x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Lessons from Mumbai

The attacks demonstrate how a small group of well-trained gunmen can paralyse a major city, defy security forces, and shake public confidence in the power of government to protect civilians. As a result, South Asia is likely to be the leading foreign-policy challenge for the incoming administration of US President-elect Barack Obama.

As tensions rise between the nuclear-armed rivals, India and Pakistan, the long-standing focus of their antagonism, Kashmir, is once again gripped by fear. The Line of Control dividing the disputed region has so far seen no increase in military activity but Pakistan has warned that it will withdraw forces currently engaged in fighting al Qa'eda and the Taliban near the Afghan border and move them to the Indian border if relations become worse. Jabbar Khan, an 80-year-old resident of Garkot on the volatile frontier told Reuters, "They spit anger on Kashmir when something wrong goes between them. "There's a sense of foreboding, as if war might at any minute break out," he said. "We thought the days of terror were over, but these two countries are hopeless." Before the Mumbai attacks, India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had acknowledged that a wave of violence that had struck Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Guwahati and New Delhi in recent months had domestic origins. "The role of Pakistan-based terrorist groups cannot be minimised but the involvement of local elements in recent blasts adds a new dimension to the terrorist threat," Mr Singh conceded after Delhi was struck by multiple blasts in September. "Police said suspects were mostly radicalised young Muslim Indians, loosely associated with a banned extremist student movement," The Financial Times reported. "But in one case, a serving army officer and a Hindu seer were implicated. "But the relentlessness of the attacks has frustrated India's political leadership, which has preferred to focus on promoting the country's emergence as a world power capable of delivering double-digit growth and sending rockets to the moon. An escalating terror campaign was shrugged off by some cabinet ministers as something that global citizens just had to live with. "The attacks have reinvigorated the BJP [Bharatiya Janata party], which governed from 1998-2004, a period characterised by inter-communal strains and a marked deterioration of relations with Pakistan. Arun Jaitley, the party's general secretary, claims the Congress government has 'lost the moral authority to survive'. He blames Mr Singh for presiding over a collapsed intelligence service and inadequate emergency services. "Those views are echoed by many commentators, business people and ordinary Indians. 'Ineffectual leadership is turning a tough state into a soft state. We should have been world leaders in the war against terrorists, for no nation has more experience. Instead we are wallowing in the complacent despair of a continual victim,' says MJ Akbar, an influential media commentator. "The response to earlier terror attacks was noticeable for how quickly life moved on. Mumbai promises to be different. It has escalated the terror debate to the point at which personnel and policy changes are deemed imperative." On Tuesday, The Times reported: "India said today it was not considering military action against Pakistan in response to last week's terror attacks on Mumbai as the United States and its allies rushed to mediate between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. "Pakistan also tried to ease the tension with its historic nemesis by offering a joint investigation into the attacks ahead of a visit by Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, to India tomorrow. "However, India's Hindu nationalist opposition kept up the pressure on the government to find a robust response to the assault on Mumbai, which is being blamed on the Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)." Rahul Bedi, a New Delhi-based correspondent for Jane's Defense Weekly, told RFE/RL that the situation has deteriorated to the point that South Asia will be the leading foreign-policy challenge for the incoming administration of US President-elect Barack Obama. "Along with the state of the economy, I think the problems in Pakistan - and now, by extension, Afghanistan and India - are going to be Mr Obama's top priority," Bedi said. "In fact, I would say economy being No 1 and then probably Pakistan and Afghanistan and India being No 2, a very close second," he added. "Because this is a problem that has the potential to escalate into something much larger. It is really a very dangerous time." In The National Interest, Bruce Hoffman wrote: "The seven years since the September 11 attacks have been remarkable for the absence of any truly major or significantly innovative terrorist attacks on par with that day's heinously tragic events. Last Wednesday evening's coordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India have likely changed that. To be sure, since 2001 there have been bombings in Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, and London among other places; but the vast majority of terrorist incidents seemed to be confined to established zones of conflict like Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently, Pakistan. For the past two years, India has also been repeatedly targeted by terrorists - for instance, the July 2006 commuter-train bombings also in Mumbai, that claimed more than twenty lives and injured scores of others, and the series of unrelenting and unexplained low-level bombings that have convulsed the country's markets, train stations, restaurants and other public gathering places that have steadily driven up the death toll to some two hundred persons. But the Mumbai attacks were of a completely different magnitude and intensity. And, they are likely to exert a profound influence on future terrorism patterns." From the standpoint of the perpetrators of the assault on Mumbai, the attacks have achieved three aims, said Paul Rogers in openDemocracy. "First, they have raised tensions between India and Pakistan. The result is to make it likely that the Islamabad government, will - from a position of relative military weakness - redeploy forces from western Pakistan towards the Indian border. This will benefit Taliban and al Qa'eda militants. Since many Kashmiri-orientated paramilitaries have relocated to western Pakistan this is no small achievement. "Second, they have dominated the world's media for four days in a manner unparalleled since 9/11 itself. The Israeli media, in particular, has been hugely affected; the slaughter in the Jewish centre has caused national anguish. "Third, they have caused deep unease among counter-terrorism forces. What is now clear is that a dedicated and extreme group can use light weapons to cause havoc in a major city." In The New York Times, the Indian essayist and novelist, Pankaj Mishra, said: "The idea that the road to stability in South Asia goes through Kashmir is as persuasive as the notion that the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem. It is also equally hard to realise. Mr Obama could act quickly to stem growing extremism in Pakistan and strengthen civilian authority by ending American missile attacks within its borders and shifting the allied strategy in Afghanistan away from military force and toward political nation-building and economic reconstruction. At the same time, he will have to find a solution in Kashmir that endows its Muslims with a measure of autonomy while pacifying extremists in both India and Pakistan. "The new president's moral and intellectual authority will be vital in negotiations with India, which, like China regarding Tibet, adamantly rejects third-party mediation in Kashmir. Mr Obama could point out the obvious to Indian leaders: they have paid a huge price for their intransigence over Kashmir, with an estimated 80,000 dead in the valley in the last two decades and a resultant rise in terrorist attacks across India. "Indeed, the outrage in Mumbai is the latest and clearest sign that the price of India's uncompromising stance on Kashmir has become too high, imperiling its economy as well as its security. Indian anger over the fumbling response to the brazen attacks disguises the panicky realization that there can be no effective defense against terrorists in a country with a long coastline and densely populated cities. The best India can hope for is to improve what Ratan Tata - the country's leading industrialist and the owner of last week's main terrorist target, Mumbai's Taj hotel - calls 'crisis management'." Meanwhile, a US intelligence official has told ABC News that in mid-October, American intelligence agencies warned their Indian counterparts of a possible attack "from the sea against hotels and business centres in Mumbai". Another government source said specific locations, including the Taj hotel, were included in the US warning. "One month later, Nov 18, Indian intelligence also intercepted a satellite phone call to a number in Pakistan known to be used by a leader of the terror group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, believed responsible for the weekend attack, Indian intelligence officials say. "The Indian intercept also revealed a possible seaborne attack, the officials say." CNN reported however that Mumbai's police chief said on Tuesday that he was never alerted about an imminent seaborne attack on his city. " '[The warning] that terrorists could arrive by sea was from an intelligence report of last year that only said terrorists could attack Gujarat or industries in the south,' Hasan Gafoor said. "Mumbai is in Maharashtra state, which borders Gujarat state. "Indian security forces have told CNN that US officials warned the Indian government in New Delhi on two occasions about a waterborne attack in Mumbai. And according to a US counterterrorism official, New Delhi was warned about a potential maritime attack on Mumbai at least a month before last week's massacre, in which at least 179 people were killed. "The area entered a higher state of alert for a week, including tightened security measures at hotels, but those efforts were eventually reduced, Indian officials said."

pwoodward@thenational.ae