- November 28, 2008
The Mumbai Attacks – Al Qaeda, Pakistani Proxies or Hindutva Backlash?
With more than 100 dead and reports of up to 900 injured, the horrific events in Mumbai have now moved into a second day. Attacks by well-armed and organised Moslem terrorists, who targeted UK, US and Israeli nationals in particular and took hostages at top hotels in India”s financial capital, have catapulted India”s boiling sectarian feuds and regional tensions into the news this Thanksgiving. Some of the most up-to-date reporting can be found at India”s NDTV.com.
Given the nature of the attacks – coordinated across several targets simultaneously and using grenades and heavy machine guns as well as assault rifiles, the finger of suspicion was naturally first pointed at Al Qaeda by Western media. More serious conservative analysts are following Indian officials and are blaming Kashmir-related groups like the Lashkar e-Taiba, who were instrumental in carrying out bomb attacks in Mumbai in July 2006 and, very unlike the US right”s response in 2006 when protecting Musharraf was high on the neocon agenda, this timeeven the Weekly Standard is making the connection between the LeK and Pakistan”s ISI.
It is too early to tell with any precision who is behind these attacks. The smart money is on the multi-headed hydra of terrorist and extremist groups based in Pakistan and Kashmir. Indeed, Pakistan’s intelligence service has waged a proxy war against India using terrorists for decades. The two nuclear powers have avoided a large-scale exchange, but the Pakistani ISI has repeatedly sponsored or aided terrorist groups targeting civilians in India. For example, Indian authorities were quite vocal in blaming Pakistan for the July 11, 2006 train bombings, which killed more than 200.
Today’s attacks, if they are indeed a continuation of Pakistan’s proxy war, threaten to destabilize relations between the two nations further…All of the prime suspects have ties to Pakistani Intelligence: Kashmiri separatists, Pakistani extremists, and even the Taliban and al Qaeda. American authorities should, therefore, look not only for evidence of which specific terrorist groups are involved, but also evidence of ties to the ISI.
I”ll admit that was my first reaction too, and it”s still possible – there are even unconfirmed reports that at least some of the attackers may be Pakistani nationals. I wrote in an emal discussion with my Newshoggers colleagues that the recent Pakistani government”s charm offensive, making nice with India and announcing curbs on the ISI, was to be distrusted and that I suspected it was more window-dressing than actuality. However, as one analyst told me today “far right Indian politicians and the security apparatus have a lot to gain from claiming that the attacks were from Pakistan and the ISI, and they have a lot to lose economically and in international standing if it turns out it was a domestic attack motivated by religiously charged politics.” Moreover, these attacks don”t fit the classic pattern for either AQ or the LeK:
Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation, was careful to say that the identity of the terrorists could not yet be known. But she insisted the style of the attacks and the targets in Mumbai suggested the militants were likely to be Indian Muslims and not linked to Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba, another violent South Asian terrorist group.
“There’s absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like about it,” she said of the attack. “Did you see any suicide bombers? And there are no fingerprints of Lashkar. They don’t do hostage-taking and they don’t do grenades.” By contrast, Mr. [Sajjan] Gohel in London said “the fingerprints point to an Islamic Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group.”
(I”d take the opinion of Ms Fair over that of Mr Gohel any day.)
There”s now evidence that the attacks were carried out by indigenous militants and motivated purely by rage at Hindu-supremacist atrocities inside India rather than being part of an international Al Qaeda plan of attacks or Pakistan”s strategy of “foreign policy by terror proxy”. Blake Hounshell notes:
Today”s horrific attacks in Mumbai were claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen…A group calling itself the “Indian Mujahideen” has claimed responsibility for attacks in a number of different cities over the past several months. The Indian Mujahideen sent a warning in September expressing anger over recent raids by the city”s antiterrorism squad (ATS). Today”s message from the Deccan Mujahideen appears to be identical:
You should know that your acts are not at all left unnoticed; rather we are closely keeping an eye on you and just waiting for the right time to execute your bloodshed. We are aware of your recent raids at Ansarnagar, Mograpada in Andheri and the harassment and trouble you created there for the Muslims.
“You threatened to murder them and your mischief went to such an extent that you even dared to abuse and insult Maulana Mahmood-ul-Hasan Qasmi and even misbehaved with the Muslim women and children there.
“If this is the degree your arrogance has reached, and if you think that by these stunts you can scare us, then let the Indian Mujahideen warn all the people of Mumbai that whatever deadly attacks Mumbaikars will face in future, their responsibility would lie with the Mumbai ATS and their guardians – Vilasrao Deshmukh and R R Patil. You are already on our hit-list and this time very very seriously.”
It”s probably significant that the head of Mumbai”s anti-terror squad and two of his staff were assassinated as part of this co-ordinated attack.
The background context is that Mumbai is run by the very extreme Shiv Sena (army of Shiva) party who have advocated acts of violence against Moslims, and have overseen an increasing sectarian division of the city. It”s leader recently called for the formation of Hindu suicide squads. The current issue of Newsweek covers the wider Hindutva or Hindu supremacist movement and its massive influence on Indian life.
consider the BJP”s candidate for prime minister this time around. Lal Krishna Advani is an aging rabble-rouser who in the mid-1990s helped gather a huge Hindu mob that tore down the 16th-century Babri Mosque, leading to riots that killed more than 2,000 people (Advani was later cleared of criminal charges). He is far more radical than his predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who served as prime minister from 1998 to 2004. And Advani”s heir apparent is Gujarat”s chief minister, Narendra Modi—who has been denied entry to the United States for his alleged role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat that killed more than 1,000. Not long after the riots, Modi warned a crowd that Muslims were trying to erode India”s Hindu majority by having many children. “We have to teach a lesson to those who are increasing the population at an alarming rate,” he said.
…The explanation for the BJP”s rightward tilt lies with its increased reliance on its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)…The RSS advocates a philosophy known as Hindutva and favors turning India into a Hindu state (the country”s population is 80 percent Hindu) and designating religious minorities as second-class citizens. Without its nationalist ideology it wouldn”t be clear what the BJP stood for.
While just the other day I noted the arrest of 10 Hindu supremacist terrorists, including a current Colonel in military intelligence and three former military officers – suggesting that there”s reason aplenty for escalating tit-for-tat sectarian violence. Not all Hindus are violent extremists, just as not all Moslems are – but India is a populous nation and there”s always going to be plenty of dangerous extremism going around despite some truly earnest attempts by the current ruling coalition – a Sikh prime minister and a Muslim president elected by a Hindu majority.
All of this goes under-reported in the West, where the prevalent narrative is of India as the world”s biggest democracy and a tolerant culture. And it is, but just like the US it has its KKK equivalents. Still, one wonders whether if the West were more aware of this stuff, and the massive stores of hatred that the Pakistani and Indian militaries have for each other on sectarian/nationalist grounds, politicians or public would be quite so sanguine about the US/India nuke deal and hopes for a detente between the two nations while Obama is President.