The coordinated attacks on Mumbai's commuter trains are the latest chapter in a sustained covert war against India by Pakistan-sponsored Islamist terror groups, says Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.
The evening of 11 July 2006 saw the execution of a series of eight bomb explosions at seven locations on local trains and stations in Mumbai (Bombay) at peak hours. At the time of writing, an estimated 190 persons had died, with numbers still rising, and many of the over 600 injured still in a critical state. The enormity of the latest serial blasts in Bombay is still to sink in. In terms of fatalities, this is already the second largest terrorist attack ever to be executed on Indian soil. The largest was the series of thirteen coordinated explosions on 12 March 1993, again in Mumbai, in which 257 persons were killed.
Between 1997 and 2003, there were another eleven incidents of explosions engineered by Pakistan-backed Islamist extremist terrorists in Mumbai, in which a total of 78 persons were killed and another 349 injured. The worst of these were the twin blasts on 25 August 2003, at the crowded Zhaveri Bazaar and the Gateway of India, in which 50 persons died.
The latest series of blasts is, in essence, a continuation of a sustained covert war against India in which Pakistan has created and exploited a number of Islamist terrorist groups over more than a decade and a half. The principal focus of this war remains at present the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K;); but since the early 1990s there have been sustained efforts to extend this war to every part of India, and there has been a cyclical succession of terrorist operations across the length and breadth of the country.
The frequency, spread and, in some cases, intensity of these operations has seen some escalation in the past years, as international pressure on Pakistan to end terrorism in J&K; has diminished levels of "deniable" engagement in that theatre after a diminution of the international "tolerance of terror" after 9/11.
It is significant that hundreds of Pakistan-backed terrorist cells have been discovered, disrupted and neutralised over the past years. The cumulative evidence of these operations has systematically confirmed a sustained and comprehensive Pakistani strategy of subversion and mobilisation for terrorism in virtually every significant concentration of Muslim people in India. This strategy has failed entirely to secure a mass base among India's Muslims, but a handful of recruits sufficient to sustain a sporadic and, given contemporary technologies, fairly devastating, terrorist campaign has been available.
Definitive identification of the responsible groups and individuals will have to await further investigations. However, the record of past incidents, arrests, seizures, and activities within Maharashtra means that the needle of suspicion points inexorably to one of three organisations as the probable architects of, or participants in, the latest carnage.
The first of these is the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure / LeT), now renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Its headquarters are at Muridke in Pakistan, and it is led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who enjoys full freedom of movement and operation in Pakistan. The LeT was prominently engaged in relief work, with visible state support, after the earthquake of October 2005 in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, despite the fact that the organisation figures on the Indian, the Pakistani and the US list of proscribed terrorist groups (see Jan McGirk, "The politics of an earthquake", 19 October 2005).
The Lashkar-e-Taiba is the principal Islamist terrorist organisation engaged in active operations in a wide number of locations outside (as well as within) Jammu & Kashmir, and its role in several of the earlier bomb blasts in Mumbai is beyond dispute. A number of arrests over the past few months, in addition to those in 2004 and 2005, has resulted in the discovery and neutralisation of several LeT cells in Maharashtra, confirming a continuous effort to perpetrate terrorist attacks in the state and its capital.
Also on India and terrorism in openDemocracy:<?p>
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr, "Delhi's bombs: landscape of jihad in south Asia"
(2 November 2005)
The second possible architect is the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi). It also has a very significant presence in Maharashtra, and has facilitated a number of past Lashkar-e-Taiba strikes in the state and in other regions of India outside Jammu & Kashmir. It has increasingly emerged as a major recruiting organisation and facilitator for the operation of Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist groups operating in other parts of India than the J&K; theatre.
The third organisation is the Dawood Ibrahim gang, currently headquartered in Karachi. This has been involved in trafficking in arms and explosives, as well as the illegal transfer of funds to south Asian and international Islamist terrorist groups. The "D Company", as the gang is known, still has a stranglehold over organised crime in Bombay, and its infrastructure is regularly used by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to facilitate terrorist activities in India as well as abroad. The Dawood gang is on India's list of wanted terrorist organisations, as well as on the United States list of proscribed terrorist groups.
A conservative assessment of past trends in activities of these groups suggests that one or a combination of these groups will be found to be responsible for the latest serial blasts in Mumbai.
Regrettably, other than the enormity of this latest carnage, there is little to distinguish it from the unending succession of incidents across the country over the past years. Worse, this is only an intervening link in a chain which will continue into the future as well. Soft targets, high explosives and Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist modules have, once again, wreaked devastation, as they surely will, again.
If nothing, other than its scale, distinguishes the modus operandi of the terrorists in this case, there is, equally, little evidence of a significant policy shift in India that will break through the lethargy of the past. This is already apparent in the pro forma statement issued by India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, condemning the "cowardly" attacks and declaring the government's "determination" to fight terror. Shortly thereafter, so that no one in Pakistan would be even remotely upset or concerned by anything that may have been said, the interior minister, Shivraj Patil, informed the nation and the world that the terrorist strikes in Mumbai would not affect the "peace process" between India and Pakistan.
And while President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan also issued his own pro forma condemnation, his foreign minister, Khurshid Mohammad Kasuri was quick to warn India that, unless the "real issue" of Kashmir was settled, such incidents would continue.
It is essential to recognise clearly, in this context, that Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence is the principal terrorist organisation in south Asia. All the other groups including principally the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Harkat-ul-Mujahiddeen, the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen are creations and instruments of the ISI.
It is essential, equally, to understand that, as in any war, there can be no permanent strategy of defence in the war against terrorism. Eventually, the party that possesses and maintains the initiative will find a breach, or will erode defences through sustained attrition. However efficient and effective the police and intelligence services may be, someone will eventually break through and secure a "terrorist success".
In any event, the intelligence and security forces can only do as much as the political mandate and sanction allow. Unless policymakers are willing give the mandate to directly address and neutralise the source there can be no permanent victory over terrorism. This cannot be achieved as long as India's leadership continues to believe that they can obtain peace by offering concessions to terrorists and their state and non-state sponsors.
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