Friday, November 28, 2008

"India's 9/11" and the Need for Vigilance

(originally posted at; cross-posted to

After taking some time off from blogging to focus on the recent election and my own wedding planning, I am motivated today to return to my blog by events from world headlines, as I am deeply troubled by what has been going on in India. The loss of life in Mumbai, at the hands of terrorists, is appalling and disturbing, and my sympathies are of course with the citizens of Mumbai and those throughout the world who have been personally affected by these recent, terrible events.

Commentators in the media have already started referring to these events as “India’s 9/11", and indeed, it seems that these terrorist attacks are different from past terrorist actions in Mumbai and throughout India, of which there have tragically been too many already. The number of civilians killed in India by terrorists has been exceeded only by those in Iraq, which is quite troubling, as India is the world’s largest democratic state.

These recent attacks, though, are different, and may well prove to be a defining event for India and others in the region, just as the attacks in New York and Washington proved to be a catalyst for action for the U.S. and its allies in wake of 9/11.

First, these attacks were co-ordinated to a degree which emphasizes long-term planning on the part of the terrorists, yet security agencies apparently had little fore-knowledge. Indeed, the head of India’s anti-terrorist squad, Hemant Karkare, was killed in the action. The killing of this high-profile Indian official alone would have made the attack a success, from the point of view of the terrorists.

Second, in the past, most terrorist actions have been the result of dissatisfied groups, operating largely from within India, although speculation has been that many of these groups are financed and supported by external organizations. Pakistan has been identified by Indian officials as the primary country from where terrorists organizations are financed and equipped, and there has been criticism that Pakistan has not done enough to clamp down on these organizations.

Nevertheless, long-time rivals India and Pakistan (which have fought several wars in the past 50 years) appeared to have been headed in a more friendly direction, with talks between the two nuclear-armed nations continuing.

Reports from this latest action in Mumbai, however, have identified a previously unknown terrorist organization, the Deccan Mujahadeen, as the only organization which has come forward at this time to take credit. Further, the media has reported that the Indian Navy has seized a terrorist “mother ship” in the Arabian Sea, the MV Alpha, which allegedly came to Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan, and likely disgorged the terrorists in speedboats. The speedboats, left in the open by the terrorists where they landed on an Indian beachhead, were traced back to the Alpha. It seems that these terrorists, unlike the primarily home-grown terrorists of previous attacks, may have originated directly from a foreign country immediately prior to the terrorist action.

A third difference has been those who the terrorists have targeted with this action. Other terrorist actions within India have largely been indiscriminate, albeit many have been directed against people of particular religious backgrounds. Although people who profess many religious creeds have been killed in Mumbai, reports are coming in that Americans, Britons and Israelis in particular were targeted by the terrorists. Indeed, the headquarters of a jewish outreach group, the Chabad-Lubavitch, were specifically attacked by the terrorists.

Some media commentators have suggested that the targeted attacks on foreigners has been an attempt by the terrorists to hit India where it hurts, in the economy. Attacks on foreigners may lead to less foreign travel and investment in India, if India is perceived as a dangerous country with which to do business. While I do not doubt that such an outcome could be seen as a victory for terrorism, I have my own doubts that the international community will be persuaded by this latest action to ramp down investment in India’s booming economy.

The reports about the targeting of citizens of particular nationalities (Israeli, British and American) are also troubling. Undoubtedly, citizens from these nations have been identified by terrorists who profess to be Muslims as being more higher-valued targets, given the terrorists particular issues with the actions of the governments of these three nations. That is not surprising. What is surprising is that these particular terrorists, who would have just recently come out of Pakistan, chose to specifically target citizens of these three countries in the attacks in Mumbai. While I understand that citizens of many nations have been killed in the terrorist actions, I can’t ignore that the terrorists chose to target the headquarters of what appears to be a benign jewish organization, nor the reports which have suggested that the terrorists themselves, in speaking with hostages, indicated that they were pre-occupied with the nationalities of their hostages, and had expressed a specific interest in Americans and Britons, while while a citizen of Italy was deemed to be “ok”. This is all very unusual for a terrorist action within India.

For these reasons, this latest attack in Mumbai may yet prove to have more than the average in terms of its political fall out, particularly if Pakistan continues to be implicated in the plot. Even if the Pakistani government escapes direct blame, it may not escape the harsh international condemnation of allowing terrorists to organize within its borders. Back in 2001, a similar condemnation of the Taliban government led to the invasion of Afghanistan.

While I do not expect such an over-reaction to take place in this circumstance, I am concerned that powers within the region may try to seize on this recent terrorist action as a casus belli which justifies their desire to resolve long-standing issues. Currently, the government of Pakistan is weak, wracked by internal political divisions after this year’s election. Also, it has been cast adrift by its major ally, the United States, and has been forced to look elsewhere for economic assistance, and specifically to China. Growing ties between China and Pakistan can only be of concern to India.

India and U.S. have been on the road to resolving a number of longstanding issues, and there appears now to be a happy alignment of their own national issues. The signing of an agreement between the U.S. and India earlier this year has welcomed India into the nuclear community, and has now allowed the U.S. to export nuclear technology to India. The Indian navy has stepped up its presence in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea in the past decade, as India has emerged as a regional power to be reckoned with. And the recent U.S. abandonment of Pakistan has made India feel more secure that the U.S. would remain on-side in disputes between the India and Pakistan, particularly over divided Kashmir.

President-elect Obama has been talking for many months now about the need to focus the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan (which he was dubbed “the good war”), and has proposed a troop surge to fight Taliban and Al Qaeda forces there. Obama has also mused openly about the need to pursue terrorists and Taliban fighters across the Afghan border and into Pakistan. Indeed, there have already been a number of incursions by U.S. forces into Pakistan, including a firefight this past fall between U.S. helicopter-born forces and elements of the Pakistani military, in which a number of Pakistani security forces were killed, along with civilians.

In Kashmir, there has been an increase in violent protests this past year, and India has vowed to crack down on militants in the region. India, too, has been active in Afghanistan.
If the recent terrorist action in Mumbai proves to be India’s 9/11 as the media is already suggesting, the outcomes of this action could easily lead to a broader conflict in the region, between India, the U.S. and NATO on one side, and an increasingly isolated Pakistan on the other. The attacks may be viewed as the impetus to resolve the Kashmiri question in favour of India once and for all, and may be used as part of a U.S. rationale for bringing the Afghan war into Pakistan’s lawless frontier provinces. A weak and divided Pakistani government may find that their choices for action have been limited by these events, and may have to accept an armed U.S. presence on Pakistani soil, if only in a temporary way. It is harder, however, to see how Pakistan would accept any Indian incursion into beyond the line of control into Pakistani Kashmir.

And it is here where my concerns for the well-being of the region, and for the rest of us, have started to incubate in my mind. If this situation plays itself out in a similar fashion to what happened 7 years ago on 9/11, we should all be very concerned for the health and well-being of our world. In this blog, I’ve not mentioned the resource-driven strategic issues which may in part motivate both India and the U.S. to act more in concert in the region (and what sort of reaction such moves might generate from China and Russia), but suffice it to say that a compliant Pakistan would serve those U.S./Indian interests well.

Canada has quite rightly condemned this latest terrorist action. Canadians should now be vigilant, and assist the international community in getting to the bottom of how this terrorist action came about. The international community needs to investigate all leads, and follow-up on those leads. Should those leads point to Pakistan and/or Al Qaeda, Canada should be pragmatic in its approach, and caution India and the U.S. not to act unilaterally, but instead in concert with the world community.