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Terrorism in India: A Cold Analysis – Part I

As the dust around South Mumbai settles, the world beings to hear of the chilling sequence of events of November 25, 2008, and the days ensuing, as narrated by survivors and investigators. The lone surviving terrorist apprehended by law enforcement agents has implicated Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) as the attacks primary sponsor. Pakistan has asked for evidence on these charges, and it is India’s responsibility, to its own citizens and the victims of the attack, to construct a case so water tight, that it would force Pakistan to act.

If there is a lesson that India should have learned from the December 13, 2001 Indian Parliament attack, it is that in emotionally charged times such as these, rhetoric and demagoguery emanating from India will provide enough room for Pakistan to wiggle out of any squeeze that India or the United States can effectively put on it to act on terror groups within its borders.

It is in India’s best interests therefore, to tone down the rhetoric, and work towards gathering incriminating evidence, provide it not only to Pakistan but also to the international community, and work with the United States in ensuring that pressure is put on Pakistan to take tangible steps to eradicate the LeT and other groups from operating in their country. In this two-part article, I will recap the inept governance (which continues to linger) that lead to this tragedy, highlight challenges that India’s internal security apparatus faces, summarize steps that the government plans to take (or has taken) to address security flaws, and point out areas that India should focus on going forward if we are serious about protecting the lives of our citizens.

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November 25th Mumbai Terror Attacks

The Taj Hotel in South Mumbai was the scene of the attack

The Taj Hotel in South Mumbai was the scene of the attack

Another day and another terror attack in another Indian city has left almost 100 people dead and hundreds injured.  The scale of the attack — spread across two five-star hotels, a hospital, the Victoria Terminus, and other parts of South Mumbai — is stunning.  Quite obviously, this can’t be the work of an impromptu assemblage of disgruntled extremists.  The planning, the weaponry used, and the coordinated execution points to a very well planned attack, executed by very well trained, possibly even professionally trained, attackers.  A group that I’ve never heard of before, the Deccan Mujaheddin, claimed responsibility for the attack.  It would be premature to dismiss this as an attempt to divert attention from the real terrorist group, just because this is a name that we’re not familiar with.  This group, if in fact it exists, could be an alliance of sorts between foreign terror groups and intelligence services, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which provided the ammunition and/or the money, and Indian terror groups and their backers such as the Indian Mujaheddin (IM) and SIMI, which provided the logistics and the plan. That the terrorists were apparently looking for civilians with American or British passports leads me to believe that this couldn’t entirely be the handiwork of Indian terror groups, if at all they were involved at any level.  Terrorism in India is very localized and it isn’t the M.O. of local terror groups to target foreigners.  The objectives of terror groups in India fall into two broad categories — (a) to seek retribution (against Hindus, law enforcement agencies, the State, etc.) for what they see as injustices, or (b) to inflict damages so unbearable that it would demoralize India into conceding independence to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

While it’s quite clear that these local terror groups wouldn’t’ be fans of the United States or of the United Kingdom, I don’t believe that their objectives would be pan-Islamic.  If it does turn out to be true that they were targeting Western interest in the city, then this would be the first such incident, and one that adds a dimension that draws India into the fold of “mainstream” terrorism.

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Pot, kettle. Kettle, pot.

A Sri Lankan military vehicle in Vannerikulam, Sri Lanka

A Sri Lankan military vehicle in Vannerikulam, Sri Lanka

India has been mounting a pressure campaign on Sri Lanka in the hopes that it can slow down the island-nation’s military advances into town of Kilinochchi, the administrative capital of the LTTE. Apparently, India has conveyed its “deep concern” over the “deteriorating humanitarian situation” in the LTTE controlled regions of Lanka. If this isn’t an example of a combination of barefaced hypocrisy and dirty politics, I don’t know what is. What right does a country whose politicians engage in violence against minorities as a matter of policy have to dictate terms to another country? Fringe nutjobs like Vaiko in Tamil Nadu and allies of the UPA administration, are behind this new effort to intervene in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. In supporting a reign-in of Lankan military advances, they are, in effect, allowing the LTTE to regroup and refortify its defenses in the town. Perhaps these political parties are forgetting that it was in Sriperumpudur, a town in their state, in 1991 where one of our Prime Ministers had the misfortune of having his head blown off by the very same LTTE that they’re sympathizing with.

If this wasn’t bad enough, Sri Lanka gave credence to New Delhi’s bellowing by inviting Pranab Mukherjee to come and evaluate the “humanitarian mission” in the region.

“With the view of clarifying the position of the Government with regard to the humanitarian mission in the North, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has invited the External Affairs Minister of India Pranab Mukherjee to Sri Lanka,”

Civilian casualties are an unfortunate consequence of war, and one that any responsible government will want to minimize, if not eliminate. Everyone understands that the Tamil situation cries out for a political, not military, solution. But Sri Lanka is at a defining moment in its history, and at the cusp of a victory against a terrorist organization that has stood between reconciliation between the Sri Lankan government and the Lankan Tamil civilians. Who appointed the LTTLE as the sole representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamils? The truth is that they grew like any other terrorist organization ever did — through dividing and conquering. It needs to be pointed out that this is an organization that India has outlawed, its leader Prabhakaran himself being a wanted man in India for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

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