit in it.
In light of the above it is disheartening to learn that efforts to defuse the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan received a setback during the course of yesterday:
In New Delhi, a Government minister explicitly pointed the finger at Pakistan for the first time. “Preliminary evidence, prima facie evidence, indicates elements with links to Pakistan are involved,” Pranab Mukherjee, the Foreign Minister, told a press conference. In Bombay, officials said that one of the militants arrested was a Pakistani national.
The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, responded with a call to India not to play politics with the Bombay attacks. “Do not bring politics into this issue. This is a collective issue. We are facing a common enemy and we should join hands to defeat the enemy,” he said during a visit to the Indian town of Ajmer, which hosts an important Islamic shrine.
Nevertheless, Islamabad agreed to an Indian request to send the head of its military intelligence service, the ISI, to India to share information on the attacks.” (Times of London)
Notwithstanding in order to try and place the attack on Mumbai in context we need to ask a series of questions:
Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the fifth most populous metropolitan area in the world, lies on India’s west coast and is undeniably her financial capital. With a port that handles half of the country’s maritime cargo, financial institutions, Bollywood and an enormous tourist trade it is little wonder that 5% of India’s gross domestic product is generated here.
India is fast becoming a commercial giant and is expected to become one of the world’s leading financial players over the next two decades. She has been growing at a phenomenal rate of 9% p/a over the past few years and is expected to maintain an incredible 6% p/a even during the recession.
As the world’s second highest population at just over 1.1-billion people she also plays home to the third largest Muslim community (after Indonesia and Pakistan) measuring some 130-million souls. When Britain partitioned India (Hindu/Sikh) and Pakistan (Muslim) they left one major festering sore in Kashmir which remains divided and a source of continuing bitterness between the two countries. Wars between the two have been ongoing and led to the further partition of Bangladesh (from India) and continued sabre rattling over Kashmir.
Needless to say, those are now nuclear sabres.
Pakistan in turn has seen a lot of upheaval over the past few years. It’s president Asif Ali Zardari (widower of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto) having just taken over the presidency from Pervez Musharraf thereby ending nine years of military rule. Musharraf had been seen as a substantial ally of the US in the war on terror although this did not seem to stop Pakistan being used as a military training ground for any number terrorist groups, covertly supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and the insurgents in Kashmir.
Of late we have seen US and Nato strikes into the Federally Administered Tribal Lands which border Afghanistan and which are seen as the safe haven for many terrorist groups. Fata is basically a lawless region run by local warlords and from where terrorist operations such as Bali originated. The first thought that crossed my mind on Mumbai, in light of Pakistani anger at the US for its strike on Fata, was that this could be the point of origin of the attacks on Mumbai.
If we look at the way that the attacks are being carried out they appear to be coordinated and following almost military like precision. Several strategically pinpointed targets attacked at roughly the same time using AK 47s, hand grenades, pistols and a small amount of plastic explosive. This goes to training.
The attackers went in and shot many people at random before taking hostages and holing up in hotels and a Jewish centre. It was all designed to prolong the agony and keep Mumbai under siege as opposed to the localised attacks of 9/11 and London. While previous attacks in Bali, Britain and America had been brought under control relatively quickly, the Indian police and army have been fighting a sustained battle with the terrorists in order to free the hostages.
In addition it appears to have commenced from Karachi, Pakistan by boat with the destination, designated targets and operating procedures carefully thought out and executed.
While the operation does bear certain similarities to those carried out by Al-Qaeda in that several targets are executed at the same time and enjoys their full emotional support, this does not appear to be Al-Qaeda.
If we understand that Mumbai is at the heart of India’s financial growth and that the attacks were carried out by a highly trained group of terrorists, launching from Karachi, then there are certain givens:
The attack was meant to further strain relations between India and Pakistan. Terrorists today know that every element of their operation is going to come under scrutiny – by starting in Pakistan they knew that this would strain relations further. This would indicate groups involved in the struggle for Kashmir such as Lashkar-e-Taiba who are based near Lahore (Pakistan) but active in the bitterly divisive province.
As stated above there is any number of groups operating in Fata who might wish to target British and American tourists as reprisals for the latest US and Nato attacks launched from Afghanistan into Fata.
Many fingers are pointing to the Indian Mujahideen — which Deccan who claim responsibility for the attack forms a part of — who are disenchanted with the attacks on Muslims in India as well as what they perceive to be a slight on Muslims in terms of India’s new found prosperity. While India is a financial miracle, don’t lose sight of the enormous poverty that is still visited on the bulk of the population. This is a breeding ground for extremists who might get involved in training in Pakistan related to Kashmir, Afghanistan or any other battlegrounds designated by extremists. Pakistan is not very happy about India’s role in Afghanistan as it is.
The Indian Mujahideen have been responsible for a number of bombings during 2007/8 from Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Uttar Pradesh. This, however, is a far more sophisticated approach designed to draw out the process.
The reason why they probably chose Mumbai is due to the fact that, unlike other prime targets and despite India constantly being attacked by terrorists (casualties second only to Iraq), she has a soft underbelly. This will have to change now.
What is clear is that this exercise was meant to strain the Indian and Pakistani relations, destabilise the region, inflict damage on India’s thriving economy and send a message to Western countries.
With Bush on his way out and Obama on his way in US intelligence agencies have been expecting an attack by Al-Qaeda to unsettle the latter and thumb their noses at the former. This might have been incorporated into the thinking behind the attack if regard is had to the targeting of British and American tourists.
At present the situation is changing hourly. We can’t be certain that the attacks are over nor even that those commenced are the main thrust of the overall exercise although it does appear likely.
One thing is certain – India, as seasoned a veteran as she might be to regular terrorist attacks, will now perceive herself to be a major target for terrorists in the same way as America and Britain have up to now. This will have a profound effect on the way the country is run with more or less the same paranoia the USA experienced post 9/11. It will play complete havoc with civil liberties and heighten tension between India’s Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.
In addition, the relations between India and Pakistan will need to be very carefully managed by statesmen and women inside and outside the region over the next few days. The fact that the attacks were launched from Pakistan is not sitting very well with the Indian government at present. Zardari is doing his best to calm things down but he will need the support of cooler heads right now.
Let’s see how it goes.