Terrorist attacks on Mumbai – A preliminary assessment

Here is a preliminary, and hence, tentative assessment of yesterday’s terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

1. Regardless of who set off the three coordinated bomb blasts, it was an act of terrorism. Even if the explosives were set off by members of organised crime syndicates, as some initially suggested, they constitute terrorism. Terrorism is political theatre that primarily aims to create a psychological impact that then influences politics. Physical damage and casualties are secondary, as is the choice of ‘foot-soldiers’.

2. At this point, there are reasons to suspect that this attack was carried out by the Pakistani military-jihadi complex’s so-called Karachi setup (or the Karachi project). According to David Coleman Headley’s statement recorded by NIA:

“The Karachi setup is basically Abdurrehman’s@ Pasha setup. Pasha has since long been associated with operations in India. Headley believes that local Indian boys are involved in the Karachi setup. The aim of the Karachi Setup is to launch operations into India by using militants of Indian origin…the Karachi setup of Pasha has the complete backing of the ISI. Col Shah who was the handler of Pasha was actively involved in Karachi setup.”

Mr Headley notes that Pasha, who he says is associated with Harakt-u-Jihad Islami/al-Qaeda Brigade 313’s Ilyas Kashmiri, knew that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai trains in July 2006 were “local Indian boys.” He has named six Pakistani army officers as being involved in this setup. Mr Headley has also stated that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has its own Karachi setup that “aims to launch boys from Maharashtra and Gujarat into India using sea routes.”

3. The timing of the attack (when the Pakistani military establishment is under severe pressure from the United States), the location of one bomb close to Shiv Sena’s headquarters and the non-claiming of responsibility after the attacks are three key factors that point towards the Karachi project. To the extent that such attacks create tensions with India, the Pakistani military establishment can reclaim the popularity it has lost among the Pakistani people in recent weeks. LeT has shown an dogmatic obsession with the Shiv Sena. LeT usually does not claim responsibility for its attacks. Unlike in other recent cases, where the Indian Mujahideen sent out long manifestos and grievance sheets to mediapersons soon after/just before the attacks, none have been received so far.

There is also the matter of dates: many terrorist attacks have taken place either on the 13ths or 26ths of the month. Also, yesterday might have been the birthday of the sole surviving 26/11 terrorist, Ajmal Kasab. The initial statement recorded by Maharashtra ATS gives his birthday as July 13th, although in other records he gives it as September 13th.

The absence of the usual claim of responsibility suggest that the Indian Mujahideen were either not involved, could not or did not risk sending out the email. (Although a caller from Yemen did claim it was their handiwork). It is possible that their capabilities have been impaired as a result of law enforcement and counter-terrorism measures undertaken by the Indian government since 26/11.

5. Regardless of whether the attacks are traced back to Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government will be under severe pressure, from the public, from the opposition and from within its own ranks, over Pakistan policy. His dogmatic pursuit of dialogue with Pakistan will be called into question, weakening him even further.

6. In March this year, when questioned on India’s response to another 26/11-type attack, P Chidambaram, the home minister, had stated: “If India is attacked again, and we are reasonably convinced that the attack emanated from Pakistan, we will respond swiftly and decisively.” Now yesterday’s attack was not quite on the scale of 26/11 but it will most likely be be traced back to Pakistan. Given the relatively lower level of provocation, it is unclear if the UPA government will swiftly decide to respond.

7. Cliched as it may sound, tensions with India are just what the Pakistani military establishment needs at this moment. Therefore whatever swift and decisive measures the Indian government undertakes must ensure that it does not do anything to make the Pakistani generals popular again.