One Year after Mumbai: Some unresolved Issues
Burning questions remain.
Photo: Impact LAB.com
ONE year after the sensational attack on Mumbai, most people only know how
many people got killed while the city was under “siege,” unbelievably by
"ten gunmen," for 72 hours between November 25th and 27th. People know very
little about who were behind the attack and what led them to do so. While
the masterminds are still nameless entities, their motives have remained as
mysterious as before.
The attack has generated debates among experts as to who were behind it; how
the terrorists could come all the way from Pakistan undetected; if they had
local supporters or sanctuaries; if the Pakistani government and ISI or
Kashmiri freedom fighters linked with the proscribed Islamist
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) were the main actors; or if some local terrorists,
Hindu militants or drug dealers in collaboration with outsiders orchestrated
the carnage. There is hardly any convergence in the identification of the
most likely masterminds of the attack.
From the testimony of the lone surviving gunman Ajmal Kasab, it appears that
their only purpose was to kill as many people as possible, indiscriminately.
The Indian government and media seem to rely on Kasab's testimony to
implicate the LeT as well as Pakistan. However, "typical" terrorists would
not indulge in such a nihilist attack. Nothing short of total insanity would
cause the newly elected Pakistani government to send gunmen just to bleed
and provoke India.
Meanwhile, there is no doubt about LeT's direct involvement in the attack as
several detained leaders of the outfit have already confessed about their
role in it. They have, however, denied getting any support from the
Pakistani government and ISI in recent years. While India is persistently
asking Pakistan to do "more" to de-fang the Islamists, Washington is
relatively more accommodative to the Pakistani position that neither its
army nor the ISI high command had anything to do with the attack, although
it continues applying some pressure on Islamabad to delink junior ISI
officials from the proscribed LeT.
Although the assault had all the features of a well-coordinated terrorist
attack; stealth and precision of a small number of combatants to cause
enormous damage to the enemy; yet, some elements of "typical" terrorist
attacks are missing here. Since terrorism is a means to an end and not an
end in itself, and is a "weapon of the weak" in support of an avowed
political ideology or goal, the "ten gunmen" neither put forward any demands
nor did they reveal their motives or identity, despite having access to the
media via cell phones. Instead, during the early hours of the attack, they
proclaimed their association with an imaginary terrorist outfit from south
India, the Deccan Mujahedeen. Intriguingly, while one gunman was
talking to an Indian journalist over phone, when asked about their motives
or demands, he could not come up with any answer.
Nevertheless, the gunmen behaved like nihilist killers. India had
experienced this sort of attack several times before; anonymous gunmen and
bombers had neither put forward any demands nor championed any cause to
justify their act. This is an ominous development. Turning nihilist,
Islamist terrorists are no longer fighting for an attainable goal or cause;
they want to destroy whatever they consider "un-Islam" first, before
attaining their "Global Caliphate" through jihad. One may cite scores
of examples of such mindless attacks, from Nine-Eleven to the Bali bombing;
and the London bombing to terrorist attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and
elsewhere. It seems that elements within Islamist groups are being drawn to
Consequently, it does not matter any more if the "mainstream" of terror
networks does not subscribe to nihilism while the grassroots are fast
discarding conventional terrorist tactics of using terror as a means to an
end. From the "weapon of the weak" terrorism is turning into the "weapon of
the desperate." Then again, for various baffling to mysterious factors, the
Mumbai attack is no longer explainable in terms of an LeT-led terrorist
attack. The LeT is no longer an Islamist front for the liberation of
Indian-occupied Kashmir. It has links with various transnational terror
networks in the world. The complexities of Mumbai baffle experts. Christine
Fair finds "absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like" in the attack, and "no
fingerprints" of the LeT as "they don't do hostage taking, and they don't do
The most striking aspect of the attack is not the indiscriminate killing
that took place at the Taj Hotel and elsewhere. Some analysts suggest that
while LeT provided some foot-soldiers, they are not sure if all the ten
gunmen belonged to the LeT and if there were more than ten of them. They
point out some "target-killing" as well. Some Hindu militants are said to be
in league with Indian and Pakistani Islamist and narco-terrorist rings.
Another important but mostly ignored factor in the carnage is narco-terrorism.
It seems that Dawood Ibrahim, the Indian fugitive drug-lord who operates
from Dubai and Karachi, and his transnational drug-lord partners were the
masterminds of the massacre. A large portion of Afghan drug, worth several
billion dollars, is smuggled through Mumbai and Karachi to Dubai, the "drug
capital" of the world; and Dawood's men killed his rivals, including a
couple of Russians and Israelis at Nariman House and Oberoi Hotel, in
"typical gangland execution method, not the firing-squad method of the LeT,"
to convey the message to their rivals.
From the taped telephone conversation (courtesy Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN,
November 15, 2009) between a gunman and his sponsor (presumably in Pakistan)
at Nariman House, it appears that the sponsor ordered the gunmen to "take
care of themselves" (commit suicide) after shooting the hostages "at the
backs of their heads." Gunmen killed the hostages at the Oberoi Hotel in the
The Dawood Ibrahim factor adds a new and very important dimension to the
problem. His men hired Islamist gunmen, who killed both innocent people and,
without knowing, Dawood's drug-lord rivals. The innocent victims were
nothing more than Dawood's red herrings. In sum, one cannot explain the
ongoing terrorism and insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan without
understanding the drug-Islamist nexus. The Mumbai carnage should have been
an eye-opener for countries within and beyond South Asia. India and Pakistan
cannot remain in peace without addressing nihilist neo-terrorism issue and
its dangerous liaison with narco-terrorism.
Dr Taj Hashmi is professor of security studies at the Asia-Pacific
Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA