India’s 9/11: Mumbai Method And Madness

No other terror attack in India has dominated global media spotlight as the November 26 Mumbai massacre. What caught the world’s eye and sparked unprecedented global outrage was the sheer precision and audacity with which a little over a dozen terrorists unleashed the reign of terror in Mumbai and paralyzed India’s business capital, killing nearly 200 people, including 24 foreigners. CNN latched on to the Mumbai carnage within hours of the attacks, blamed by India on Pakistan-based elements, and aired minute-by-minute updates on the most audacious strike by terrorists India has ever seen. With six Americans and six Israelis killed in the attack, CNN’s anchors and terrorism experts were quick to see huge implications of the Mumbai mayhem: it was more than an attack on India, it was also an attempt to terrorise the West for doing business with India, reeking of an al-Qaeda like operation. International dailies also sensed the larger picture and christened the terror attacks, and the subsequent 60-hour siege of Mumbai, ‘India’s 9/11.’

The terror spectacular in Mumbai surpassed other such attacks in India in terms of sheer scale and sophistication. But in the ensuing chaos and mayhem – it took nearly 60 hours of unrelenting operation by India’s elite commandos to flush out terrorists holed up in two luxury hotels and a Jewish center – the world has a fairly coherent idea of the identity of the perpetrators and motivations driving this diabolic act of mass destruction.

The message of the terrorists was embedded in their canny choice of symbolic targets – two top luxury hotels in India’s business capital and a fashionable café that symbolized the globalizing face of a rising India and attracted the well-heeled and tourists from Western countries in droves, the iconic railway station designated as a Unesco heritage site, and a Jewish center at Nariman House. The methods used and the targets chosen point towards a joint operation by al-Qeada and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned Pakistan-based militant outfit that was created by Pakistan’s ISI to foment insurgency in Kashmir.

If one pieces it together, one can safely say that terrorists were targeting symbols of a rising India and its deepening involvement with the Western world. These terrorists were no freaks driven by a freak death wish; there was more than method in their madness and their tactic suggests a taste for high symbolism – a trait that was more than evident in their deft choice of 9/11 targets in the US: World Trade Tower in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington – the pre-eminent symbols of America’s economic and military power.

The attack on a lone rabbi and his family in the Nariman House, a local hub of Chabad-Lubavich, an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect, was a symbolic declaration of vengeance against the Zionists, who are despised by Islamic jihadis and reviled as Islam’s enemy down the centuries. Translated into the vocabulary of al-Qaeda or radical Islam, terrorists were sticking to their declared script of liquidating the enemies of Islam – Crusaders, Zionists and their new ally and collaborator, a Hindu-majority rising India that is seen to be callous towards grievances of its 140 million Muslims. The attacks were a cruder version of the dubious dialectic of the clash of civilizations that was touted as the ideological force behind the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. This also happens to be the declared credo of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the chief of LeT, the outlawed Pakistan-based terrorist outfit that is suspected of having a hand in the Mumbai attacks. “Jews, Christians and Hindus are enemies of Islam. It is our aim to unfurl the green flag of Islam in Washington, Jerusalem and New Delhi,” the ideologue of the LeT had said years ago. It is this agenda which is being enacted in all its chilling and gory details now and which has sucked the Mumbai attacks into the matrix of the global jihad. It was like re-playing 9/11 in Mumbai with India’s cosmopolitan city as the staging ground.

It is not that Mumbai has not been attacked before. But unlike attacks in 1993 and 2006 – there have been at least six terrorist attacks in this city in the last 15 years – where perceived injustices inflicted on Muslims and a visceral row over the destruction of a mosque were the spurs for the carnage, this time round the terror has a larger and more complex ideological message that is global in character and hints at an al-Qaeda influence. Unraveling motives will also help also shine a light on the Deccan Mujahideen, a previously unknown militant outfit, which has claimed responsibility for the 26/11 cold-blooded carnage. Incidentally, “Deccan” is used by radical jihadists as a symbol of the Muslim rule in southern India and point towards their larger agenda of what they think as liberating Muslim lands form Hindu rule.

Why did the world react with unprecedented anger and outrage at the Mumbai mayhems. First and foremost, there were 22 foreigners among nearly 200 killed by what India suspects to be Pakistan-based terrorists. Secondly, targets chosen by terrorists included carefully chosen haunts like two luxury hotels and a fashionable café, which were frequented by foreigners. The idea was to terrorise foreigners who were flocking to a rising India, seduced by its growing economic weight and burgeoning business opportunities. Third, terrorists wanted to target the West and Westerners. There are stories doing the rounds that terrorists checked the passports of their potential victims and targeted only those from western countries. A Russian delegation which was staying in Taj Mahal hotel was let off after terrorists checked their passports. Fourth, a little-known Jewish center, called Nariman House was targeted. The symbolism of the attack was evident: it was not just India, but America and its allies that were in the firing line of terrorists. The attack on Nariman House was also meant to give a pan-Islamic flavour to the operation and resurrect discredited theories of the clash of civilizations that became fashionable after the 9/11 attacks. Fifth, the terrorists wanted to stall India’s emergence as a regional power in which the US and the Western world has also developed stakes. Sixth, they wanted to provoke a confrontation between India and Pakistan that would revive anxieties of South Asia turning into a nuclear flashpoint. The grand strategic design, experts say, was to force the US and the European Union to play a more proactive role in the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

If these were the motives of the Mumbai massacre managers and their henchmen, it is not difficult for the world to see where the attacks were coming from. Who could have such a complex set of motives to target India’s financial capital? It was not just the tactics of the terrorists, but the sheer sophistication of the multi-layered message that went out from Mumbai that has stirred the world into looking at 26/11 as another 9/11, perhaps a dress rehearsal to a bigger 9/11 in America, which is patting itself on the back over the absence of terror strikes in the last seven years.

Initially, India did not reflexively blame Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks – a charge that was often made in the western media in the past – but waited for preliminary evidence before pointing a finger at “elements in Pakistan” for these outrageous attacks. In blaming elements in Pakistan, New Delhi made it a point not to accuse the civilian government in Islamabad for complicity in the attacks as has been the case in the past. This was construed as sign of weakness by the powers-that-be in Islamabad who predictably went into the denial mode and claimed that their country too was a victim of terrorism.

But with more damning evidence emerging, New Delhi is now readying to confront Islamabad with a list of ISI handlers of the Mumbai attackers. Nobody is denying that Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism, but there is also an overwhelming consensus that terrorism which is stalking Pakistan is being managed by those outfits which were created by Pakistani establishment as an instrument of its foreign policy. The breaking point came when Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari summarirly rejected India’s demand for handing over three fugitives who are wanted in India for major terror strikes and sought to pass the buck by blaming “non-state actors” for the Mumbai massacre. However this time round, the world was not willing to be fooled. American intelligence and security agencies were actively monitoring the aftermath of the Mumbai mayhem and came out with leads pointing to the collusion of the ISI and Army in the terror attacks. Finally, it took US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to call Pakistan’s bluff in a day-long tour to New Delhi Dec 3.

In a blunt message to Pakistan, Rice assured India that it expected Pakistan to cooperate “fully and urgently” with India in the probe of the brazen coordinated terror strikes in Mumbai, which bore the imprint of “an Al Qeada like” operation and underlined that no country can wash its hands off terrorist groups operating within their territory by calling them non-state actors. The message was aimed at Zardari. “The fact is, non-state actors perform from the confines of the state. There has to be direct and tough action (by Islamabad),” Rice said. “Non-state actors remain a matter of responsibility if it’s in your territory,” Rice stressed and reinforced this message when she met Pakistan’s leaders in Islamabad the next day. Offering full cooperation to India in probing the terror attacks, Rice underlined the need for global cooperation in fighting terrorism of this nature. “We expect all responsible nations to cooperate. Pakistan has a special responsibility to do so, fully, transparently and urgently,” she stressed.

Most important, she indicated that the terrorism flowing from Pakistan has to move beyond semantic jugglery to real issues: fixing the perpetrators and brining them to the book. Rice could not have said what she said in India without leads from US intelligence agencies. According to American intelligence agencies, former officers from Pakistan’s army and its powerful ISI helped train the Mumbai attackers, the New York Times has reported, citing a former US official. The FBI teams are already in India and are actively assisting Indian intelligence agencies. There is in fact a growing convergence between the two sides on the origin of the Mumbai attacks, their planning and execution which is seen to be directed by powerful elements in Pakistan establishment.

With these damning disclosures and increasing global outrage as a backdrop, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Dec 5, with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev by his side, that New Delhi and the international community have reached the “same conclusion” that the “territory of the neighbouring country” was used for perpetrating these attacks. He also reminded the world community of its obligation to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror to the book. “We expect the world community to recognise – and other countries have come to the same conclusion – that the territory of the neighbouring country has been used for perpetrating this crime,” Manmohan Singh said without directly naming Pakistan. “It’s the obligation of all countries concerned that the perpetrators of this crime are brought to the book,” Manmohan Singh said when asked what India proposed to do about the perpetrators of the Mumbai assault who were said to have come from Pakistan. “We have told the world that the people of India have felt a sense of hurt and anger as never before due to the Mumbai terror strikes. That’s the message to everyone,” the prime minister said. “We will wait for the outcome,” he said in response to a question on India’s response to Pakistan’s refusal to hand over the fugitives New Delhi suspects have been involved in major terror strikes in India, including the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attacks.

In any other context, these words could have sounded like platitudes, but what set them apart was a conviction that India is not alone in this battle, but the international community is increasingly looking at Pakistan as a source of terror that can affect anyone and everyone anywhere.

With Pakistan calling world capitals to convince the international community of its claimed innocence, India, too, has launched a diplomatic offensive to convince the world community about the crying need for action. Six days after the Mumbai attacks, a senior Indian diplomat held a meeting with the envoys of those countries whose nationals were killed in the Nov 26 terror strikes and expressed India’s deepest condolences for the death of their nationals in the Mumbai strikes. The heads of missions from Germany, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Italy, Thailand, Israel and Mauritius were present at the meeting.

The message was not lost on anyone: the world needs to act and take concrete action against these terrorists who have found sanctuaries in Pakistan and their mentors in the establishment. Banning militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and its political wing Jammat-ud-Dawa could be the first step in that direction. Attacking the financing network of Islamic terrorists is the next step – Americans nailed some of 9/11 perpetrators by tracing the funding of these terrorists. Putting pressure on Pakistan to arrest Hafiz Saeed, the chief ideologue of LeT who is being openly feted and patronized in Islamabad, will go a long way in easing tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours as India suspects the LeT to be the chief architect of the Mumbai blasts.

In the end, the terrorists did manage to get some of their messages across; these themes were echoed in leading international dailies and opinions by experts around the world. But if these were the motives of Mumbai massacre managers, then they may have only partially achieved their objectives. In fact, one can say that they have made a major strategic error by forcing the Western world to see terrorism in India as an integral part of the global war on terror. Not too long ago, terror attacks in India hardly merited a word in the Western media and were often equated with unresolved tensions with Pakistan. With Mumbai attacks, which is widely seen as India’s 9/11, that has changed radically with the international media reporting and analyzing these senseless attacks in Mumbai in minute details. In an act of solidarity and a sign of linked destinies, Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg held a prayer meeting with Indian Americans in the US’ financial capital; an Australian newspaper wrote memorably about standing shoulder to shoulder with India and warning the international community to cave in to the designs of Mumbai attackers.

Within hours of the attacks, there were pointed condemnations of these acts of terrorism and reiterations of solidarity with India. Many leaders around the world, including US President George Bush, President-elect Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, rang up Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and threw their weight behind India’s battle against terrorism, which they saw equally as their own battle. The message to the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks and their handlers was clear: it was not just India that was targeted, but the bombs were also aimed at India’s integration into the West and an increasingly globalized world.

The world community, therefore, has to realise that it’s time for action, not words. It can’t allow the rulers of Pakistan to get away with inaction on the plea that the perpetrators of such attacks are non-state or stateless actors. Sovereignty comes from authority. If the civilian government in Pakistan is not in charge – there are rumours of an impending coup in Islamabad – then Pakistan is a fit case of armed intervention. Striking out terrorist camps and targeting those elements in the establishment with rigorous intelligence-gathering is the only way out. The US will not like India and Pakistan to go to war as any confrontation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours would lead Pakistan to divert its troops from the Afghan border to the Indian border and ruin its hopes of defeating a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. The world community, too, would not like the two countries to go to war, which could escalate into a nuclear conflagration. That’s why the US has mounted international pressure on Pakistan to arrest top LeT commanders and former ISI chiefs like Hamid Gul who are said to be actively sponsoring jihad against India and are suspected to have hand in the Mumbai strikes. There is also a move by influential US senators to link the aid to Pakistan with action on anti-India terrorists. The US is also planning to get some of the militant outfits operating in Pakistan designated as terrorist entities by the UN.

India has noted these moves approvingly, but in the end these steps will be judged by how effective they are in getting Pakistan to deliver concrete results in the battle against terrorism proliferating from its soil. However, if the pressure of the world community is not strong enough and there is little action from Pakistan except tokenism in bringing the masterminds and engineers of India’s 9/11 to book, India will have no option but to go to war. India is keeping the military option as a last resort. But New Delhi has sent a message to the world that there is a limit to India’s patience in the face of relentless terror attacks coming from the neighbouring country.

Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network ( and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.