Other dimensions of the Mumbai carnage

The official Indian version of the November 26–”28 Mumbai attacks is well known. Ten members of Lashkar-e Taiba, a Pakistani paramilitary organization banned in 2005 as a terrorist organization, came in rubber boats –” unnoticed by the Indian Navy that was conducting naval exercises in the area at the time –” to attack Mumbai landmarks. They attacked several sites simultaneously before taking hostages in three: the Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels and the Nariman House, a Jewish center. The standoff at the Taj Mahal hotel lasted three days. Reports about the number of attackers at the hotel varied: from two to five. Can five terrorists, no matter how well trained, keep several hundred professionally trained Indian commandos, police and naval personnel at bay for three days? While fighting these commandos, the terrorists were also able to keep an eye on guests in the 1,000-room hotel and even had time to torture some of them to death. Indian newspapers reported the torture story citing hospital sources in Mumbai. The attacks were quickly dubbed India’s 9/11 with obvious implications of what would follow.

Quite aside from the ludicrous claim of five terrorists fighting off hundreds of commandos for three days and ignoring the possibility that there may have been others involved, what has remained unexplained is, how 10 men in dinghy boats could sneak past the Indian Navy, the fourth largest in the world, in open sea? Were these terrorists “allowed” to come ashore to perpetrate the carnage in order to provide cover for others pursuing their own nefarious agendas? After all, US media reports have confirmed that more than a month earlier, the CIA station chief in Delhi had notified the head of India’s intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), that terrorists would come from the sea to attack Mumbai, especially the Taj Mahal hotel. Why wasn’t security beefed up at the hotel despite such specific warnings? Further, Indian bloggers (Amaresh Misra in Countercurrents.org, December 3, for instance) quoting eyewitnesses reported “fairskinned and blonde” gunmen both at the railway station and the Jewish center. Indian TV channels also quoted a Mumbai policeman seeing “fairskinned” gunmen at Nariman House before the story was blacked out. Who were these “fairskinned” gunmen? Israelis? If so, were they involved in a larger plot whose details have yet to be revealed?

There are other unanswered questions. Among the first casualties of the Mumbai attacks were three top officials of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS): Hemant Karkare, his deputy Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte. Karkare had arrested several Indian military officers and Hindu priests for their involvement in the Malegaon attack of September 29 in which five persons were killed. Altogether 11 persons including a serving military officer, lieutenant colonel Srikant Prasad Purohit, were being interrogated by the ATS. Purohit was also implicated in the bombing of the Samjhota Express train in February 2007 in which 68 passengers, all of them Pakistanis, were killed. At that time, India had blamed Lashkar-e Taiba for the bombing. The ATS chief, Karkare, discovered that colonel Purohit had provided the RDX explosives used in the train attack. After these high profile arrests, Karkare was threatened by rightwing Hindu fascist organizations and political parties. Leading the attack were members of Shiv Sena, Abhinav Bharat, Sang Parivar and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). They denounced him as a traitor and accused him of pandering to Indian Muslims. Some of them even went so far as to say that regardless of what they do, Hindu nationalists cannot be wrong; they cannot be called terrorists since they are involved in “retributive justice” against India’s Muslims, whom they brand as traitors. A day before his death on November 26, Karkare had received a death threat. He was warned that if he did not stop his investigation against the Hindu priests and Indian army officers, he would be eliminated. Who were these anonymous callers?

After his death, Karkare was hailed as a “hero” by the same Hindu extremist groups and politicians. Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujrat state who had presided over the massacre of 3,000 Muslims in 2002, wanted to visit Karkare’s widow and offer her Rs. 10 million in compensation. She refused to meet him or accept the money. In another twist, the Indian Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, A.R. Antulay, cast doubts on the allegation that Pakistani terrorists had killed Karkare. The Times of India (December 17) quoted him as saying that “there is more than what meets the eye,” clearly hinting at others’ involvement. Antulay said, “Karkare was investigating some cases [i.e., Malegaon blasts]… and found that there are non-Muslims involved in acts of terrorism… Any person going to the roots of terror has always been the target.” He went on, “Superficially speaking they [terrorists] had no reason to kill Karkare. Whether he [Karkare] was [the] victim of terrorism or terrorism plus something, I do not know.” Antulay was immediately denounced by the BJP and two days later, he was forced to resign.

The reaction from Pakistani rulers was quick: they condemned the attacks and offered help in the investigation. Thereafter, they displayed their traditional ineptitude by agreeing to the insulting demands of India. For instance, in a telephone conversation, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanded that Islamabad send the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to Delhi; the Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gailani promptly agreed. The next day, Indian newspapers carried bold headlines, “Pakistan to send ISI chief on Manmohan Singh’s summon.” The Pakistan army top brass was furious; Gailani was admitting to Pakistan’s “guilt” without any proof and was accepting India’s over-lordship as if Pakistan were its colony.

Further disasters were in store. On the evening of November 28, a phone call, purportedly made by the Indian foreign minister to President Asif Ali Zardari was received by his staff. They handed the phone over to him without following the proper protocol. While Zardari started to express pleasantries, the caller launched into a tirade saying that if Indian demands were not promptly met, Pakistan would be taught a lesson. When the call ended, panic gripped Pakistan. The army and air force were put on alert and early the next morning, the air force chief’s personal plane was sent to fetch Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who was in Delhi for talks with his Indian counterpart. Had Zardari and his staff been aware of proper protocol, they would not have accepted the phone call in the first place. The Indian foreign minister or even the prime minister has no business calling the president of Pakistan. Such phone calls are routed through the foreign office but who should educate the ignorant occupants of the presidency?

If it were a question of mere incompetence, that would be one thing. However, there appears to be complicity by some officials in implicating Pakistanis in the Mumbai attacks without any evidence, even while many Indians are questioning the version put out by their own government. For instance, on November 28, the UN Security Council placed a number of Pakistani organizations and individuals on the terrorist list, including Jamaat-ud Dawa, a charitable organization, branded as the parent group of Lashkar-e Taiba. The US is also trying to put General (retired) Hameed Gul, former chief of ISI, on the terrorist list. There are reports that Zardari, Gailani and the two Husains –” Haqqani and Haroon, Pakistan’s ambassadors to the US and UN respectively –” are coordinating with the British and the Americans to facilitate this. Pakistan’s traditional friend, China, which has veto power in the Security Council, expressed surprise at Pakistan’s acceptance of such demands without seeking proof.

On December 16, some 200 Hindu women in the Pakistani city of Hyderabad took out a procession denouncing the ban on Jamaat-ud Dawa. They said the organization was not anti-Hindu; as proof, they cited the financial help they had received from it for years. Further, during the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, many UN and other aid organizations had found Jamaat-ud Dawa to be the most efficient Pakistani NGO in providing relief. As for General Gul, he is a target of the US because he is a strong critic of the war in Afghanistan. He has openly declared that it is the Afghans’ right to defend themselves against foreign aggressors.

Meanwhile, tension has escalated between India and Pakistan. The Indian Air Force has violated Pakistani airspace several times although Pakistani officials have downplayed their significance. Given Pakistan’s silence over US attacks on its territory, the Indians feel they can also do as they please. There have been Indian threats to bomb “terrorist training camps” in Pakistan and demands that Pakistan hand over 20 people wanted for questioning. One of the persons on the Indians’ list has been dead for seven years! Islamabad’s response has been meek. Zardari is also on record as saying that he considers himself “half Indian, half Pakistani.” With such a man as head of state, what can Pakistanis expect?

The identity of all the players behind the Mumbai carnage may never be known. The world of espionage is different from its depiction in James Bond movies. There are not only double or triple agents, today there are non-agents as well –” people used by intelligence agencies without their realizing they are being manipulated. The Indians, Israelis and the Americans could all be involved in order to further their own agendas, one of which is clear: to target Pakistan, destabilize it and ultimately destroy it. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s rulers appear willing tools in this enterprise.

If there is any silver lining in this sordid drama, it is that the Muslims of India have largely been spared the kind of gruesome attacks that occurred after the Babri Mosque destruction by Hindu mobs in December 1992, or the Godhera train fire in 2002 that resulted in the slaughter of 3,000 Muslims in Gujrat. There have been sporadic attacks against Muslims, as in Chennai, where Hindu students beat to death a number of Muslim students while the Hindu police looked on (video footage of these have appeared on the internet) but overall, the Muslims of India have been spared massive attacks.

The Indian government, meanwhile, has moved quickly to pass oppressive laws restricting people’s rights, much the same way the US did in the aftermath of 9/11. Now, India will be able to deal with its numerous separatist insurgencies without having to face criticism about human rights violations. The other aspect is that India, the US and Israel are getting ready to declare Pakistan’s ISI a “terrorist” organization. India also wanted to attack Pakistan in the manner of the US attack on Afghanistan after 9/11 but the US stopped it. This is not because the US cares about Pakistan. Politically, repositioning troops to fight Indians on the eastern border instead of fighting Pakistanis on the inside would unite all Pakistanis against a common enemy. Western and Indian geo-strategic objectives do not want unity in Pakistan; they want to create divisions leading to a civil war and the eventual breakup of Pakistan. The Mumbai carnage is another opportunity to advance these objectives.