The Pakistan Connection
Evidence is still sketchy, but tensions are already rising between India and its nuclear-armed neighbor.
Around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, a band of 10 young armed militants zoomed up to a fishermen's colony in Colaba, on the Mumbai waterfront, in inflatable Zodiac speedboats. Locals confronted them: unlike the dark-skinned Mumbai fishermen, who speak only Marathi, the regional dialect, the intruders were young, tall and fair-skinned and spoke Urdu with a northern accent. According to local press, the gunmen reportedly told them to mind their business, then gave a raised-thumb gesture, and splitting into small groups, walked off into two different directions. The fishermen reported the suspicious men to a police post nearby, but the tip-off failed to rouse the cops to action.
An hour later, the carnage began. Those gunmen and others, armed with automatic rifles and hand grenades, spread out across southern Mumbai and started shooting into crowds at several city landmarks. By midnight more than 100 people lay dead, including three of Mumbai's top cops, one of them the head of the anti-terrorist squad. The series of well-coordinated and bloodthirsty attacks hit two of Mumbai's flagship hotels, its main Victorian-era railway station, and several other soft targets in the city. Gunmen in both hotels took scores of hostages. The dead senior policemen were inexplicably standing exposed outside the spots where terrorists were holding hostages.
Even as Indian commandos worked to free hostages holed up in the hotels and elsewhere, attention quickly turned to who might have planned and staged the brazen attacks. Beyond those killed and wounded, one victim certainly looks to be the gradually improving peace process between India and Pakistan, nuclear-armed rivals who have fought three major wars between them. While no conclusive links between the Mumbai terrorists and Pakistan have yet been proved, initial reports are pointing to some level of Pakistani involvement. Police have arrested nine suspects, including one from the Oberoi hotel. They claim that preliminary interrogation reports reveal that some of gunmen were of Pakistani origin, and were well-trained in handling guns and explosives. They also carried photo credit cards.
A previously unknown jihadi group called the Deccan Mujahedeen quickly claimed responsibility. (Deccan refers to the great plains of central and southern India.) But security experts think the militants simply floated this name in order to confuse investigators. One of the alleged gunmen spoke to an Indian TV reporter by cell phone; the man did not have a south Indian accent, and in fact spoke Urdu with a Punjabi inflection. The caller told the TV station that he didn't even know what the group's demands were. During the conversation, he asked the TV anchor to wait and then could be heard asking a companion in the background: "Tell me, what are our demands?" Finally the man answered that they demanded that all "mujahedeen" in Indian jails should be freed and that "persecution" of Muslims should stop. The caller disconnected the phone when pressed for further information about their numbers and goals.
Despite the rather flimsy evidence pointing to Pakistan's involvement, Islamabad is expected to come under extremely heavy Indian and international pressure once again to get tough with the extremist organizations that still operate rather openly inside the country. After past terrorist attacks Indian authorities have been quick to blame Pakistan and its shadowy Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). This time, too, while the hotels still smoldered, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced in a nationally televised address that the assailants had "external linkages," clearly a reference to neighboring Pakistan. He added that he would tell India's "neighbors" that the use of their territory to attack India would not be tolerated. Many Indians were pointing a finger at the Pakistani jihadi group Lashkar-I-Taiba, which was formed in the early 1980s with the assistance of the ISI to promote an anti-Indian revolt in Muslim-majority, Indian-administered Kashmir.
New Delhi has long accused Lashkar, and by extension Pakistan, of being behind the long-simmering unrest in Indian Kashmir, as well as being instigators of terror attacks inside India. Indian officials, however, conveniently ignore the serious economic, religious, political and social causes of Muslim discontent in Kashmir as well as in much of India, which is home to more than 150 million Muslims, roughly equivalent to the population of Pakistan. There have been five similar attacks, albeit on a smaller scale with fewer casualties, across India in the last eight months. Security agency sources say that the government's response to the attacks has been routine, if not incompetent, and that inter-agency rivalries and non-coordination often result in terrorists having a free hand. In addition, the police are notorious for using crude methods such as rounding up largely innocent Muslim youth and torturing them to extract information, tactics that alienate even moderate Muslim voices.
As a result, Islamic radicalism now seems to be becoming an increasingly serious threat to India just as it is in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Indeed, there may be enough dissatisfaction among Muslims in India to spawn a cadre of native, would-be jihadists who do not necessarily need external support to carry out terrorist attacks. Even so, the precise planning, stealth and coordination involved in the attacks may point to some external assistance, if not inspiration. Pakistan can certainly be faulted for not having dealt a deathblow to Lashkar and several other similar, ISI-assisted, Kashmir-oriented, jihadist outfits such as Jaish-I-Mohammad, a splinter group that was responsible for American journalist Daniel Pearl's kidnapping and beheading in 2002. Despite several much-ballyhooed crackdowns by former President Pervez Musharraf on Lashkar, Jaish and other such extremist groups, these radical organizations were never dismembered or decapitated. They went underground or kept on functioning under different monikers. Unlike Jaish and other Pakistani jihadi groups, Lashkar wisely did not become involved in military strikes against Pakistani security forces. As a result, the army and police crackdown was less harsh on Lashkar than it was on other extremist groups that were in open revolt against Pakistan after it moved to close the infiltration pipeline into Indian-occupied Kashmir in 2003.