Mumbai: One Year Later

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26/11 (26th of November, for those in America) is viewed by many Indians as their 9/11…a day in which the country changed. (You can see many of my key posts, in real time, here, here, here and here).

Mumbai was certainly not the first large scale terrorist attack in India.  There was, of course, the December 13, 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, which was dramatic in its own right coming so soon after the September 11th attacks.  But Mumbai, and the attacks on the symbolic centers of India’s largest city, certainly had an emotional impact.

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The attack was led by 10 men who entered India through small fishing boats, traveling from Pakistan.  While taking orders from a terrorist leader within Pakistan (which was intercepted by Indian Intelligence services), the terrorists attacked the train terminal, a Jewish center, and most notably, the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal Hotels, among the best known landmarks in Mumbai.  The Hotels were then set on fire, in order to create the maximum damage and death toll.  All the terrorists planned to die for Allah in the attacks, but one terrorist was capture alive to tell the tale.

After 60 hours and 173 fatalities, the terrorist attack came to the end.  It was not even close to the deadliest terror attack in Indian history; the 1993 Bombay attacks killed more than 200.  But symbolically, the attacks were well coordinated, attacked primarily ‘soft’ civilian targets, and set fire to one of the historic landmarks in Indian history, the Taj hotel.  For publicity, few terrorist attacks garnered this much attention, short of 9/11.

Capturing the lone living terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, was a boon to the investigation.  He clearly stated how he and his comrades came from Pakistan into India will a well coordinated plan that was funded by the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.  Lashkar-e-Taiba militants inside Pakistan paid for and planned the entire attack.  LeT, as they are otherwise known, is a group that India and the United States had long called a terrorist organization.  Pakistan at first denied that the terrorists were Pakistani; then denied any LeT involvement, but finally bowed to international pressure and arrested some of the key heads of the group.

However, the Pakistani criminal prosecutions have fallen far short of what the world community has demanded.  The key leaders of the group have gone free, or are on limited house arrest.

Then recently came the news of U.S. citizen (and Pakistani descendent) David Headley and Canadian citizen Tahawwur Rana arrest this month in the United States.  Indian investigators believe that Headley had a key involvement in the 26th November attack. It was established that Headley had visited India several times before the attack and even stayed in the Taj Hotel in Bombay. Investigations are on into links that Headley had with some Bollywood personalities who may have unknowingly provided cover for his visits to India.  The involvement of an American has brought the case to our homeland, and the FBI is now involved with the investigation as well.

India’s reaction to the terror attacks have been mixed.  Certainly, the intelligence services have heightened their alert levels for future attacks, and hope to have better communications with commandos, who during the attacks had less knowledge of the battlefield than the Pakistani terrorists did.  However, internationally, India did not pressure the world community to place greater force on Pakistan to act.  To this day, most of the major culprits in Pakistan are free to one degree or another, while many minor players are in jail and will be the likely scapegoats.

In many ways, Pakistan has still not learned the self-created threat that exists within their borders.  Their military has moved against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in its western provinces, primarily because of American pressure.  But groups such as the LeT continue to function (albeit by different names).   These groups in the long run are as dangerous to Pakistan as India.  However, the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) as well as the military, which both have long standing affiliations with these terror groups, have still not learned their lesson.

President Barack Obama this week invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to a state dinner at the White House, the first of his presidency.  It is a great honor.  But the honor is largely symbolic.  On every important issue of the day, Obama has sided with the Chinese and Pakistanis, and against the Indians.  Most would not portray the situation thusly, but that is the facts as I see them.  Obama has been very hesitant to place pressure on Pakistan regarding the Mumbai attacks because he fears they will back away from the Afghan border.

The moral ambiguity is a major problem for Obama, and India as well.  Bush clearly sided with India, and placed a great amount of pressure on Pakistan to act.  Obama has not done the same.  India and the United States share common interests and enemies.  Obama, who detests calling anyone his enemy, has great difficulty in seeing this reality.  That is the difference between seeing this as a war versus a criminal act.

Only a united front can defeat the type of terrorism that we face.  Whether it be in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, or elsewhere, the United States and India working together along with other allies have a much greater chance at success than each country worrying about its own narrow interest.  Time will tell if we have really learned that lesson.  But until that time, all we can do is mourn those that were lost, and do our utmost to prevent such attacks again.

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