India – ‘At least 100 Dead in India Terror Attacks’ (NY Times, 2008)

By Priya Patel (2012)

This essay will review in-depth the three day attack on Mumbai between November 26th-29th 2008 which were conducted by the Lashkar-e-Taiba Army (LeT), a terrorist organisation based in Pakistan. The LeT targeted and bombed several landmarks in Mumbai, India in a series of attacks killing 174 people and wounding over two hundred more[1]. The terrorists appeared to specifically target foreigners and tourists in the more affluent areas of the commercial capital. Targets included two five-star hotels, the city’s largest train station, a Jewish centre, movie theatre and a hospital. This essay will examine who the LeT is, their motivations for attacking Mumbai, their choice of targets and their consequent victims. It will also discuss whether they fulfilled their aims and what the consequences of the terrorist attacks were and whether the countries response was effective, in order to understand why these particular people were victims of political violence there and then.

Article Summary

Much of the article is based on first-hand accounts of individuals who were in contact with the terrorists, making it quite emotive. According to the article, the terrorists were specifically targeting British and American nationals and were holding a number hostage. A militant in the Oberoi Hotel stated “We want all the mujahedeen held in India released and only after that we will release the people”[2]. The article provides a description of the guests staying at the hotels, which included members of the European Parliament, executives from the multinational Hindustan Unilever and foreign businessmen. A British citizen described a siege where gunmen ushered approximately forty people asking specifically for British and Americans. Other accounts include a Rabbi who described the “storming” of Chabad House. ‘The article also quotes the chief minister of the state who confirmed the attackers hit several targets, but emphasises that even several hours after the attacks began, the full scale of the situation remained unclear. The terrorists are described as more confrontational and organised than previous assailants, suggesting it is the worst attack in Mumbai’s history. However it does state the police have killed six suspected attackers, but remain unclear who is accountable for them.

The tone of the article is quite sensationalist, as evidenced by words used such as ‘storming’ and ‘brazen’, and depictions of hotel guests holed up in basements making ‘desperate’ phone calls. A failing of the article is its narrow focus; it provides lengthy descriptions of individuals staying in the luxury hotels, but glosses over the taxi bombings and the atrocities in the station, where the most people were killed, despite the fact these occurred prior to the attacks on the hotels. The article paints a picture of a city in immense distress, but fails to provide more concrete facts.

Who Perpetrated the Political Violence?

The perpetrators are now known to be the Lashkar-e-Taiba Army, which is a Pakistani-based Islamist organisation formed in 1986 that has enjoyed patronage from the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI), which has allowed it to operate, recruit and network relatively freely in the past; it has been described as being more akin to the Lebanese Hezbollah than the al-Qaeda[3]. This is because it is largely supported by the government and is viewed more as resistance movement due to the fact it does not advocate violence against Pakistan. Although the exact nature and intensity of the LeT’s relationship with the ISI is uncertain, the fact a relationship exists is never questioned. Similarly, while it is known a relationship exists between the LeT and al Qaeda, the exact nature remains unverified[4]. This is important, as it demonstrates al Qaeda’s scope of influence and suggests it affected the LeT’s choice of targets including the Taj and Oberoi Hotels and Chabad House. The al Qaeda is notoriously against western, materialistic values, and the treatment of Palestinians by Israel; therefore, by focussing on these sites, the terrorists were able to target and victimise perceived enemies.

The LeT’s trademark modus operandi appears to be the ‘fidayeen’ attacks, which featured prominently in the Mumbai bombings. Fidayeen attacks are distinguished from suicide attacks in that their mission does not necessarily render them dead, but places the individual in adverse, usually suicidal circumstances[5]. The LeT has been involved in several prior incidents in India and has been considered the most effective, prolific and fearsome force fighting in Jammu and Kashmir (Kashmir)[6]. Therefore, this was not the LeT’s first act of terrorism or political violence in India. Although they have thus far been unsuccessful in ‘freeing Kashmir’ these attacks were successful in other ways, as they were able to target people they believed represented the enemy, for example, the Indian citizens in the train station and hospital.

Members of the LeT are described as efficient, highly motivated and well-trained. According to Zahab, their intake is selective and their training is described as intensive with several stages; they promote transnational activities in the name of jihad against infidels anywhere in the world where Muslims are perceived to be oppressed[7]. This explains why they were able to successfully conduct such a highly coordinated series of attacks in Mumbai and also explains their antagonism towards India, where Muslims, who are a minority group, have historically been persecuted. The terrorists were trained and equipped in Karachi and proceeded to enter India by sea and were able to travel for thirty-eight hours undetected by the Indian Navy[8]. The terrorists were highly skilled and organised as evidenced by their weapons which included machine guns, AK-47s, hand grenades and bombs. The organised planning of the attacks and powerful arsenal strongly suggests they intended to cause maximum damage, confusion and mayhem. All the attacks occurred within hours of each other at various points around a section of the commercial capital and show evidence of comprehensive planning and dexterity.

Motivations Behind the Attacks

The violence perpetrated cannot be considered legitimate as their targets were what Martin identifies as ‘noncombatants’, which refers to civilians; as the force was used primarily against noncombatants, it is classified as terrorist activity according to the Political Violence Matrix, or more specifically, unrestricted terrorism, as indiscriminate force was applied against noncombatant targets with restraint by dissidents[9]. One could argue these targets were selected because they represented characteristics the terrorists associated with the enemy and thus symbolised the enemy. More specifically, the LeT would fit into the category of national dissident terrorists as described by Martin. The attacks occurred “from below” and were committed by a non-state movement, in this case the Lashkar-e-Taiba Army, the targets were perceived enemies, i.e. India’s economic centre, British and American nationals, Indian citizens, and furthermore, they believed the violence was necessary to defend a higher cause, i.e. Kashmir’s independence from India, the plight of Muslims in India and Palestine, and the freedom of mujahedeen held in India[10]. Anecdotal evidence supports the theory that a motivation for the attack may have been vengeance for instances of atrocities Muslims in India have suffered, specifically the 1992 Utter Pradesh attacks and 2002 Gujarat attacks[11].

Aside from their professed goal, the LeT appeared to have several underlying motives which included creating chaos, conflict and fermenting hate between Pakistan and India. In this sense they were successful; although they did not secure sovereignty for Kashmir, they drew international attention onto the issue and relations between the two states were considerably strained thereafter, especially when considering their recent diplomatic progress. Since June 2004, India and Pakistan had engaged in their most “wide-ranging and comprehensive peace negotiations” regarding Kashmir[12]. The attacks on Mumbai largely negated these developments, as it fuelled mistrust and suspicion between the two states. Furthermore, their choice of state appears to be a statement in itself; Pakistan and India have historically had a contentious relationship and hold different political values. Therefore, by bombing India, the terrorists appeared to have anticipated the media frenzy which ensued. In this sense, they were successful as they received widespread international media coverage and attention, and key actors including the USA became involved, as the possibility of a future war between India and Pakistan could have affected them in several ways. For example, the USA needed to sustain a positive relationship with Pakistan in order to maintain the support they were receiving in their on-going war against Afghanistan, they needed to maintain the lucrative economic bridges they were building with India and more importantly, they needed to ensure nuclear weapons never became a threat. This shows stability in the region was important for the wider international society, which may have been a motivation for the LeT, as the terrorists may have been hoping to disrupt the growing relationship between Pakistan and the West and also damage India’s economic growth, being that they disagree with most Western values. In this case, they were only partially successful, as while most institutions remained closed, it was only during the immediate aftermath of the violence. Furthermore, Pakistan and the USA have maintained their diplomatic relationship and India subsequently recovered from the attacks and continues to grow economically.

Another way to consider the motivations behind the attacks is to put the Pakistani government into the equation; if one considers the historically tumultuous relationship between Pakistan and India and the fact the ISI provided funding and support to the LeT, it does not seem unreasonable that there may have some level of government involvement in the attacks. The Pakistani army continues to possess considerable power and the ISI’s impact on Pakistani society was primarily through its patronage of jihadi organisations which were in reality paramilitary forces claiming the “mantel of Islam”[13]. Therefore, non-state-actors could have been used to achieve limited objectives in asymmetric conflicts, hence, the LeT could have been utilized as a vital component in Islamabad’s anti-India strategy[14]. If so, this proved successful, as they caused considerable chaos and destruction without any concrete evidence linking the Pakistani government to the attacks. One could also argue Pakistan used the LeT to fight a proxy war. This theory is supported by the Mumbai police and evidence suggest a number of individuals within the ISI disagreed with Pakistan’s involvement in the war the USA and other NATO countries are waging against Afghanistan[15]. This is corroborated by Jamwal who states in order to achieve its strategic goals, Pakistan encouraged terrorism against India by providing training, finance, weaponry and explosives[16]. This provides a good explanation for the attacks; the terrorists clearly had access to wide range of resources as evidenced by their arsenal, reconnaissance efforts, and organisation, and their targets suggest they were pursuing more than the Kashmiri issue. In this respect, Chabad House is an interesting choice of target. It appears the LeT actively sought out Israelis in India, which could be linked to another set of tensions, i.e. the acrimonious relationship between Israel and Palestine. Martin’s description of national dissident terrorism can be applied here: the LeT appear to be championing the rights of a group whose interests are subordinate, which in this case refers to Muslims in India and Palestine[17]. Rice herself was quoted as saying their attack on Chabad House added another layer of complexity to the whole situation[18]. This reiterates the motivations behind the attacks were complex and reemphasises it was possible the LeT had a patron who influenced their actions. Historically, the LeT’s focus has been Kashmir’s sovereignty, however, these attacks seemed to reflect a range of grievances. Therefore it appears they may have benefited from a form of patronage they were consequently influenced by. In this sense, they were partially successful in that negated any diplomatic progress between the Indian and Pakistani governments, which the Pakistani army was critical of, however, their actions did not affect the treatment of Palestinians.

Their focus on luxury hotels suggests they were intentionally targeting foreigners; this could be attributed to several reasons including the aforementioned hatred of westerners, but also, due to the fact they knew international media attention would be further saturated on these attacks should the Western public believe foreign nationals were targets of the attacks. For mass media organisations, coverage of prolonged incidents of terrorism provides endless sources of sensational and visually compelling news stories capable of boosting audiences[19]. This provides an explanation for why the article above and other international media outlets focussed on the foreigners more than the local victims; the idea of our ‘own’ people being caught in the catastrophes would be more horrific and attract more attention and empathy than the images of another terrorist attack in a state many perceive as a distant third-world country. The media attention itself may have been another motive for the LeT; committing such atrocities in this digital age provided them with notoriety otherwise unattainable. Bloom argues the primary target of terrorists are not those actually injured or killed, but those made to witness it[20]. While she argues this in the context of suicide terror, one could arguably apply it to most forms of terrorism, including the attacks in Mumbai. In this case, by targeting popular tourist venues, it meant international audiences, especially those in the West, were more so affected by the tragedies. The terrorists did not need to bomb a landmark in London or New York to intimidate UK or US nationals, they were able to do so in a country which was geographically and logistically more favourable, and still have an unprecedented psychological effect worldwide, while also fulfilling their goals of drawing attention to the Kashmir issue. This is supported by the article in The New York Times which focussed primarily on the Western tourists affected by the atrocities, rather than giving a comprehensive overview of the whole situation. Furthermore, by securing media attention and worldwide publicity, they were able to gain legitimacy as a group, while also potentially attracting followers and sympathisers[21]. This could theoretically lead to more funding for their causes and explains why they were willing to take such risks and partake in the fidayeen attacks.

Consequences of the Attacks

A consequence of the attacks was it proved even smaller terrorist organisations have access to sophisticated technology, are highly organised and are capable of immense destruction. Whether or not this was an intentional, it highlighted al Qaeda’s scope of influence over organisations they inspired. It has been suggested the terrorists were not only inspired by al Qaeda and their brand of global jihadi violence but also directed by them[22]. This reiterated what the UK learnt after the 7/7 bombings in displaying the astonishing capabilities of under-the-radar terrorist organisations; while this was not a case of ‘home-grown’ terrorism, it was terrorism inspired at least in part by the al Qaeda. The prolonged and coordinated nature of the attacks that allowed an unrelenting massacre to unfold proved the terrorists had participated in a protracted period of planning and an extensive training regime. They had come prepared with expensive equipment, enough ammunition for a prolonged fight, possessed fairly sophisticated communication systems, as well as knowledge of precise locations and layouts of the targets[23]. This shows the risk posed by the ever-growing influence of jihadi groups such as the al Qaeda, whose influence caused the loss of numerous lives in Mumbai.

The State Response

There were several issues with Mumbai’s initial response, which had they been executed properly could have potentially prevented the attack from being so detrimental. The failures occurred from the beginning when the terrorists were able to arrive into the city unchecked. Once the attacks unfolded, the first line of response fell to Mumbai’s vaunted Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS); however, they were never intended to be a Quick Reaction Team operating against heavily armed terrorists[24]. The result of employing an inadequate team to respond to the crisis prevented the city from restraining the terrorists and limiting the impact of the attacks, as they were unable to match the terrorists expertise and training and were thus out of their league. Had an appropriate team been dispatched, it is very possible the causalities and damage could have been limited, as they would have possessed the skills to contend with the terrorists’ expert training. This is emphasised by the failure of the ATS to cordon off the attack sites to contain the terrorists[25]. This suggests the impact of the attacks could have been greatly limited had the terrorists been contained at an earlier stage, for example at the train station and suggests the attacks would not necessarily have been as prolonged as they were. Furthermore, these attacks could have been prevented altogether had India’s Intelligence Bureau coordinated with other central agencies. Indian intelligence officers received warnings from their own and US sources suggesting a major attack was imminent[26]. This shows the importance of speed in counter-intelligence. Had the information been analysed and disaggregated correctly, the LeT could have been prevented from entering the country, thus avoiding the atrocities which followed. Another issue was the lack of appropriate weaponry; the Railway Protection Officers possessed relatively ‘antiquated’ weaponry, with approximately one for every two officers[27]. This shows a failure on the part of the state, as officers should be equipped to perform their job in any eventuality.

It is transparent the attacks could have been prevented or at the very least, considerably contained. India has since announced a number of reforms aimed at addressing these shortcomings. Efforts were made to improve India’s domestic security, which included the creation of a Coastal Command to secure the shoreline, the establishment of counter-terror schools, standing regional commando units, the creation of a national agency to investigate suspected terror activity and the strengthening of anti-terror laws, with the legislation approved by India’s lower and upper houses[28]. These are examples of repressive options of counterterrorism which have the potential to not only prevent future attacks, but also protect citizens should they occur. For example, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act allows suspects to be held for six months without charges and is designed to prevent unlawful activities[29]. This is an example of a legalistic option, which allows the country to use law enforcement agencies and criminal investigative techniques in the persecution of suspected terrorists[30]. Additionally, police are being sent to Israel to study ‘policing techniques’ to learn to control terror[31]. This demonstrates India is taking numerous measures to prevent future attacks. In addition to the recent execution of Abbas, these measures can be viewed as a warning that terrorism will not be tolerated by India.

To conclude, it is clear the Lashkar-e-Taiba Army were influenced by a range of factors, and while foreign nationals may not have been the primary targets, they were significantly affected. It appears as though this was intentional due the locations of the targets, and it is clear they gained extensive media coverage as a result. This may have been a key factor in why they were victims; the LeT were shrewd in their manipulation of the media to gain unprecedented coverage for their causes which were the issues of sovereignty for Kashmir, the treatment of Muslims in India and Palestine and the Mujahedeen in India. Overall, the people affected by the attacks, were targeted in what can be described as a combination of vengeance, and an exploitative attack designed to attract media attention. Although they were not successful in fulfilling their stated aims, they were able cause tension between Pakistan and India. India has since made efforts to prevent such incidents, which is imperative, as these attacks could have been seriously curtailed, if not foiled altogether. These people were victims of a history of tension between Pakistan and India which is based on religious and political conflicts, the adverse treatment Muslims in India have faced and India’s economic growth, which is steadily making it more akin to the ‘despised’ West.

Bibliography

Acharya, Arabinda and Sonal Marwah. “Nizam, la Tanzim (System, not Organization): Do Organizations Matter in Terrorism Today? A Study of the November 2008 Mumbai Attacks.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, vol. 34, no. 1 (2008): 1-16

Adey, Peter “Vertical Security in the Megacity: Legibility, Mobility and Aerial Politics”, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 27, No. 51 (2010): 51-67

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http://csis.org/files/publication/110607_Stabilizing_Pakistan.pdf (accessed 6 December, 2012)

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Sengupta, Somini, “At least 100 Dead in India Terror Attacks” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/27/world/asia/27mumbai.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed 24 November, 2012)

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[1] BBC Website, “Mumbai Attacks: One Year On” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/8379828.stm (accessed 8 December, 2012)

[2] Somini Sengupta, “At least 100 Dead in India Terror Attacks” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/27/world/asia/27mumbai.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed 24 November, 2012)

[3] Anthony H Cordesman and others, “Pakistan: Violence Vs. Stability”

http://csis.org/files/publication/110607_Stabilizing_Pakistan.pdf (accessed 6 December, 2012)

[4] Arvind Gupta, S Kalyanaraman and Ashok K Behuria, “India-Pakistan Relations After the Mumbai Terror Attacks: What Should India Do?” Strategic Analysis, vol. 33, no. 3 (2009): 320

[5] Syed MA Zaidi, Profiling the Lashkar-e-Taiba, South Asian Survey, vol. 16, no. 315 (2009): 321

[6] Stephen Tankel, “Lashkar-e-Taiba: From 9/11 to Mumbai.” Developments in Radicalisation and Political Violence, http://www.ps.au.dk/fileadmin/site_files/filer_statskundskab/subsites/cir/pdf-filer/Tankel_01.pdf (accessed 6 December, 2012)

[7] Mariam A Zahab, “‘I Shall be Waiting for You at the Door of Paradise’: The Pakistani Martyrs of the Lashkar-e Taiba (Army of the Pure).” In The Practice of War: Production, Reproduction and Communication of Armed Violence, ed. Aparna Rao, (Oxford: Berghahn Books): 152

[8] Bill Roggio, “Lashar-e-Taiba Operative Directly Linked to Mumbai”, The Long War Journal http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/12/lashkaretaiba_operat_1.php (accessed 8 December, 2012)

[9] Gus Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues 4th Edition, (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2012), 50

[10] Gus Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues 4th Edition, (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2012), 136

[11] K. A. Kronstadt, Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai, India, and Implications for U.S. Interests (DIANE Publishing, 2011), 6

[12] Anthony H Cordesman and others, “Pakistan: Violence Vs. Stability”

http://csis.org/files/publication/110607_Stabilizing_Pakistan.pdf (accessed 6 December, 2012)

[13] Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004), 151

[14] Arabinda Acharya and Sonal Marwah, “Nizam, la Tanzim (System, not Organization): DO Organizations Matter in Terrorism Today? A Study of the November 2008 Mumbai Attacks”, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, vol. 34, no. 1 (2008): 11

[15] Saroj K Rath, “26/11 Attacks: Looking into the Legal Questions”, Social Research Reports, vol.9, (2010): 30

[16] N.S. Jamwal, “Terrorists’ Modus Operandi in Jammu and Kashmir”, Strategic Analysis, vol. 27, no. 3 (2003): 383

[17] Gus Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues 4th Edition, (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2012), 136

[18] K. A. Kronstadt, Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai, India, and Implications for U.S. Interests (DIANE Publishing, 2011), 6

[19] Paul Wilkinson, Terrorism Versus Democracy 2nd Edition: The Liberal State, Response(New York: Routledge, 2006), 114

[20] Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005): 77

[21] Paul Wilkinson, “The Media and Terrorism: A Reassessment”, Terrorism and Political Violence, vol. 9, no. 2 (1997): 52

[22] K. A. Kronstadt, Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai, India, and Implications for U.S. Interests (DIANE Publishing, 2011), 6

[23] Arabinda Acharya and Sonal Marwah, “Nizam, la Tanzim (System, not Organization): Do Organizations Matter in Terrorism Today? A Study of the November 2008 Mumbai Attacks”, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, vol. 34, no. 1 (2008): 7

[24] Sanjay Badri-Maharaj, “The Mumbai Attacks – Lessons to be Learnt from the Police Response” Journal of Defence Studies, Vol. 3, No. 2 (2009): 147

[25] Angel Rabasa and others, The Lessons of Mumbai (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2009), 10

[26] Caren Kaplan, “The Biopolitics of Technoculture in the Mumbai Attacks”, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 26, No. 301 (2009): 306

[27] Angel Rabasa and others, The Lessons of Mumbai (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2009), 9

[28] Angel Rabasa and others, The Lessons of Mumbai (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2009), 12

[29] PRS Legislative Research, “The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2011” http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-unlawful-activities-prevention-amendment-bill-2011-2159/ (accessed 7 December, 2012)

[30] Gus Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues 4th Edition, (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2012), 433

[31] Peter Adey, “Vertical Security in the Megacity: Legibility, Mobility and Aerial Politics” Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 27, No. 51 (2010): 56

[32] Somini Sengupta, “Atleast 100 Dead in India Terror Attacks”, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/27/world/asia/27mumbai.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed 24 November, 2012)

One thought on “India – ‘At least 100 Dead in India Terror Attacks’ (NY Times, 2008)

  1. Very clear and coherent structure, with strong introduction and conclusion, and good signposting.

    The analysis, by and large, is excellent – sharp, perceptive, well argued. It does a great job of packing in loads of interesting and relevant points for which solid arguments/evidence are provided. On the weaker side, perhaps the alleged “links with al Qaeda” could have been explored further – what were these exactly, what is al Qaeda for that matter, and was there more of a relationship that a mere borrowing of the al Qaeda “franchise”? Also, some definition (and discussion) of “terrorism” could have been appropriate. Moreover, the role of religion is mentioned – how primary a role is it playing really? Pakistan’s probable support is mentioned – does that not make it a form of state terrorism (assistance, foreign) as well as a type of ethno-nationalist dissident terrorism? Some discussion of these questions would have been interesting and relevant.

    The essay was researched in considerable depth, using a very good range of sources, and the knowledge of the incident, its protagonists and India’s response is exemplary.

    Like

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