Pakistani Role in Mumbai Mayhem

AT the weekend, media reports based on the interrogation of apparently the only terrorist to be captured alive in Mumbai, named as Azam Amir Kasab, evidently confirmed what many analysts – and most Indians – had suspected from the outset: a clear and direct Pakistan connection in the horrendous attacks that brought mayhem to India’s largest metropolis late last Wednesday. Others initially assumed that the suspicion was a kneejerk reaction based more on experience than on evidence. That may have been so, but although a plethora of questions remain to be answered, many of the doubts have been laid to rest.


The reports about Kasab’s revelations relied on leaks rather than any official statement, but the beans he is said to have spilled are soaked in plausibility. They include the information that he and three other young men of his ilk underwent extended training at a Lashkar-i-Tayyaba camp in Muzaffarabad, whereafter they met up with six other programmed murderers in Rawalpindi – where the Pakistan army is headquartered – before proceeding to Karachi.


A chartered boat, the MV Alpha, was to convey them to their target site, but in a panic prompted by Indian naval patrols, they hijacked an Indian fishing boat and forced the captain to navigate it to within four nautical miles of the Mumbai shoreline. Thereafter their mode of transport consisted of motorized rubber dinghies. By then it was too late for the fishing boat’s crew to sound the alarm, as their throats had been slit. They were seen coming ashore not far from one of their prime targets, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, a landmark that has graced Bombay – as many people still prefer to call the city – for 105 years.


Thereafter the young men with mass murder on their mind apparently split into five groups of two, carrying backpacks full of ammunition, and went about their deadly business. Kasab and a colleague were assigned to the iconic VT, or Victoria Terminus. Others headed for the Taj, the Oberoi, Leopold’s Cafe and an Orthodox Jewish centre at Nariman House. Apart from VT, the attack sites appear to have been chosen because they are frequented by tourists and the Indian elite – in contrast to previous attacks in Mumbai, which were more indiscriminate. However, notwithstanding anecdotal information about the terrorists seeking out American and British passport holders, about 90 per cent of the 200 or so victims were Indian. There were also plenty of random killings, not just in the hotels but on the streets. 


What’s not terribly clear, however, is why the gunmen took hostages. Scattered reports during the stand-off referred to demands for the release for Islamist militants imprisoned in India – but, like much else, this angle remains unverified. Needless to say, whatever the guiding thought processes (and compassion is unlikely to have figured as a factor), it’s fortunate that the death toll wasn’t considerably higher. The intent behind the massacre, meanwhile, is not hard to imagine: the idea was to cause pain and anguish not just to individuals but to India as a whole. But perhaps the larger purpose was to stir up hostility between Hindus and Muslims, and worse still, provoke hostilities between India and Pakistan.


Chances are that, at least for a while, tourists and other foreigners will think twice before booking their passage to India. But the fear is not likely to endure for long. And there is only a small chance that the probably unnecessary cancellation of a couple of tours will have long-term consequences for Indian cricket. It is crucial, in order to thwart the designs of the Islamists, to ward off the possibility of communal conflict, and India’s political parties have a crucial role to play in this respect: the Bharatiya Janata Party, in particular, must resist the temptation to pander to anti-Muslim prejudices as a vote-winning tactic.


It is even more important for New Delhi and Islamabad not to squander   the modicum of goodwill that has been built up in recent years by squabbling. India obviously cannot take the matter lightly. Pakistan’s leaders have thus far been verbally cooperative, even though the offer to send the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency to New Delhi for consultations was subsequently downgraded, quite possibly because Pakistan‘s President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had taken the decision without taking the army chief or the ISI directorate into confidence. 


Although the ISI is believed to have been associated in the past with groups such as Lashkar-i-Tayyaba and Jaish-i-Muhammad, primarily as a means of making trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, and its (possibly rogue) operatives were accused by US agencies earlier this year of leaving their fingerprints on a bomb attack against the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed 58 people, there has thus far been no evidence of its involvement in the Mumbai outrages. It must be hoped that appearances, in this instance, are not deceptive. On the other hand, India’s elite commandos were struck by the excellent military training their adversaries had obviously undergone, which doesn’t prove anything but provides grounds for suspicion.


If Zardari’s interest in improving relations with India is genuine, as it seems to be, then the least his government should do is exterminate all training camps and recruiting madrassahs associated with the Lashkar and Jaish – something that Pervez Musharraf failed to do when he formally banned the two jihadi groups six years ago. This could be seen as a favour to India, but it would be an even bigger boon for Pakistan


Without being specific, the president has already acknowledged the problem posed by “non-state actors”. They are an obvious impediment to his expressed wish for visa-free travel between the neighbouring states. But if he lacks the authority to put them out of action, it takes the wind out of lofty pledges about a no-first-strike policy and the (otherwise utterly laudable) determination to pursue a nuclear-free zone in South Asia.


Pakistan‘s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who happened to be in Delhi as the grievous tragedy began to unfold, is correct in claiming that the terrorist problem is a common scourge that must jointly be combated. Granted, 60 years of mutual suspicion cannot be erased at a stroke, but there has rarely been a timelier moment for confidence-building cooperation. To be effective, however, it should not be restricted to action against terrorists but must extend to eliminating circumstances propitious to extremism. That, above all, means transforming Kashmir from a festering sore into model of peaceful coexistence. That’s not a simple task, but nor should it be dismissed as impossible. And its accomplishment would serve as a more effective blow against jihadist outfits than the most severe coercive measures.


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