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.

25 thoughts on “Terrorist attacks on Mumbai – A preliminary assessment”

  1. Any time Karachi is in trouble, Mumbai is hit.
    The idea is to distract media attention from Pakistan, and bring parity with India. Pakistan can claim that Mumbai is no safer than Karachi. That is the essence of the Karachi project.

    1. @trickey : isn’t that true though? If they can bomb us on will, then Mumbai is indeed no safer than Karachi.

  2. May I add that US Sec. of State Hillary Clinton is visiting India next week. All previous visits by US reps have always been precede by major terror attacks without fail. Last year’s visit of Barrack Obama was preceded by Intifada. Call it non state actors if that makes it more palatable, but the objective is to define the agenda of Indo US talks to revolve around the strained Indo Pak relations and by extension the Kashmir issue. That these state/non state actors as the case may be have the wherewithal to carry out such terror attacks or even Intifada at will have been well proven in the previous attacks. Anywhere in the world including US, such terror attacks are investigated, culprits identified and the investigation is taken to it’s logical conclusion, culprits are not spared. Osama bin Laden is a case in point. That India prefer to be “humane” with terrorists and relies on the famed(?) spirit of to tide over such tragedies and moves on is only making things easier for the terrorists.

  3. Informative assessment. To elaborate on the point the author makes about the Karachi Project employing Indian-origin people, the Indian security agencies must be given a free end to look into the local support angle to such acts. With thousands of sleeper cells active in India, it is almost impossible to achieve a 100 per cent success rate in preventing such attacks.

    Also, our short-sighted politicos need to keep aside their narrow vote-bank politics and let the security and intel agencies probe the local network support in these attacks. No attention was paid to the local angle after the 26/11 attacks. And even if it was investigated, there is not much info in public domain.

    We need to understand one fact: We can never hope to be friends with Pakistan till their hostile military setup is in control of that country. To bleed India by using non-state actors and local Indian elements is a strategy that Pak Army and ISI will never give up. The civilian leadership there have no real power and talking to them is not going to make any difference.

    1. “We can never hope to be friends with Pakistan till their hostile military setup is in control of that country. ”

      Would we ever want to be friends with Pakistan, even if their military lost control? When their military loses control, they are bound to descend into chaos and jihadi elements will take over their civilian govts.

      I see no reason for India to ever be ‘friendly’ with Pakistan. The best we can hope for is a neutral co-existence.

  4. Hi Nitin,
    Have you ever wondered whenever the grand Puba of ISI visits USA, India suffers a terrorist attack. This was predicted day before yesterday on a defence forum as soon as pasha’s US visit became public.
    I think there is even more sinister design to all this charade of peace talk going on. This is only a theory as of now as I have no access to GOI documents or MMS Piss process.

    USA pays Jaziya to Terrorist state of Pakistan. TSPA and it’s rabid dog, L-e-t keeps the tap off on terror attacks on India. India talks peace and Pawk army keeps FC on Durand Line/Afpak border to help ISAF.

    US turns the tap off on jaziya $800 million, All bets are off. Boom goes bombs in Mumbai wanting India to do something under public pressure (atleast make some statements of retaliation), Pak finds a reason to shift 4-5 division from western to Eastern border (with India).

    But MMS is made of sterner stuff, he will not let the designs of Terrorist state of pawk army come to fruition. he will not blame pak, will not talk about retaliation till the time ISI blasts out 10 janpath. Common citizens don’t matter.

    See we are partners in global war on terror and our primary responsibility is to stop terror attacks in US.

    The most lousy and moronic PM ever, MMS has Indian blood on his hands along with veshti

  5. Disappointing post especially the last line; You are in a way saying the Indian govt should keep quiet and let things be..chalta hain like every time ;; What ever action the Indian govt takes like stopping dialogue, put international pressure, send dossiers will result in as you put increase in popularity of the army..so what should India do ? stay quiet and let life move on..only the families of the victims have suffered..I carry on with my life..A think tank should suggest specific measures on how to deal with this meance not platitudes like ” 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.”

    1. Aggression is not always strategy. Doing exactly what your adversary wants you to do is not a smart thing to do.

      I can understand the anger and frustration with the way the UPA government has dealt with the repeated provocations. Then again, it is better not to let anger cloud thinking.

      As for specific measures, maybe they have been suggested 🙂

      1. It depends on what you mean by “aggression”. Would a policy of proactively keeping an adversary weak count as aggression?

        Coming to “specific measures”, it is very difficult to know what these are, and if they are being used. Most effective options are kept secret.

        Their success could be gauged indirectly by the frequency and/or ferocity of future attacks on Indian soil. But these attacks also depend on how successful the police and counter terror units are, so using this information as feedback about the “specific measures” can be tricky. Unless, of course, we see something obvious (e.g., the creation of Bangladesh).

  6. Nitin, thanks for the reply; For 20 years after the 1993 blasts, as you say we have not been aggressive; has it stopped the terror attacks? I am not for a moment suggesting war with Pakistan; but the impression that we give internationally is of a very weak state? an external affairs minister releasing terrorists, our PM agreeing to Pakistan’s demand on Balochistan 6 months after 26-11, our govt’s recent stand on not linking terror to talks? our home minister suggesting the attacks were an attempt to derail the talks, a primeminister who is hell bent on pursuing a passive Pakistan policy against all logic? Our adversary in this case knows our government will absolutely do nothing..in India we unfortunately do not value the lives of our citizens…
    I recently came across your blog.Will check the archives for your earlier posts on terror

    1. Every man to his poison! As an outsider I see India as the next biggest economy. Consider who has the most to gain in the long term from this vile act. Solve this and you will have the truth. Why are western bases intercepting all the supply routes of energy commodities to India? I wonder if the peoples of India and Pakistan understand what the future holds for them. Do the peoples of India and Pakistan think that the last viceroy Mountbatten left the Kashmiri issue unsolved to maintain peace? Are you two nations in denial? Strive to attain the common good and steer your Leaders in that direction. You were the richest nation in the past . Now with the oldest trick in the book “Divide and Conquer” will you attain your former glory?

      1. Will a war with Pakistan end terror attacks in India for good?

        The primary responsibility of the govt is to protect its citizens. Almost 3 years after the Mumbai terror attacks, govts of India and Maharashtra have not established an enhanced security environment within the richest city of the country. Decisions about security ‘resources’ meant to be deployed within the city are languishing within the bureaucratic hallways of Mantralaya, to put it mildly. (And you don’t even need to guess why.) Maharashtra meanwhile has seen 3 chief ministers.

        Merely deploying gun-toting cops in sensitive parts of Mumbai is not going to fix it either. The fact that terror attacks go unsolved for almost a decade are a clear indication of how weak the intelligence apparatus is.

        And if all this is not bad enough, there is no reliable regulatory or legal framework to prosecute terror cases. Organizations like SIMI keep being banned or unbanned depending on the political winds that are blowing at the time. Laws are passed and repealed on the same grounds.

        When we are operating in such a feckless security environment, it is absolutely useless to point fingers at Pakistan, and do gimmicks like sending lists of terrorists. The height is when we make tall claims about targeting Dawood in Karachi when we can’t even dismantle his business empire within India.

        The sad truth is that govt appears to function under the precept that failure is always an option. We need to clean up our house first before we start expecting Pakistan to do their act for our benefit.

  7. I wrote on Twitter that this was Cockroach Pasha’s calling card. The asshole bought himself some insurance from the US scrutiny by way of a diversionary tactic by getting his office carry out the Mumbai attack. It is as simple as that.

    Here is what I am baffled about: how much worth is the life of Hafiz Saeed? Can’t the affected merchant community raise a supari and get this cockroach rubbed out? India cannot afford to play by the ‘Queensberry’ rules all the time? Also how about announcing financial rewards in Pakistan Media, yes, you read it right as to giving information or leads that will nail these despicable low-bred vermin? I am sure many local Pakis will be interested at least from the monetary angle and may be a few who want to live for a better Pakistan.
    Can’t we bribe somebody or everybody with the money we have in India and get their terrorist plans smuggled out of country (Paki) and save lives here? Why is it so hard to do some intelligent counter espionage?!!

  8. i live 5 minutes from Op khau galli .Everyone heard the blasts till lamington road .
    i hope my banana chips guy who makes great chips is alive and kicking. also the fruit juice guys..missed the bomb at zaveri bazaar where i was supposed to go to get the best fried lentils and peanuts.
    all these attacks are close to temples , Kabutarkhana is beside a jain and hindu temple, opera hse has zavba wadi mandir and aryan school n pancharatnas maddening rush and zaveri bazaar has a diamond mkt and mumbadevi…
    There has to be a local element and possibility of d gang involvement.
    All khau gallis are under police threat i guess…
    Will they consider such activity illegal i dont know …
    An aam mumbaikars life is at best uncertain but this is like a threat not only to his life but to his/her stomach. God i hope i get anything to eat !

    These is interesting times , how can we push a lame govt to act and how do we deal with the karachi project and 313?
    Worse will this govt ever bother to protect the aam admi , because as of now the two most protected people after the Pm and cabinet are Sonia and birthday boy Kasab.

  9. I second Broadwit, but how to go about it? Some ISI guy honeytraps a middle aged Indian embassy staffer and she coughs up all our secrets. Why cant our second secretaries and third secretaries go out in Islamabad, spread some TLC, and get some useful information? What are they doing anyway, attending Urdu classes?

    Why cant we announce $25m awards on all these guys? But then, we cannot even get a list right. One day you put out a list with all the awards, and then the next day someone bumps off a guy in Arthur Road jail and claims it.

    Then we have a chance to be nice to the US and buy some of their planes, so they will share more information with us. We blow it by ordering from the Europeans. Maybe everyone in the MEA will get a free copy of Bernard Henri-Levy´s book in return.

    At every level, the Indian government is characterized by amateurishness and clumsiness. Given this, anything GoI does will be wrong, and an intelligent commentator can do nothing but praise inactivity as sagacity.

  10. Only thing authentic and “hot” is the blood of hapless Indians spilt on the streets.

    Everything else – the intelligence, the speculation, the “a&r” anger& resentment – is all used, stale, reheated and pointless. Underscore a client state status.

    All of which is not a reflection of acorn ‘s effort, for which thanks are due.

  11. An informative article. The only statement I don’t agree with is that casualties and physical damage are not important. The more casualties, especially, the thicker the media coverage, which helps in fulfilling one more objective of terrorism: scare. There is no use in a terror attack no one talks about. Only if as many people as possible are scared the terrorist can hope to make a political impact.

  12. [Quote] Cliched as it may sound, tensions with India are just what the Pakistani military establishment needs at this moment. [Unquote]

    This is not a cliche but a dubious recursive logic floated by peacniks pacifists and leftlib gang that dominates English newsmedia. Its restatement here is unfortunate. Jihad Inc. continues a sustained series of attacks and the peaceniks within negotiates the surrender. Indian responses also do not go beyond another round of official statements and banal tv debates. Between a xinhua like state agency with its vetted news and Indian tv debates that destroys all common sense – I will always choose a state run news agency.

  13. Even after 26/11 and the latest revelations by the captured jehadis in a chicago court has not moved MMS away from his peace maniacity.

    The escalated series of jihadi attacks from 2004 onwards culminating in 26/11 and the repeated failures of interdiction and prosecution – the failure of investigation agencies tied down with both weak laws and by congress power politics – blocking of the prosecution of about 80 jehadi activists arrested by the Gujarat police and above all – not swiftly executing captured jehadis but keeping them in jail for some elusive reasons. These are just some aspects of the MMS led UPA regime.

    At its heart, the rising tide of islamic jihad is a crisis of governance where an
    unaccountable unelected NAC politburo has taken over decisions and policy making from a pliant and puppet like MMS. This unelected shadow regime of NAC is filled with radicals, international evangelists and islamofascists and they do not serve Indian national interests. They pursue an ideological agendas of their own and do not mind creating a state of destabilization in pursuit of them.

    This corrupt regime has to be broken down by either decimating the power cartel that
    controls the congress party and by initiating political reforms that insulates the PMO and administrative ministeries from party controls – Creating independent institutions that disallows anyone from becoming super citizens – And by making primary elections mandatory in political parties to delegitimize the strangelhold of power cartels and families over them.

  14. I know most of our Indians are corrupted.Just makes difference how big they or in other words how big the chance they get .But at least save your life.It could be one day your turn.

    We invest huge lumps of dollars to buy advance war planes,advance missiles for defense .Please procure technology to stop terrorism, invest more on man power to stop RDX (explosives) entering India. Invest more for security than for defense.

    Great corrupted Indian leaders! Is it so that if you don’t invest on man power for security because can’t make huge corruption out of it?

    God never saves you got to act.

  15. Short-term aggression may be playing into the hands of the Pak military-jihadi complex. But long-term solution will involve aggression and propaganda against the military-jihadi complex because they cannot be convinced to give up their hatred for India and other kaffirs, by definition.

    One has to be careful to isolate the Pakistani public from this limited war by a message of friendship win over pacifists and detox fence-sitters. This separation between the public and the military-jihadi complex has to be done both in violent operations as well as propaganda at the world stage.

    Neither Conventional war, and definitely nor nuclear war, is the answer.

  16. hey,,hey,hey,again and again,,,its the mentality of our beloved politicians and police that leads to this kind of attacks,,i dont feel safe,,we boast that our country is going to be next superpower,,huh,,i dont think so,,coz,,our system of internal security is so bad.no one works,all sleep and bribe.thats our india.when tere is a blast,all r active,,,later on,,same as usual.i really get fed up with dis,,ohhhhhhh.tere must be a deep restructuring in intelligence and mindset of politicians.and most of all,,politicians,,try to luv ur fellow indians,,

  17. Unlike things are made costly for the generals and other powerbrokers in Pak (hitting a few ramshacle camps in PoK, even if it can be done inexpensively, won’t suffice) through targeted decapitations, these attacks sadly will continue!

    Also, every time the “tea and biscuit” peace-talk sessions start the attacks resume almost on clockwork. Methinks the GHQ boys interpret it as a sign of weakness and get even more emboldened!

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