(Written exclusively for the journal of the Elcano Institute of Madrid at their request. Cannot be reproduced until their journal carries it )
THEME: Prospects for Indo-Pakistan relations after the terrorist attack in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008.
SUMMARY: The terrorist attack in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008, has caused renewed tensions in Indo-Pakistan relations. While fears of a military confrontation have subsided, the bilateral dialogue on various political and economic issues is in a state of suspension. A return to the pre-November 26 civility in bilateral relations and a resumption of the dialogue could be delayed by the temporary absence of India’s Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh, from his duties due to a cardiac surgery and the forthcoming elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Indian Parliament, which have to be held by April,2009. If there is another terrorist attack from Pakistani territory, the possibility of India exercising a military strike against the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory will increase. The revival of the unwise talk in the West about a linkage between terrorism against India and Kashmir has created a dangerous impression in the minds of the Pakistani military leadership that the use of terrorism has started paying results. This impression could come in the way of Pakistan sincerely acting against the terrorists. Therein lies the danger of a future military conflict between the two countries on the issue of terrorism. If that happens, the West will be largely to blame for creating such an impression in the minds of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment.
ANALYSIS: 138 Indian nationals and 25 foreigners----nine of them Jewish persons from Israel and the US---- were killed when 10 Pakistani nationals belonging to a Pakistani jihadi organization called the Lashkar-e-Toiba (Army of the Pure) , who had clandestinely traveled by sea from Karachi without being intercepted by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard, landed in Mumbai, split into four groups and spread death and destruction in the sea front area of Mumbai for about 60 hours from the night of November 26,2008, till the morning of November 29, 2008.
Five of the fatalities were caused by explosives and the remaining 158 by hand-held weapons (assault rifles and hand-grenades). This was the third act of mass casualty terrorism with fatalities of over 150 in the Indian territory outside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) since jihadi terrorism made its appearance in India in 1989. All the three were committed in Mumbai, which is the financial capital of India. It is also the corporate capital of India with many of the Indian and foreign corporate houses having their headquarters in Mumbai. In the first act in March,1993, a group of Indian Muslims trained and armed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) carried out a series of timed explosions against a number of economic targets and killed 257 civilians. In the second incident in July,2006, 181 commuters and others were killed when a mixed group of Indian and Pakistani Muslims trained and armed by the LET in Pakistani territory carried out a series of explosions in suburban trains.
The November 26, 2008, attack differed from the earlier mass casualty attacks in some important aspects. Firstly, 158 out of the 163 fatalities were caused by hand-held weapons. Explosives played a minor role in the attack. Secondly, the terrorists attacked a mix of targets---- ordinary people in public places such as a railway terminus, a hospital, a restaurant, a café etc and the affluent social and business elite ---Indians as well as foreigners--- in two principal hotels of Mumbai , namely, the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi/Trident hotels and in a Jewish religious-cum-cultural centre located in a building called the Nariman House. Thirdly, they killed a selected group of foreigners---- nine from Israel and 12 from the US and other Western countries who had contributed troops to the NATO contingent in Afghanistan. The other four were from South-East Asian countries. Fourthly, it was not a classical case of hostage-taking. They were not interested in using the hostages for achieving any demands. Their interest was in a prolonged armed confrontation with the security forces, which would get them publicity. Fifthly, all the 10 perpetrators were Pakistanis specially recruited and trained by the LET in camps in Pakistani territory. Sixthly, it was a case of suicidal terrorism similar to what one had witnessed during the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13,2001. Nine of the terrorists died in the confrontation with the security forces. One ----Ajmal Amir Kasab---was caught alive.
The terrorists had a mix of motives. They wanted to weaken the credibility of the Indian counter-terrorism machinery in the eyes of the Indian public as well as the foreigners. They wanted to shake the confidence of the foreign business community in the ability of the Indian State to protect the lives and property of foreign business people and thereby retard the rise of India as a major economic power. They wanted to punish Israel and the US for their developing strategic relations with India. They wanted to retaliate against Western nations contributing troops to the NATO contingent in Afghanistan. Neither the Kashmir issue nor the grievances of the Indian Muslims against the Government of India had motivated the terrorist strike as it had in the earlier two instances of mass casualty terrorism, in which the anger of sections of the Indian Muslim youth against the Government of India for various reasons was the dominant motive.
The successful terrorist strike was a major political embarrassment for the Government of India. It came after four other major terrorist strikes with timed explosions in public places, which had taken place during 2008 in Jaipur (May,2008), Bangalore (July,2008), Ahmedabad (July,2008) and Delhi (September,2008). The perpetrators in these four attacks were young Indian Muslims, who projected themselves as belonging to an organization called the Indian Mujahideen. They denied they had any links either with Pakistan’s ISI or with any of the jihadi organizations based in Pakistan. Many of those involved in the explosions had studied in secular educational institutions. Three of them were experts in information technology, with one of them occupying a well-paid position in the Indian office of an American IT company. These explosions caused considerable anger against the Government of India for following what was perceived as a soft counter-terrorism strategy marked by a reluctance to act against Muslims involved in terrorism because of what is called in India as the “vote bank politics”. There are over 160 million Muslims in India and their votes are important in certain States----particularly in North India.
It was alleged that electoral calculations came in the way of the Government of India following a stronger policy towards jihadi terrorism by giving the police the additional powers that they needed and setting up a central agency for a co-ordinated investigation of terrorist attacks. However, these explosions did not cause any undue public anger against Pakistan because there was no involvement of any Pakistani national and there was no reason to suspect the involvement of the ISI.
As against this, the Mumbai terrorist attack of 26/11 caused an outburst of public anger against the Government of India as well as against Pakistan. The public anger against the Government of India was because of its failure to revamp the counter-terrorism machinery. There was a colossal failure of physical and coastal security in Mumbai despite the reports received from the Indian and American intelligence in September,2008, about the plans of the LET to launch a sea-borne terrorist attack on some hotels on the Mumbai sea front. The Taj Mahal Hotel was specifically mentioned in these reports as one of the likely targets of the terrorists. The public anger against the Government of India was also due to its perceived failure to put a stop to the ISI’s use of terrorism as a weapon against India for achieving Pakistan’s strategic objectives.
Pakistan’s strategic objectives have been three in number. Firstly, to change the status quo in J&K and force the Government of India to reach a compromise with Pakistan which will concede at least part of the territory to Pakistan. Secondly, to hinder the emergence of India as a major power of the Asian region on par with China. This is an objective which Pakistan and China share. Thirdly, to disrupt the growing strategic relationship of India with the US and Israel. While China has no reasons to be worried over India’s relations with Israel, it is concerned over the growing military--military co-operation between India and the US-----particularly over the co-operation between the two navies and their joint exercises in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. It suspects that this Indo-US co-operation is directed at containing the Chinese naval power.
The public anger against the Government of India and Pakistan after the Mumbai attack was unprecedented. One had not seen such anger even after the attempted terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament House in New Delhi on December 13,2001 by some terrorists belonging to the LET and another Pakistani jihadi terrorist organization called the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM). This unprecedented public anger was due to the fact that the terrorists of the LET targeted at Mumbai the cream of the cream of India’s business and social elite. In the past, large sections of this elite used to exercise restraint on Government’s policies towards Pakistan and advocated confidence-building measures and more people-to-people contacts. They were outraged that despite their past benign role towards Pakistan, they should have been targeted and attacked by the terrorists.
Mumbai contributes a substantial share of the tax revenue of the Government of India. It also contributes a substantial portion of the advertisement revenue of the Indian media, particularly the privately-owned electronic media. Influential sections of the media were in the forefront of those demanding immediate action to empower the intelligence agencies and the police to deal more effectively with jihadi terrorism and to counter Pakistan’s continued use of terrorism against India. Many so-called doves of the past became hawks with regard to Pakistan post-26/11.
Faced with this unprecedented anger, the Government of India could not but act. Shivraj Patil, who was the Minister in charge of the Home Ministry, which is responsible, inter alia, for counter-terrorism, resigned in response to public demands for action against him. Legislation was passed post-hate by the Parliament with the support of most political parties to give additional powers to the Police and to create a national investigation agency. Other action was initiated by P.Chidambaram, the new Home Minister, to revamp the counter-terrorism machinery. The Navy and the Coast Guard were ordered to strengthen coastal security in the waters to the West of India which had remained relatively neglected till recently because of the Indian Navy’s over-focus on the waters to the East of India because of the China factor and the opportunity it provided for power-projection in the friendly South-East Asian region.
In response to the demand not only from large sections of the public but also from influential sections of the media for action against Pakistan, the Government adopted a nuanced policy. While dangling the Damocle’s sword of military strikes against the anti-India terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory through repeated statements by Pranab Mukherjee, India’s Minister for External Affairs, that “all options are open”, it avoided the actual mobilization of the armed forces on the ground and their deployment on the border with Pakistan as the predecessor Government of Atal Behari Vajpayee had done in 2002 after the attempted attack on the Indian Parliament. It froze the bilateral dialogue process on various issues, including Kashmir, without officially abandoning it, thereby keeping open the possibility of reviving it at a later date if Pakistan satisfied India’s demands. It stepped up diplomatic pressure on Pakistan----directly as well as through the US and other Western supporters of Pakistan--- to act as demanded by India.
India’s demands have been three in number. First, the arrest and handing over to India of the Pakistan-based operatives of the LET who have been named by the lone terrorist survivor as the brains behind the terrorist attack. Second, the dismantling of the anti-India terrorist infrastructure of the LET and other Pakistani jihadi organizations in Pakistani territory. Third, it also revived a long-pending demand for the arrest and handing over of 20 other suspects---- Indians as well as Pakistanis, Muslims as well as Sikhs---- wanted for prosecution in India on charges of terrorism.
Since the Mumbai attack lasted about 60 hours and targeted not only Indian nationals, but also nationals of Israel, the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Australia , the intelligence agencies of Israel, the US and the UK had also been closely monitoring the conversations of the terrorists over mobile phone with their headquarters in Pakistan. Moreover, even before 26/11, the US intelligence, at the same time as the Indian intelligence, had collected advance intelligence about the plans of the Pakistan-based LET to launch a sea-borne attack on some hotels in Mumbai. Thus, all these intelligence agencies independently of their Indian counterparts had collected intelligence which convinced them that the attack was made by 10 Pakistani terrorists of the LET, who had traveled to Mumbai by sea. They also had a lot of intelligence in their archives, which showed that the ISI had been using since 1993 the LET against India. However, they were not prepared to accept the Indian allegation that the 26/11 attack was masterminded by the ISI. They continue to insist that they have seen no evidence to show that the ISI was behind the attack, as alleged by India.
The Western approach has been to continue exercising pressure on Pakistan to arrest those involved in Pakistani territory and either hand them over to India or prosecute them before a Pakistani court and to dismantle the anti-India terrorist infrastructure. Initially, Pakistan totally denied the involvement of any Pakistani national or organization. Now, under sustained US pressure, it has admitted that the terrorist caught alive by the Mumbai police is a Pakistani national. It has set up a team of three senior officers of its Federal Investigation Agency to enquire into Indian allegations of the involvement of the LET and has promised to prosecute before its courts anyone found involved. How sincerely it will carry out this promise remains to be seen.
In response to a post-26/11 resolution of the UN Security Council’s Anti-Terrorism committee declaring the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), the Pakistan-based political wing of the LET, and some of its leaders as involved in terrorism, it has placed the leaders under house arrest and has claimed to have closed down some of their training camps and taken over the management of the madrasas and medical centres run by the JUD at its headquarters at Muridke, near Lahore. How far this is true remains to be seen.
China’s attitude in respect of Pakistani use of terrorism against India has always been marked by double standards. It has consistently refused to admit that there has been any terrorism in J&K. It shares Pakistan’s description of the terrorism in J&K as a freedom struggle. It does accept that some jihadi groups have been indulging in acts of terrorism in Indian territory outside J&K. At the same time, it is not prepared to accept that Pakistan-based organizations are involved in these acts.
The resolution for declaring the JUD as a terrorist organization and some of its leaders as international terrorists was repeatedly coming up before the committee of the UNSC since April, 2006. The resolution on this subject failed to obtain a consensus thrice due to opposition from China, which accepted the Pakistani claim that the JUD was a charitable and not a terrorist organization. Only after 26/11, it joined the consensus in declaring the JUD as a terrorist organization. That too only after Pakistan had told Beijing that it would have no objection to the resolution being passed. But, even now, China has not come out in support of the Indian demand for action against the Pakistani nationals involved in 26/11 and dismantling the anti-India terrorist infrastructure.
The uncertainty and concern over the possible Chinese attitude in the event of India launching military strikes against the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory is one of the factors coming in the way of a military strike by India. China has a long-pending claim to the Tawang area of Arunachal Pradesh in India’s North-East adjoining the Tibetan border. The border negotiations between the two countries have not made any progress because of the Chinese refusal to give up their claim to the Tawang Tract. There is reason to fear that if India is engaged in a military conflict with Pakistan, the Chinese might take advantage of it to occupy Tawang.
Immediately after the 26/11 attack, the West was totally behind India. Pakistan stood isolated. But, through skilful diplomacy, it has managed to come out of this isolation by projecting itself as willing to undertake a thorough investigation of the Indian allegations and prosecute those found guilty and by once again selling to the West its idea that any enduring end to terrorism will not be possible without addressing the Kashmir issue.
Even before 26/11, President Barack Obama and his advisers were expressing the view that the Kashmir question has to be addressed as part of a regional approach to the threat from jihadi terrorism in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. During his recent visit to India and Pakistan in the middle of January, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, spoke of the linkage between Kashmir and the activities of the LET. India has indignantly denied any such linkage and pointed out that the terrorists, who attacked Mumbai, had nothing to do with Kashmir. Their objectives were more global than sub-continental and directed against Israel, the US and the rest of the West.
CONCLUSION: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has skillfully handled the wave of public anger against his own Government for inaction and against Pakistan for using terrorism against India. He has undertaken measures for strengthening the counter-terrorism machinery, which he had been avoiding till now out of electoral considerations. He and his new Home Minister P.Chidambaram have been projecting these measures as directed against terrorism and not against the Muslim community. In response to the public clamour for action against Pakistan, his Government through Pranab Mukherjee, his Minister for External Affairs, has mounted a diplomatic drive to force Pakistan to act against those involved in planning and carrying out the attack and against their terrorist infrastructure. While proclaiming that his Government was prepared to consider any option if Pakistan does not act, he has avoided the military option. He has not allowed the public clamour for a military strike against Pakistan to hustle him into taking the military option. While freezing the bilateral dialogue process, he has avoided a rupture of the normal diplomatic and economic relations with Pakistan. He was admitted into hospital on January 23,2009, for undergoing a cardiac surgery. The surgery, which has been successful, will keep him out of action for about two to three weeks. No major development in Indo-Pakistan relations is expected during this period.
After he resumes normal duties, he is expected to be preoccupied with the forthcoming elections to the Parliament. He would not like to give the opposition parties an opportunity to project him as weak in dealing with Pakistan. He is, therefore, expected to continue his present policy of a dialogue freeze and stepped up political and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to make it act against the terrorists. If the coalition led by his Congress (I) returns to power and if there is no more major act of terrorism from Pakistani territory, one could see the beginning of a thaw after the elections. However, if the opposition coalition led by the hardline Bharatiya Janata Party returns to power, one could find the present tensions escalating further and the possibility of a military strike against the terrorist infrastructure in the Pakistani territory increasing. The public clamour for action against Pakistan has subsided. It could revive if Pakistan fails to act against the terrorists. If there is another major attack from Pakistani territory, renewed public pressure might leave the Government with no other option but to act against Pakistan----whichever party may be in power.
The revival of the unwise talk in the West about a linkage between terrorism against India and Kashmir has created a dangerous impression in the minds of the Pakistani military leadership and the ISI that the use of terrorism has started paying results. This impression could come in the way of Pakistan sincerely acting against the terrorists. Therein lies the danger of a future military conflict between the two countries on the issue of terrorism. If that happens, the West will be largely to blame for creating such an impression in the minds of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. (3500 words)
( The writer had served in the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence Agency, since 1968 and had headed its counter-terrorism division for six years before retiring in August,1994. He was a member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) of the Government of India from 2000 to 2002. E-mail: email@example.com )