A Shadow Falls on Mumbai

I first came to know of the Mumbai terrorist attacks on Wednesday
afternoon through an e-mail from the folks at the South Asian
Journalists Association. Initial reports that some people had been
injured quickly turned into at least eighty dead (the current tally is
close to 200). My first worry was about my brother and his family, who
live in Mumbai. A call that night confirmed that they were fine and
safely at home when the terrorist onslaught started. So were our other
relatives, although one of my wife's cousins had a close call, since he
was all set to head out for a dinner engagement in the vicinity of the
incidents before a cellphone call from a friend warned him.

Technology turned out to be both a blessing and curse in following
the attacks. Through high-speed Internet, I was able to watch live
Indian television's round-the-clock coverage of the assaults and the
rescue operations. (One of the main Indian channels is available at ndtv.com.)
This wouldn't have been possible even a few years ago, and provided me
an amazing amount of detail about the whole saga. But all those scenes
of killings and destruction made me feel awful.

Though the attempts by the Indian media to label this as "India's
9/11" seem a slightly desperate attempt to resonate with a Western
audience, the impact on India seems to be huge. The audacity of the
assaults, the symbolism of the targeted sites, the live television
coverage-all combined have made this terrorist attack's impact larger
than ever before. And on top of everything else, this incident is the
culmination of a series of bomb blasts over the past couple of years
that have left hundreds of people dead in big cities all over India.

Now, a wide variety of groups have been responsible for these
attacks. Two major bombings within this year in Northeastern India (in
the towns of Guwahati and Imphal) seem to be the work of local
secessionist movements. And recent revelations point to a Hindu
extremist group for a huge blast on an India-Pakistan train in early
2007 that killed sixty-eight people, when it was initially thought to
be the work of militant Islamic elements. But the Mumbai attacks seem
to be quite certainly the handiwork of jihadists. The seeking out of
Americans and British citizens and the attack on the Jewish center, the
first significant case of anti-Semitism on Indian soil, are strong
indications of this. (India has been remarkably free historically of
anti-Semitism with, for example, one of Bollywood cinema's earliest
superstars, Ruby Myers, and one of the top generals in the Bangladesh
War, Jacob Farj Rafael Jacob, both being Jewish.)

So, which particular group was responsible? The evidence indicates
that it is quite likely Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group that has waged an
armed campaign against Indian rule in Kashmir. Both U.S. and Indian
officials have converged in their assessment that this outfit is
responsible, and leaked information from the one captured terrorist
also points in that direction. The organization was quite freely
operating in Pakistan till a December 2001 attack on the Indian
Parliament prompted General Pervez Musharraf to crack down. Even today,
the Indian authorities say that the group is able to operate
semi-openly. (The BBC has a good recent history of the outfit.)

From there we go to the next question: Was there official Pakistani
involvement in the attacks? Here, the fact that the country now has an
elected civilian government is cause for relief because it is highly
unlikely that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (Benazir Bhutto's
widower) even knew about the attacks beforehand. Pakistani Foreign
Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was obviously moved and shaken when he
was on Indian television. The only possibility is of rogue elements
within Pakistan's dreaded intelligence outfit, the ISI, collaborating
with the terrorists, and so far not even the Indian government is
saying this.

The attack has markedly increased tensions between India and
Pakistan. It will result in the Indian government's attention being
directed even further away from developmental issues. And it will lead
to a national hardening of mood and suspicions.

Nothing good will come out of this.