Save Pakistan, save the world

December 27, 2008

US investment in Pakistan’s textile, technology and education sectors could help nudge the country away from terrorism. Feisal Hussain Naqvi in the Guardian:

International attention has focused on Pakistan like never before in the weeks following the Mumbai attacks. To quote Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and adviser to President-elect Barack Obama: “All of the world’s nightmares come together in Pakistan.”

Assuming the world does not have the option of turning its back on the country, what can it do to help Pakistan?

The short answer is that Pakistan needs economic assistance. The militant extremists who wreak havoc are, for the most part, unemployed and frustrated young men.

If the Pakistani people – as opposed to the Pakistani military – were given tangible, visible economic assistance, it would go a long way toward winning over a suspicious populace. After all, starving Pakistanis cannot eat the F-16s sold to their armed forces.

With that in mind, here are three suggestions.

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Steel amid adversity: Tata after Mumbai

December 22, 2008

Joe Leahy reports from Mumbai in Financial Times:

ratan_tata

Ratan Tata was at home in south Mumbai late on November 26 when the call came. On the line was a frantic R.K. Krishna Kumar, head of the Tata group unit that owns the city’s luxury Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.

The unthinkable had happened, Mr Kumar told the Tata chairman. Terrorists had taken over the Taj, the 105-year-old wedding cake-like structure on Mumbai’s waterfront that was built by Mr Tata’s great-grandfather and is the pride of India’s largest private sector group. Scores had been killed. The building was on fire.

Unable to leave his apartment that evening because of the chaos on the streets, Mr Tata made it to the group’s stately south Mumbai headquarters, Bombay House, the following day. As the country’s politicians engaged in a blame game, Mr Tata was one of the few public figures who seemed to strike the right tone on the attacks. He bluntly criticised the state’s lack of preparedness while expressing grief for those killed.

“This is a very, very unfortunate situation which none of us are going to forget. My message really is that the government and state authorities should also not forget,” he told journalists on the steps of Bombay House.

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Edgy but defiant, Mumbai inches towards normality as hotels scarred by terror reopen

December 22, 2008

Eight priests from across faiths conduct ceremony to emphasise city’s unity. Randeep Ramesh in the Guardian:

 

The newly reopened Taj Mahal hotel lights up the Mumbai seafront. AFP

The newly reopened Taj Mahal hotel lights up the Mumbai seafront. AFP

 

 

Until gunmen entered the Taj Mahal hotel in the early hours of 26 November, Praful Patel had known no other home for 16 years. Room 1017 was his residence, a sanctuary from which he ran his investment business amid statues of his favourite Hindu deity, Ganesha, the elephant-headed “remover of obstacles”.

During those hours Patel, who is British, “died more than once” as the sound of gunfire and explosions reached the bed he hid in. Indian commandos rescued him the next day, walking him out through pools of blood.

Last night he checked back into his room, part of a collective act of defiance against the gunmen whose rampage left more than 170 dead. Guests had been allowed back in the Taj’s modern wing, and its 268 rooms bore no trace of the violence inflicted. The blood stains around the swimming pool had been cleared, the grenade blast in the cafe was a distant memory and the bullet holes in the lobby were nowhere in sight.

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Risk factors

December 17, 2008

George Packer in the New Yorker:

taj_sketchA few days after well-armed men mowed down scores of helpless people in Mumbai, an American commission released a report on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. “World at Risk” is one of those conscientious, bipartisan efforts, its importance signalled by publication as a trade paperback, whose sober findings and pragmatic recommendations momentarily give you the sense that every problem-even one as alarming as the likelihood that “a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013″-has a common-sense solution. The report includes chapters on biological and nuclear risks, and one titled “Pakistan,” which would seem to suggest that the nation itself is a kind of W.M.D.

According to intelligence reports, the attacks in Mumbai were carried out by terrorists who had received extensive training from the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba, or Army of the Pure. Its agenda has been to force India to give up control over the disputed northern mountain region of Jammu and Kashmir. More recently, the group’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, spoke of creating a Muslim south Asia-thus, the band that carried out the killings called itself the Hyderabad Deccan Mujahideen, implying a holy war extending down to the south-central Indian region that, in the late eighteenth century, marked the farthest limit of the Mughal empire.

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Why Kashmir holds the key

December 16, 2008

Resolving the Kashmir dispute would help Pakistan to end its support for Islamist separatists implicated in the Mumbai attacks. Muzamil Jaleel in the Guardian:

So the key question is: why is it impossible for Pakistan to hand over Lashkar founder and Jamat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed to New Delhi when it did not hesitate to arrest Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other key al-Qaida operatives for the Americans?

In a word, Kashmir. The Kashmir dispute is at the core of Pakistan’s very existence. Unlike Afghanistan, Kashmir has traditionally been a major influence on Pakistan’s domestic as well as foreign policy. While Pakistan did launch a crackdown after the attack on the Indian parliament, it continued to insist that this shift did not mean abandoning its support for separatists in Kashmir.

There is another important aspect to this contradiction, which has more to do with ideological and demographic differences between the Taliban and Lashkar movement. The Taliban, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, is primarily based on the Deobandi school of thought, while Lashkar is Salafi. While Deobandis in Pakistan seek the establishment of an Islamic state and support a jihad against the establishment, Salafis do not support rebellion against the government in a Muslim country and rather advocate reform to turn the ruling elite into “Muslims at heart”.

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Boozy and raucous, a cafe in Mumbai defies terror

December 15, 2008

Mumbai’s Leopold Cafe has become a sort of shrine of defiance against terrorism. Thomas Fuller in the New York Times:

The bullet holes at Leopold Cafe.

The bullet holes at Leopold Cafe.

Some day, Farhang Jehani might patch up the bullet holes and cover the shrapnel pockmarks. But for now they are the Leopold Cafe’s new décor.

“We are going to let it be,” Mr. Jehani said over the din of his crowded restaurant, where eight people were killed in the Mumbai terrorist attacks last month. “It’s part of history.”

In the two weeks since the attacks, this Mumbai neighborhood of narrow streets shared by street urchins and the well-to-do has staggered back onto its feet. But at the Leopold, it is often standing room only.

The restaurant has become a sort of shrine of defiance against terrorism. That, at least, is how Mr. Jehani portrays it. “I want it to go on the same way, as if nothing has happened,” he said.

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The confessions of Mumbai terrorist

December 14, 2008

As Ajmal Ameer Kasab, the only terrorist caught alive for the attack, gives details of his indoctrination and training, Sagnik Chowdhury pieces together the terror plot against Mumbai. From the Sunday Express:

Reuters

Ajmal Amir Kasab, the face of the Mumbai attacks. Photo: Reuters

In 2005, however, Kasab had a fight with his parents and walked out of his home, taking to robbery and dacoity to earn money. Kasab’s recruitment into the terror fold began in mid-2006 when he wanted to buy a firearm and was asked to contact an LeT operative in Rawalpindi. It was through this contact that he was introduced to top leaders in the terror outfit and radicalised through sustained indoctrination by Zaqi-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Kasab has told interrogators that the ten terrorists were handpicked from a larger group and that they attended training camps at Mansera, Muridke, Muzaffarabad and a location near Karachi. Top LeT operatives, identified as Abu Hamza-said to be involved in the December 2005 attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore-and Kahafa were in charge of their training.

“Kahafa was a sort of course co-ordinator and was constantly shepherding the group. Hamza was involved during the advanced training in firearms and explosives,” says Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rakesh Maria, the officer in charge of the investigations.

LeT commander Hafiz Saeed too visited the group during their training. According to the Crime Branch, several of the handlers at the different training camps were names that had been dropped by arrested operatives of the Indian Mujahideen when grilled about their training in Pakistan.

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They hate us — and India is us

December 12, 2008

The attacks in Mumbai were committed not of social and political failings, but because India is everything the terrorists hate: democratic, multi-religious, and pro-American. Patrick French in the New York Times:

As an open, diverse and at times chaotic democracy, India has long been a target for terrorism. From the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi in 1948 to the recent attacks in Mumbai, it has faced attempts to change its national character by force. None has yet succeeded. Despite its manifest social failings, India remains the developing world’s most successful experiment in free, plural, large-scale political collaboration.

The Mumbai attacks were transformative, because in them, unlike previous outrages in India, the rich were caught: not only Western visitors in the nation’s magnificent financial capital but also Indian bankers, business owners and socialites. This had symbolic power, as the terrorists knew it would.

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India’s dangerous divide

December 11, 2008

India’s Muslims are prominent in Bollywood but still struggle with their identity. In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, tensions have mounted and loyalties have been tested. Ramachandra Guha on the path forward for India and its Muslim minority. From the Wall Street Journal:

An Indian Muslim woman at a candlelight vigil in New Delhi on Dec. 3, in memory of the victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. epa photo

An Indian Muslim woman at a candlelight vigil in New Delhi in memory of the victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. epa photo

In October 1947, a bare six weeks after India and Pakistan achieved their independence from British rule, the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote a remarkable letter to the Chief Ministers of the different provinces. Here Nehru pointed out that despite the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland, there remained, within India, “a Muslim minority who are so large in numbers that they cannot, even if they want, go anywhere else. That is a basic fact about which there can be no argument. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a civilized manner. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic State.”

In the wake of the recent incidents in Mumbai, these words make salutary reading. It seems quite certain that the terrorists who attacked the financial capital were trained in Pakistan. The outrages have sparked a wave of indignation among the middle class. Demonstrations have been held in the major cities, calling for revenge, in particular for strikes against training camps in Pakistan. The models held up here are Israel and the United States; if they can “take out” individual terrorists and invade whole countries, ask some Indians, why not we?

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Embers from my neighbor’s house

December 10, 2008

Aditya Dev Sood at 3quarksdaily:

The year in terror has been building and rising, but few expected it to rise to this dramatic crescendo. Boats, control rooms in key buildings, AK-47s, grenades, hostages. As I begin to write, my television continues to bleat the worn platitudes of so many blind men and women of Hindoostan panning reality with their telephoto lenses, over the muffled roar of helicopters and machine gun fire.

Terrorism is high impact and ethics-free anti-art using global media. My imagination has been leached and my insides need cleansing, like an extra travel day spent watching porn in a hotel room. Still, one must concede their mad genius, uniting a new day of mourning in India with the pilgrim feast of Thanksgiving in America, both doused in the same hot stream of media violence.

I am already getting unsolicited text-forwards from cousins and acquaintances. India is planning to bomb Pakistan, says one. My friend Usman, in London, texts me just as he has every time this year, in the wake of each terror strike: “All ok?” “We’re invading Pakistan, but otherwise all okay,” I squeeze out. I’m not sure how funny he found this, for he writes back, “Re: Invasion, ok good. I was worried in the post-Obama fervour the world was becoming too sensible.”

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The terrorists want to destroy Pakistan, too

December 10, 2008

Asif Ali Zardari in the New York Times:

zardari-cartoonTHE recent death and destruction in Mumbai, India, brought to my mind the death and destruction in Karachi on Oct. 18, 2007, when terrorists attacked a festive homecoming rally for my wife, Benazir Bhutto. Nearly 150 Pakistanis were killed and more than 450 were injured. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai may be a news story for most of the world. For me it is a painful reality of shared experience. Having seen my wife escape death by a hairbreadth on that day in Karachi, I lost her in a second, unfortunately successful, attempt two months later.

The Mumbai attacks were directed not only at India but also at Pakistan’s new democratic government and the peace process with India that we have initiated. Supporters of authoritarianism in Pakistan and non-state actors with a vested interest in perpetuating conflict do not want change in Pakistan to take root.

To foil the designs of the terrorists, the two great nations of Pakistan and India, born together from the same revolution and mandate in 1947, must continue to move forward with the peace process. Pakistan is shocked at the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. We can identify with India’s pain. I am especially empathetic. I feel this pain every time I look into the eyes of my children.

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Our friends in Bombay

December 9, 2008

Christopher Hitchens on Slate:

It’s in human nature to mention any personal connection when offering solidarity, so I shall just briefly say that on my first visit to India, in 1980, I stayed at the Taj Mahal in Bombay, visited the “Gateway of India” and took a boat to Elephanta Island, toured the magnificent railway station, had my first diwali festival at Juhu beach, and paced the amazing corniche that was still known by some-after its dazzling string of lights-as “Queen Victoria’s necklace.” Wonderful though some of the 19th-century British architecture can be, Bombay is quintessentially an Indian achievement, and an achievement of all its peoples from the Portuguese-speaking Catholic Goans to the Zoroastrian Parsis. (The Jewish disciples of Rabbi Schneerson may be relatively recent arrivals, but there have been Baghdad Jews in Bombay since records were kept, and Jews in India since before Christ, and not until this week has a Jewish place in India been attacked for its own sake, so to speak.)

When Salman Rushdie wrote, in The Moor’s Last Sigh in 1995, that “those who hated India, those who sought to ruin it, would need to ruin Bombay,” he was alluding to the Hindu chauvinists who had tried to exert their own monopoly in the city and who had forcibly renamed it-after a Hindu goddess-Mumbai. We all now collude with this, in the same way that most newspapers and TV stations do the Burmese junta’s work for it by using the fake name Myanmar. (Bombay’s hospital and stock exchange, both targets of terrorists, are still called by their right name by most people, just as Bollywood retains its “B.”)

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The meaning of Mumbai

December 8, 2008

Like Beirut, Mumbai has become a name with global resonance. One that will for ever be linked with suffering and loss. Leo Mirani in the Guardian:

For the two years that I worked at Time Out Mumbai, the Bombay franchise of the magazine originally published in London since 1968, I used the name Mumbai in my copy. In conversations with co-workers, editors, photographers and sources, at meetings, on the phone, during interviews and in everyday conversation, I used the name Bombay. This didn’t require any great mental dexterity on my part: it was the way things were and, as with so many other binaries that are a part of this staggering metropolis, I dealt with it and got on with life. My editor strove for accurate listings and reportage. Mumbai is the official name. Mumbai is the name we used. Emotions be damned.

But unlike Bombay, Mumbai meant nothing to any of us. This great city by the sea was built by the British and its original Portuguese name, Bom Bahia, or “good bay”, was bastardised, like so many other Indian names, for the sake of linguistic convenience. Bombay, even to those who have not studied its history, means a number of things. To the world, it meant a great oriental city, an exotic metropolis teeming with humanity and bazaars and spices and wonder. To Indians, Bombay meant a land of plenty and of equality, where anyone with determination could make it, where class and caste differences ceased to matter, or at least so goes the fairy tale. To residents of the city itself, Bombay was at once the best and worst that India had to offer and of, among many other things, the Taj and Oberoi hotels.

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Mumbai’s elite see price of indifference

December 5, 2008

Anand Giridharadas in International Herald Tribune:

sketchVERLA, India: Anand Sivakumaran saw Mumbai’s security loopholes. He noticed hotels that checked passports upon check-in, but not bags. He noticed police officers at thronging train stations armed with bamboo sticks, but not guns. He saw soft spots for terrorists. And he did what many upright, affluent citizens of Mumbai do in such instances.

Nothing.

Well, not nothing. He may not have alerted anyone to it, but he used it as material. As a screenwriter in Bollywood, with movies like “Kalyug” and “Nazar” to his name, Sivakumaran, 37, tucked the loopholes into the plot line of his latest film to make it seem more believable.

Indians at all levels are asking questions after the terror attacks in Mumbai last week. But Sivakumaran, like many in the country’s educated elite, is also turning the interrogation lamp on himself, asking: Was this our fault?

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Moment of truth for Pakistan’s transition

December 5, 2008

India might now do well to resist the temptation to behave as the U.S. did after 9/11, and show the world how a responsible and confident Asian power carries itself even when in pain. Haris Gazdar in the Hindu:

Who knows if the timing of Mumbai had anything to do with the struggle within the Pakistani state, but it is worth remembering that Mr. Musharraf’s coup followed Kargil, which followed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus yatra to Lahore. Mumbai is relevant to Pakistan’s transition because regardless of any evidence of Pakistani complicity, the policy of reconciliation with India requires that assistance requested should be rendered. The civilian leadership was right to respond positively to India’s request for high-level representation of Pakistan’s secret agencies, and it was wrong to wriggle out of its commitment. The rethink may have been forced by the military’s displeasure.

Nevertheless, the ball is now in the court of the military. By falling in line with the civilian government’s diplomatic effort they will reveal their intention to be on board in the transition.

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Profile: Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure) (a.k.a. Lashkar e-Tayyiba, Lashkar e-Toiba; Lashkar-i-Taiba)

December 3, 2008

Indian security agencies suspect LeT trained the terrorists who attacked Mumbai. Jayshree Bajoria profiles the terrorist organisation in Council on Foreign Relations:

Lashkar-e-Taiba, meaning “army of the pure” has been active since 1993. It is the military wing of the well-funded Pakistani Islamist organization Markaz-ad-Dawa-wal-Irshad, which was founded in 1989 and recruited volunteers to fight alongside the Taliban. During the 1990s, experts say LeT received instruction and funding from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in exchange for a pledge to target Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir and to train Muslim extremists on Indian soil. Pakistan’s government has repeatedly denied allegations of supporting terrorism.

More here, and here at South Asian Terrorism Portal


How a small group of skilled militants managed to bring Mumbai to its knees

December 2, 2008

From the Wall Street Journal:

Cafe Leopold was the first scene of trouble.

Cafe Leopold was the first scene of trouble.

As waiters started setting dinner buffets in Mumbai’s luxurious hotels, the killings that would ravage this Indian metropolis began out of sight, in the muddy waters of the Arabian Sea.

In the dusk hours of Wednesday, fisherman Chandrakant Tare was sailing his boat about 100 yards from a fishing trawler when he spotted young men killing a sailor on board. He says he saw them toss the body into the engine room. Assuming he had stumbled upon pirates, Mr. Tare says, he sped away.

Hours later, at least 10 terrorists, having arrived by small craft on the shores of Mumbai, began to sow death and destruction at will across India’s financial capital.

Pieced together from interviews with dozens of witnesses and officials, this account of the three days of the battle for Mumbai shows just how a small but ruthless group of skilled militants, attacking multiple targets in quick succession, managed to bring one of the world’s largest cities to its knees. The human toll — currently at 174 fatalities, including nine terrorists — was exacerbated by the Indian authorities’ lack of preparedness for such a major attack. But the chain of events also points to just how vulnerable any major city can be to this type of urban warfare.

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Investigators trace boat’s last voyage

From the Wall Street Journal:

graphic2

Early on the morning of Nov. 14, the 45-foot fishing boat Kuber left its home port on India’s west coast and headed for the abundant waters near the Sir Creek, a river that runs into the sea at the fuzzy aquatic border between India and Pakistan.

It is a journey that ships from the port city of Porbandar have made for centuries, and that the Kuber has made regularly since it was commissioned in 1997. But for lead crewman Amar Narayan Singh, a 45-year-old father of three, and his four crew members, it was a voyage from which they never returned. About one week in, the boat was hijacked by terrorists who used it as a link in their passage to Mumbai.

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A wounded city turns from tears to anger

December 1, 2008

Arvind Adiga in the Times, UK:

My first assignment as a journalist in Bombay was in 2003, when I visited the home of a man accused of planting a bomb that had killed several people a few days earlier at the Gateway of India, the city’s most famous landmark. The suspected terrorist lived in a typical Bombay slum, congested, with packed houses that shared walls and windows, and I spent the day quizzing the neighbours, who said they had heard and seen nothing suspicious, even though the police were sure that the man had assembled the bomb at home.

I couldn’t help thinking: If the police were right, and this man had built a bomb right here, with all these people noticing nothing, how safe was anyone in the city?

That evening I went back to the Gateway – a large stone arch built near the ocean – and walked into the famous Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which stands right next door. I ordered tea at the Sea Lounge, a restaurant inside the hotel, and watched the Gateway through the glass windows. The mood inside was tranquil, relaxing; a man in a suit played Gershwin on a piano.

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Previously on AW: Arvind Adiga: ‘Invasion of Mumbai’


No regrets, says baby-faced terrorist

November 30, 2008

The only terrorist behind the Mumbai attack to have been captured alive tells his interrogators how planning began a year ago in Muzaffarabad (in Pakistan occupied Kashmir), how his and his fellow terrorists arrived in Mumbai by sea, how they had planned to massacre 5,000 people — and how he has no regrets. Rahul Bedi and Sean Rayment have the story in The Daily Telegraph.

gunman1Ten terrorists dedicated to fighting for an independent Kashmir were selected for an operation from which they were likely never to return.

The tactics were relatively simple: to strike at multiple targets while simultaneously slaughtering as many civilians as possible before going “static” in three of the locations within the city.

But such a plan would require a year of planning, reconnaissance, the covert acquisition of ships and speed boats as well as the forward basing of weapons and ammunition secretly hidden inside at least one hotel.

Nothing would be left to chance. Even the times of the tides were checked and rechecked to ensure that the terrorists would be able to arrive when their first target, the Café Leopold, was full of unsuspecting tourists enjoying the balmy Bombay (Mumbai) evening.

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Amitav Ghosh on the attack on Mumbai and the metaphor of ‘9/11’

November 30, 2008

From the Hindustan Times:

logoSince the start of the terrorist invasion of Mumbai on November 26, the metaphor of the World Trade Center attacks has been repeatedly invoked. In India and elsewhere commentators have taken to saying, over and again, ‘This is India’s 9/11.’ There can be no doubt that there are certain clear analogies between the two attacks. In both cases the terrorists were clearly at great pains to single out urban landmarks, especially those that serve as points of reference in this increasingly interconnected world.

There are similarities too, in the unexpectedness of the attacks, the meticulousness of their planning, their shock value and the utter unpreparedness of the security services. But this is where the similarities end. Not only were the casualties far greater on September 11, 2001, but the shock of the attack was also greatly magnified by the fact that it had no real precedent in America’s historical experience.

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The future of terrorism

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri in Hindustan Times:

They may call the next several years the “Era of Mumbai Terror.” An increasing number of counterterrorism specialists say the nature of the attack is clearly different from the South Asian norm and possibly even by any global measure. And because it is was so successful – a score of armed men holding an entire country to ransom for three days – it may become a model for the next wave of jihadi fighters.

Colonel Jonathan Fighel of Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism is among those who has pointed out that the Mumbai attacks are “unusual not only for India, but also on the international scale.” The subcontinental norm has been a “series of explosions undertaken simultaneously by radical Islamic organizations aiming to kill” masses of people. This was an “all-out offensive, with clear military hallmarks.”

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Mumbai terror: the link to Kashmir

November 30, 2008

William Dalrymple in the Guardian:

Three weeks ago, in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar, I met a young surgeon named Dr Iqbal Saleem. Iqbal described to me how on 11 August this year, Indian security forces entered the hospital where he was fighting to save the lives of unarmed civilian protesters who had been shot earlier that day by the Indian army. The operating theatre had been tear-gassed and the wards riddled with bullets, creating panic and injuring several of the nurses. Iqbal had trained at the Apollo hospital in Delhi and said he harboured no hatred against Hindus or Indians. But the incident had profoundly disgusted him and the unrepentant actions of the security forces, combined with the indifference of the Indian media, had convinced him that Kashmir needed its independence.

I thought back to this conversation last week, when news came in that the murderous attackers of Mumbai had brutally assaulted the city’s hospitals in addition to the more obvious Islamist targets of five-star hotels, Jewish centres and cafes frequented by Americans and Brits. Since then, the links between the Mumbai attacks and the separatist struggle in Kashmir have become ever more explicit. There now seems to be a growing consensus that the operation is linked to the Pakistan-based jihadi outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose leader, Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed, operates openly from his base at Muridhke outside Lahore.

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Mumbai: city of death

November 30, 2008

The terrorist attacks on Mumbai finally ended on Saturday, leaving at least 195 people dead. The Sunday Times has this story — how the siege began, and ended:

The charred lobby

The charred lobby

First contact with the terrorists came shortly after 8pm on Wednesday night, when a small yellow and black inflatable dinghy pulled up to the shore at Sassoon Docks, near the financial district that marks the southern tip of the Mumbai peninsula.

In the boat were about eight men in their twenties, all wearing casual western clothes that would help them blend in with the tourists and affluent young Indians who populate the area.

“Six young men with large bags came ashore, after which the two who remained in the boat started the outboard motor and sped off,” said Suresh, a local man who witnessed the landing.

“They said they were students. When we tried to find out what they were doing, they spoke very aggressively, and I got scared.” He was right to have done.

A few blocks inland, in the Colaba district, it was a typically noisy night at Leopold cafe, where generations of backpackers have swapped travellers’ tales over one of its four-pint tubes of beer.

The bar had character of sorts: bistro-style tables and chairs strewn around brown and cream pillars, kitsch pictures of the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China, and ancient metal ceiling fans that barely outpaced the waiters. Guidebooks grumble about too many backpackers and expats, and the western-centric menu, but there were always a few Indians too, usually young and western-leaning, on a date or celebrating a birthday or promotion with friends.

Wednesday night was busy as usual. Harnish Patel, a young chartered surveyor from Havant, Hampshire, was there with Joey Jeetun, 31, from Bethnal Green, London, whom he had met earlier on a boat trip. They were talking, over loud music, of his plans to spend a month touring India.

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And there’s more here


The special sting of personal terrorism

November 30, 2008

mumbai_map

Some Indians see the siege of Mumbai as their 9/11: A moment that separates past attacks from those to come. Anand Giridhardas in the New York Times:

This was not terror – not as Indians understood it. This was war.

The killers stormed the streets of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, with machine guns and bags of grenades. They did not strike with the terrorist’s fleeting anonymity. Their work was fastidiously deliberate. It went into a second day, then a third. They took time to ask your nationality and vocation. Then they spared you, or herded you elsewhere, or shot you in the back of your skull.

As a surprise attack became a 48-hour struggle, the burden of responding transferred from the police to soldiers. The language was of war: television anchors spoke of buildings “sanitized” and “flushed out,” of “final assaults” and “collateral damage.” Helicopters hovered over Mumbai, and commandos dropped onto roofs. The grainy television imagery suggested not so much a terrorist attack as the shapeless, omnidirectional chaos of Iraq.

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Taj Mahal hotel owner: We had warning

November 30, 2008

Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata in interview with CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria:

Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata

It’s ironic that we did have such a warning, and we did have some measures,” Tata said, without elaborating on the warning or when security measures were enacted. “People couldn’t park their cars in the portico, where you had to go through a metal detector.”

However, Tata said the attackers did not enter through the entrance that has a metal detector. Instead, they came in a back entrance, he said.

“They knew what they were doing, and they did not go through the front. All of our arrangements are in the front,” he said.

“They planned everything,” he said of the attackers. “I believe the first thing they did, they shot a sniffer dog and his handler. They went through the kitchen.”

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‘Invasion of Mumbai’

November 29, 2008

Author Aravind Adiga, whose debut novel The White Tiger won the 2008 Man Booker Prize, spoke to BBC Radio:

These places they picked are rich with symbolic significance. But part of what life in Mumbai has taught me – and I’ve seen previous terror attacks here – is that the city is extremely resilient and bounces back very, very quickly.

On the morning after the attacks I was driving past the very heart of Mumbai, an open space, a playground that we call the Oval. I saw a group of boys – they looked like homeless kids – who had set up a cricket pitch, they hammered a twig down in the ground and that was the wicket.

That really struck me as symbolising the Mumbai spirit – they didn’t care about what was happening, they wanted to play cricket in the morning.

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Without comment…

November 29, 2008

The paragraph below is from a story in Mumbai Mirror on Friday, 28 November, when terrorists were holding hostages in the Taj Mahal hotel, the Trident hotel and Nariman House. We do not have independent confirmation of the story.

Sources said though the plane carrying NSG Commandos was ready by midnight, it could not take off due to the delayed arrival of a VIP, who wanted to accompany them to Mumbai, at the Delhi airport. Worse, the Commandos had to wait for a vehicle at the Mumbai airport until morning.


I, too, am a Mumbaikar today

November 29, 2008

Adil Najam in All Things Pakistan: [via 3quarksdaily]

mumbai-terror-attackI know what living with terror feels like. I have thought too much and too deeply about what it feels like to be the target of violence propelled by hatred. I know the pain of helplessness one feels as one stands stunned in grief, wanting so desperately to do something – anything – but not knowing what to do. This is why I identify with the expression on the face of the woman in this picture. This is why, like so many others in the world, today I too am a Mumbaikar.

This is why I stand with Mumbaikars everywhere, in prayer and in solidarity. At a loss for words but with an urge to speak out. My words of condemnation will not change the actions of those who have committed such heinous murder and mayhem. Nor will my words of sympathy diminish the agony of the victims. But speak out I must. In condemnation as well as in sympathy. To speak against the inhumanity of hatred and violence. To speak for the humanity in all of us that we all must hold on to; especially in the testing moments of grave stress.

But, today, I have no words of analysis. What words can make sense of the patently senseless? I do not know who did this. Nor can I imagine any cause that would justify this. But this I know: No matter who did this, no matter why, the terror that has been wrought in Mumbai is vile and inhuman and unjustifiable. And, for the sake of our own humanness, we must speak out against it.

And, so, to any Mumbaikar who might be listening, I say: “I stand with you today. In prayer and in solidarity.”

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LeT, Al Qaeda and Global Terror Inc join hands

November 29, 2008

In Hindustan Times, Pramit Pal Chaudhuri and Haider Naqvi speak to Bruce Riedel, Barack Obama’s chief advisor on South Asia, on the global links behind the Mumbai terror strikes

US President-elect Barack Obama’s main advisor on South Asian terror said he believed that the Mumbai attack was a combined Al Qaeda-Lashkar-e-Toiba operation. Terrorism experts said this would explain the non-Indian focus of some of the terrorist teams who attacked the city.

Said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institute and author of The Search for Al Qaeda, “This has the hallmarks of Al Qaeda: a very sophisticated attack at multiple targets. The US, the UK and Israel are global jihadist targets, not Indian Mujahedin targets. Thorough casing is an Al Qaeda trademark.”

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U.S. Intelligence Focuses on Pakistani Group

From the New York Times

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Friday that there was mounting evidence that a Pakistani militant group based in Kashmir, most likely Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for this week’s deadly attacks in Mumbai.

The officials cautioned that they had reached no firm conclusions about who was responsible for the attacks, or how they were planned and carried out. Nevertheless, they said that evidence gathered in the past two days pointed to a role for Lashkar-e-Taiba or possibly another group based in Kashmir, Jaish-e-Muhammad, which also has a track record of attacks against India.

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Collateral damage

November 28, 2008
Moishe

Moishe

The Chabad-Lubavitch center, the local outpost of a global group that promotes Judaism, is located in Nariman House, one of the buildings that has been attacked in Mumbai.

Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, who runs the center, and his wife, Rivka, it is now feared are among the hostages killed. Their two-year-old son, Moishe was rescued apparently by a maidservant yesterday. It is believed that the child’s grandparents who were visiting from Israel have also been killed.

It is little Moishe’s birthday on Saturday.

Read The Jerusalem Post story here.

Here, a story on how the Rabbi’s child kept asking for water.


In hotel attack, terrorists target India’s growing global class

November 28, 2008

Anand Giridharadas in International Herald Tribune:

On an evening not long ago at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel in Mumbai, a Bollywood star named Preity Zinta rushed up the stairs and into Wasabi, a Japanese restaurant. She joined long-waiting friends at their table and apologized for being late.

But before long, she had risen again. She had seen at a nearby table Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej, billionaires, socialites and fellow jet-setters. A good amount of air-kissing ensued. Then she was introduced to Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician, who just happened to be in town.

Before long, a bottle of imported red wine arrived and was poured into a silver-tipped glass decanter, as platters of miso-encrusted sea bass and rock-shrimp tempura floated through the restaurant on upraised hands.

When violent attackers besieged the Taj, as it is universally known, and embarked on a murderous rampage Wednesday night, they targeted one of the city’s best known landmarks.

But they also went after something larger: a hulking, physical embodiment of India’s deepening involvement with the world.

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Suketu Mehta: The terrorists attacked my city because of its wealth

November 28, 2008

Suketu Mehta is author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found and a professor of journalism at New York University. From the Guardian:

suketu_mehtaThe first time I went to the Taj in Bombay, it was on a date, but not my own. I was 12, and the third wheel between my uncle and his fiancee; I had to be taken along for propriety’s sake.

We sat in the Sea Lounge, overlooking the harbour, amid the Parsi matrons arranging marriages and the British bankers drinking gin with American aid officials. My uncle had brought my future aunt here because he wanted to impress her with the hotel’s opulence, and I had the most expensive bhelpuri of my life. The Taj is to Bombay what the Empire State Building is to New York: it is what you see on a postcard of the city, a building that does not need to be further identified. It is, simply, “Bombay”.

People who are seeking position or money in Bombay often use this one hotel, this one citadel of empire, as a mark or measure of their progress upward through the strata of Bombay.

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Tycoon described hotel drama before his death

From the Guardian:

A British tycoon killed in the attacks on Mumbai had gone to the Taj Mahal hotel for dinner because he heard they served the best food in the city.

Andreas Liveras, 73, whose fortune is estimated at £315m, owned Liveras Yachts, which charters “superyachts” and boasts of offering “the finest luxury yachts afloat”.

The businessman, who was in Mumbai for a boat show, had just sat down when he and his party heard machine gun fire in the corridor.

Liveras described the chaos at the hotel to a journalist shortly before he died. He told the BBC: “We hid ourselves under the table and then they switched all the lights off. But the machine guns kept going, and they took us into the kitchen, and from there into a basement, before we came up into a salon where we are now.

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Mumbai terror: the attack on Nariman House

November 28, 2008

Commandos stormed Nariman House, the Jewish centre where hostages were held. Reuters

Commandos storm Nariman House, the Jewish centre where hostages were held. Reuters

Keith Bradsher, a New York Times correspondent, is sending updates from his Blackberry as he watches a commando operation taking place at the Nariman House, home to the Orthodox Jewish group Chabad Lubavitch, in Mumbai. The timestamps are London time (GMT). Mumbai is five and a half hours ahead of his timestamps. Click here for his updates.

Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2008 05:32 [11am in Mumbai]
There has been no further shooting for an hour but the police show no signs of releasing their cordon nor are any ambulances leaving. I am heading to the Taj.

Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2008 05:16:27
There has now been no shooting for more than half an hour. The street below my rooftop has six schoolbus-sized buses parked where none were before. All appear to have carried more commandos to the fight. Only one bus is still full of commandos, apparently held in reserve, while the rest are nearly empty.
Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2008 04:56:03
After 15 minutes of silence, five commandos in black with heavy-duty body armor have approached the building. Four are carrying assault rifles and the fifth, possibly their officer, has a radio in his right hand.

Israel – India’s rescue efforts ‘premature and badly planned’

From the Times, UK:

Israel defence officials have criticised the way Indian security forces have handled the terror attacks in Bombay, after it appeared that India turned down their offer of help to defeat the militants.

The officials, from Israel’s security forces, told The Jerusalem Post that the Indian troops prematurely stormed the besieged hotels where militants were holding hostages, risking lives in the process.

Indian counter-terrorist forces were well trained but failed to gather sufficient intelligence before engaging the terrorists, they said.

“In hostage situations, the first thing the forces are supposed to do is assemble at the scene and begin collecting intelligence,” said a former official in Shin Bet, the Israel Security Agency.

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Dispatch from an anxious Mumbai

November 28, 2008

Naresh Fernandes, editor of ‘Time Out Mumbai,’ in The New Republic:

Employees and guests use curtains to escape the Taj Mahal hotel. AFP

Employees and guests use curtains to escape the Taj Mahal hotel. AFP

As columns of smoke rose from the Italianate dome of the Taj Mahal hotel in downtown Mumbai on Wednesday night, I came upon a woman standing a short distance away from the building, waiting for her friends trapped inside. She’d just ordered a steak when she heard gunfire as terrorists stormed through the establishment. The woman, who had been rescued through a window by the fire brigade after hours of hiding under a table, said that her name was Dalbir Bains. I recognised it from the society pages of the newspapers. She’s the owner of a fancy lingerie store in the beachside neighbourhood of Juhu, and, amidst the chatter of gunfire, I found myself involved in a brief discussion about edible underwear.

Everything that evening had been surreal. At 10:15pm, shortly before the attack, I’d been handed a visiting card that read, “George W Bush, Former President, The United States of America (currently seeking employment).” Sipping my glass of merlot, I shook hands with the man who had given it to me. He wore a dark suit and a giant rubber Dubya mask. I was at the premiere of “The President Is Coming”, a mockumentary about six young Indians taking part in a competition that offered the winner an unforgettable prize: the opportunity to shake Bush’s hand on his imminent visit to the subcontinent.

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Click here to watch live coverage on NDTV24X7


Still at sea

November 27, 2008

From Outlook:

logoIf anyone needed a lesson on how to conduct special operations from the sea, they could take a leaf out of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai late on Wednesday, November 26, night. With two magazines taped together, strapped to their AK-47s, the men who arrived on speed boats from the sea could have easily been mistaken for naval commandos carrying out exercises off the coast. But they weren’t, and as a security expert told Outlook, “this is a quantum jump in terrorism in India. Global terror has finally come home.”

In many was, this was India’s 9/11, an attack on mainland India on a scale it has never witnessed. For a nation that has dealt with armed insurgency and terrorism soon after independence, this was still an unprecedented scale of attack. It was just not prepared for anything even remotely like it. “It is one thing to plant bombs and melt into the crowd. It is another to come in from the sea and launch an attack such as this,” a senior intelligence official told Outlook.

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Sir Gulam Noon, British ‘Curry King': how I escaped bombed hotel

November 27, 2008

The Times, UK, has this exclusive report:

gulam_noonSir Gulam Noon did not duck when he heard the first sounds of gunfire in his suite on the third floor of the Taj Mahal Hotel.

Britain’s most high profile Asian businessman had booked a table at the restaurant but at the last minute he felt slightly ill so changed his mind and decided to have dinner in his room with his brother and two business associates. “It probably saved my life, the restaurant was the first place the terrorists went.”

Sir Gulam – who is known as the “Curry King”, selling 1.5 million ready made Indian meals a week in Britain – was born in Bombay and started his career running a sweet stall in the city.

At first he says, “we thought we were hearing wedding fireworks, it sounded as though crackers were being let off in the lobby”. He and his brother looked out of the window expecting a fireworks display but instead “we saw men rushing into the building and people fleeing”.

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Who is behind the Mumbai attacks?

November 27, 2008

Even as the gun battle between commandos and terrorists rages on at theTaj Mahal hotel, Trident and Nariman House, comes the obvious question: just who are these men who have managed to keep Mumbai under siege for close to 24 hours? So far, this much is known: the terrorists came to Mumbai by sea and they are part of a fidayeen (suicide) mission. An unknown group that calls itself the Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the attacks were planned by a group based in a neighbouring countries. CTV has a report:

Victoria Terminus railway statioin

Victoria Terminus railway statioin

Little is known about who is behind Wednesday’s deadly terror attack in Mumbai other than that they were highly-organized and willing to die for their cause.

The virtually-unknown group Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibly for the attack, which has killed at least 80 people.

“Deccan” is an area of India, while “Mujahideen” is the plural form of a Muslim participating in a jihad.

But terrorism experts say it is unlikely that an unknown terrorist group could carry out such a highly-organized and heavily-armed attack.

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For more on likely suspects click here, here, here and here.

Council on Foreign Relations has an excellent backgrounder on counter-terrorism in India written by Eben Kaplan and Jayshree Bajoria. Click here for the backgrounder.


Nothing is sacred, nobody is safe

November 27, 2008
In Mint, Vir Sanghvi, a former Mumbai resident, reacts to watching one of his city’s greatest symbols go up in flames
taj_mumbai1
Sometimes a single image has more impact than a hundred tragic stories. That’s how it was with the sight of the twin towers up in flames—symbols of American achievement reduced to rubble by the actions of a small group of jehadis. And that’s how I felt when I saw the dome of the Taj Mahal hotel blazing brightly in the Bombay night.
That image will stay with me for as long as I live. And I think it is forever etched in the minds of anybody who has ever lived in Bombay or loves this greatest of all Indian cities.
To understand the symbolism of the old Taj is to understand the ethos of Bombay. For three decades now, Bombay has been two different cities. The Bombay of the suburbs (defined as anywhere north of Worli or perhaps Parel) is the Bombay you read about: the Bombay of the film industry, the Bombay of many of the communal riots, the Bombay of the newly prosperous professional class, the Bombay of the new malls and the flashy restaurants, the Bombay of the factories and the Bombay of the new dons whose stories so fascinate novelists and the media.
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For more on the burning of this iconic Bombay hotel click here.

How US plotted to get UK’s most wanted terrorist

November 26, 2008

Heads of American and Pakistani security colluded in plot to kill Rashid Rauf. Kim Sengupta and Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:

rashidA secret meeting on board an American aircraft carrier between the US General David Petraeus and the head of the Pakistani military laid the foundation for the killing of Britain’s most wanted terrorist.

The Independent learnt that talks held on board the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf three months ago led to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani pledging to provide information on “high-value” targets such as Rashid Rauf, who died in a missile strike inside Pakistan on Saturday.

Senior UK security sources insisted that the lethal attack in North Waziristan on the 27-year-old Birmingham-born Rauf – accused of being involved in the plot to plant liquid bombs aboard transatlantic airliners – was “a unilateral American action” without any British involvement.

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The life and death of Rashid Rauf

The baker’s son from Birmingham was arrested in Pakistan over the 2006 plot to blow up commercial aircraft – and then escaped. Now, reports say, he has been killed by a US missile. Cole Moreton and Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:

The unmanned plane flew low over the mountains of Pakistan, controlled by a pilot in a darkened room thousands of miles away in the Nevada desert. He saw on his screen the target, a house on the edge of a village, and pulled the trigger that two seconds later told the drone aircraft to release a Hellfire missile.

The people in the house would not have known what was happening until it struck, just before dawn yesterday morning. Five of them died, reportedly including a man from Birmingham who was one of the world’s most wanted, Rashid Rauf. How had a 27-year-old former bakery delivery boy, who once took iced buns around the streets of Bordesley Green, come to be regarded as the mastermind of a deadly al-Qa’ida plot? What was the truth about his mysterious escape from police custody a year ago? And what was he doing there in North Waziristan, meeting such an extraordinary end?

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Ringed by foes, Pakistanis fear the US, too

November 23, 2008

There is an increasing belief among some Pakistanis that what the U.S. really wants is the breakup of Pakistan. Jane Perlez from Islamabad in the New York Times:

Above are sections of maps that opriginally accompanied a speculative June 2006 article by Ralph Peters in Armed Forces Journal that has concerned pakistanis.

A controversial imaging of borders: Above are sections of maps that opriginally accompanied a speculative June 2006 article by Ralph Peters in Armed Forces Journal that has concerned pakistanis.

A redrawn map of South Asia has been making the rounds among Pakistani elites. It shows their country truncated, reduced to an elongated sliver of land with the big bulk of India to the east, and an enlarged Afghanistan to the west.

That the map was first circulated as a theoretical exercise in some American neoconservative circles matters little here. It has fueled a belief among Pakistanis, including members of the armed forces, that what the United States really wants is the breakup of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear arms.

“One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan,” said a senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning, who insisted on anonymity as per diplomatic custom. “Some people feel the United States is colluding in this.”

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Godse’s war

November 10, 2008

What is the Abhinav Bharat? What is its agenda? Who are its members? The hardcore Hindu outfit with its ideological links to Veer Savarkar and Gopal Godse now has links, allegedly, with the army and this sets a dangerous precedent in its fight against terror writes Saikat Datta in Outlook.

The Malegaon blast site, September 29

The Malegaon blast site, September 29

Pune, once a shy retreat for pensioners, is now a booming business city-a second Mumbai just four hours by road from India’s commercial capital. Traditionally, it also has the reputation of being Maharashtra’s cultural and educational hub. But Pune has yet another side, being home to militant and ‘nationalistic’ Hindu ideologies for decades. Marathi Brahmin families scattered across the towns of western India suffered a backlash of sorts at the hands of pro-Congress Marathas and others after the Mahatma’s assassination. They mostly came and settled in Pune, an old Brahmin centre, carrying a deep resentment that runs through generations.

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Also in Outlook, an interview with Himani Savarkar, president of the Abhinav Bharat

Till 2000, Himani Savarkar was an architect. That’s when she discontinued her practice to become the president of the Hindu Mahasabha. The 61-year-old Himani lives in Pune and her hardline Hindutva roots are well-entrenched. She is the daughter of Gopal Godse, the brother of Nathuram Godse, and is married to Veer Savarkar’s nephew. Himani is also the president of the Abhinav Bharat. Some members of the organisation have been linked to the Malegaon bomb attack of September 29. Himani spoke to Outlook. Excerpts:
How did you become the president of Abhinav Bharat? I had known Sameer Kulkarni (the Maharashtra ATS has alleged that he was part of the team that provided logistic support for the Malegaon blasts) for quite some time. Like me, he was also part of the rss. When he decided to start Abhinav Bharat, he approached me to become its president and I accepted.

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What do you mean, bin Laden doesn’t exist?

November 6, 2008

Barack Obama must rethink America’s muddled strategy in Pakistan if he is to defeat the threat from militants. Anthony Loyd in the Times:

As Barack Obama’s face shone from a huge wide screen television into the officers’ mess at a Pakistani army fortress in Khar, in the tribal area of Bajaur, the room shook to heavy artillery blasting from gun positions at the gates. Barely a mile up the road Pakistani troops traded fire with Taleban raiding parties.

“I want to increase non-military aid,” Mr Obama, interviewed on CNN, announced to a handful of officers between explosions. “But we also have to help make the case that the biggest threat to Pakistan right now is not India, which has been their historical enemy, it is actually the militants within their own borders.”

The officers did not look overly convinced, despite the shenanigan outside.

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Obama and the (bleep) K word

November 4, 2008

Hours before the American people decide on their next President, Democrat presidential candidate (and front-runner) Barack Obama hit a raw nerve in India with his comments on Kashmir. “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants,” Obama told Rachel Maddow of MSNBC in response to a question on why he believed more American troops were needed in Afghanistan.

India, always prickly about third party intervention (its stand is that Kashmir is an ‘internal problem’ that is nobody’s business but its own) was quick to respond. Defence and security analyst C Raja Mohan warned in The Indian Express: “If Obama’s Kashmir thesis becomes the policy, many negative consequences might ensue.”

Officially, India has downplayed Obama’s Kashmir comments. But BJP party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said they were “an unwarranted interference in India’s internal affairs”.

Obama’s statement has been welcomed by Kashmiri separatists, including the Kashmiri American Council

Obama’s stand on Kashmir — and his view that the solution to Afghanistan lies in Pakistan both because al Qaeda and the Taliban are based there and also because it suits Pakistan to back Islamic militants against India — are not particularly new. Obama visited Afghanistan in July and had at the time also voiced his opinion on the need for the US to work towards improving relationships between India and Pakistan.

Read the transcript of Barack Obama’s interview here.


The success of the home-made bomb

September 21, 2008

Every month up to 300 improvised explosive devices are detonated somewhere in the world – and that’s outside Iraq and Afghanistan. Billions are being spent to find the technology to beat the home-made bomb – but the terrorists are always one step ahead. Philip Jacobson in The Sunday Times:

The Marriot Hotel burns after a suspected suicide car-bomb attack in Islamabad on September 20, 2008. Reuters

The Marriot Hotel burns after a suspected suicide car-bomb attack in Islamabad on September 20, 2008. Reuters

Jordan Spurlin’s riveting home movie opens with him at the wheel of a US army Humvee barrelling along a rubbish-strewn street in Baghdad. The radio is crackling with reports from other units patrolling in the same area, where the risk of being ambushed by insurgent fighters is high. Suddenly the vehicle rocks and the view from the dashboard-mounted video camera becomes blurred, while debris bounces off the reinforced windscreen. Spurlin knew immediately that his squad had been targeted by what the military designate as an improvised explosive device (IED), triggered by remote control. In the 10 months he had spent driving Humvees in Iraq, he had survived three previous attacks by roadside bombs.

“Right when it hits, you feel a blast wave come across you, then you hear the sound – you hear the actual explosion itself – and your head gets blown back,” Spurlin recalled. “You’re looking away and all the time you’re thinking, ‘I hope I’m all right.'” His tape, shown on CBS, vividly captures the moment the rest of the soldiers in the Humvee realise that nobody has been hurt. “Whooo-eee,” one shouts. “Wow, I have a f***in’ headache,” another exclaims. Then Spurlin’s voice is heard observing: “Hey, that’s four.” Evidently undeterred, the young man from Alaska later signed up for another tour of duty.

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Shootout in New Delhi

September 19, 2008

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

Days after a series of bombs went off in the Indian Capital’s elite markets, killing 20 and injuring another 90 people, Delhi police had a ‘fierce exchange’ of fire with suspected militants bang in the middle of the city’s Muslim-dominated Jamia Nagar.

Police officials said two suspected militants — including one called Atiq, a suspect in the Delhi (and earlier, Ahmedabad) bomb blasts, were shot dead, one was arrested and two managed to escape. Two policemen were injured in the same encounter. For details on that story click here and here.

In Jamia Nagar, tension ran high as rumours went wild. Journalists reported that local residents in Jamia Nagar were incensed after hearing a rumour that the shootout was staged from one of the localities 18 mosques. Elsewhere, there were questions about whether this was another ‘fake’ encounter Delhi police are notorious for, particularly as the government (and its home minister Shivraj Patil) have come under some severe criticism for its Intelligence failure to prevent the Delhi blasts (and the preceding 13 blasts over the past four years).

Meanwhile, in an earlier post on his blog The Delhi Walla, journalist Mayank Austen Soofi describes Jamia Nagar as Delhi’s ‘rich Muslim ghetto’, home to the Batla House bazaar with all-night henna shops and the world-class Jamia Millia Islamia University.

In front of the university library

In front of the university library

Jamia Nagar conjures up the image of either the pristine campus of Jamia Millia University with its parks and ponds, trees and benches, ducks and koyals, or the cramped colonies packed with claustrophobic apartments, uncovered drains, and pot-holed roads. It is one of the city’s many religious-ethnic enclaves, much like Chittaranjan Park (Bengalis) and Tikak Nagar(Sikhs), where Delhi shows its class and religious divides.
Jamia Nagar is a ten-minute drive from one of city’s major business hubs, Nehru Place. Yamuna, flowing just behind Shaheen Bagh, looks surprisingly clean.

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And, finally, my column in Mint looks at living under the shadow of death in India’s capital. While political parties seek to score brownie points against each other, life goes on for ordinary people — scared, vulnerable yet faced with the gritty reality of having to survive and make a living.

My younger daughter, aged 13, had laid out the clothes she was going to wear for Sunday’s early morning Terry Fox run. The plan was to get to her school early on Sunday morning where she would join her classmates to run for the cancer awareness-raising event and then round it off with lunch with a group of friends at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Connaught Place.

By 6.30pm on Saturday, when images of the bomb blasts began beaming into our living room, her clothes were back in her cupboard, plans abandoned. Don’t panic, said Delhi chief minister Shiela Dikshit on television. “I’m not panicking,” I explained to my teenager. “I’m just not letting you out of the house tomorrow.”

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“They threatened to kill us…”

August 29, 2008

Three militants were shot dead and six hostages freed in the Jammu area of Kashmir. Two women and four children were rescued, but the militants had killed three male hostages. Read the story of the children in The Indian Express:

Sheetal, Arshil, Kajal and Vipan would like to forget Wednesday as quickly as possible, but they probably never will. Three militants in khaki who locked the children in a room and threatened to put bullets in their heads if they so much as wept have, in 17 blood-soaked hours, scarred them for life.

A day of gunfire and trauma came to an end with six bodies being taken out of Billu Ram Bhagat’s yellow two-storey house on the outskirts of Jammu some time before midnight. Three of the dead were killers of the other three – Billu’s tenant and his children’s tutor Ashok Kumar, the family’s neighbour Sandeep Singh Chib, and Military Intelligence Jawan Sham Murari who had followed the militants to the house.

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Home and away

August 29, 2008

Pradeep Magazine, a Kashmiri Hindu, remembers his life in the Muslim-dominated valley and wonders why things turned out so wrong. From Hindustan Times:

To be a Kashmiri and a Hindu can be a painful experience these days. To which side of the divide do we belong? The answer is taken for granted and in this fight between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between Hindu and Muslim, I am supposed to articulate the agony of exile, the religious persecution of ‘us’, minorities, and fight for my homeland from which we have been thrown out through ‘violent’ means.

These are questions that are not easy to answer, especially by someone whose father migrated from the Valley in the early 60s to better his economic prospects. I am a migrant like a large number of Kashmiris who had been moving out of the Valley into mainland India for many decades now, as there were not many jobs back home for want of any economic development.

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A Jihad Grows in Kashmir

Pankaj Mishra in The New York Times:

For more than a week now, hundreds of thousands of Muslims have filled the streets of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-ruled Kashmir, shouting “azadi” (freedom) and raising the green flag of Islam. These demonstrations, the largest in nearly two decades, remind many of us why in 2000 President Bill Clinton described Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan, as “the most dangerous place on earth.”

Mr. Clinton sounded a bit hyperbolic back then. Dangerous, you wanted to ask, to whom? Though more than a decade old, the anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir, which Pakistan’s rogue intelligence agency had infiltrated with jihadi terrorists, was not much known outside South Asia. But then the Clinton administration had found itself compelled to intervene in 1999 when India and Pakistan fought a limited but brutal war near the so-called line of control that divides Indian Kashmir from the Pakistani-held portion of the formerly independent state.

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Azaadi (freedom)

August 24, 2008

Arundhati Roy visits Kashmir in Outlook

For the past sixty days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half-a-million heavily-armed soldiers in the most densely militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government’s worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage.

This one is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been ‘disappeared’, hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, raped and humiliated. That kind of rage, once it finds utterance, cannot easily be tamed, re-bottled and sent back to where it came from.

[Azaadi means freedom]

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The future of ‘the long war’

August 14, 2008

Want to know what western elites are thinking about global terrorism? Head to the Kennedy School of Government. Iason Athanasiadis in The Guardian:

A course about al-Qaida and the rise of international terrorism was one of the most popular last term at Harvard’s elite Kennedy School of Government. The international students crowding into the school’s largest auditorium for the twice-weekly classes were a cross-section of Americans, Europeans and Middle Easterners, including current members of the US army and intelligence community on sabbatical leave. Simply attending it gave me a sense of where tomorrow’s western and westernised elites stand vis-a-vis “the long war”.

The instructor for the course was Peter Bergen, the journalist who bagged Osama bin Laden’s first face-to-face interview on CNN. In the 1990s, long before Islamist activism dominated the thinking of western intelligence organisations, Peter Bergen interviewed several jihadist in the Middle East and Europe about their views. His book, The Osama Bin Laden I Know, made him sought-after in the aftermath of September 11, as his international relations colleagues scrambled to shed backgrounds in Soviet studies and switch to the geopolitics of the Middle East. Bergen became a transnational terrorism analyst who challenged the tendency to lump all terrorists into one group. Instead, he classified them by generation, regional provenance and the conflict that shaped their intellectual outlook.

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Foreign Policy: The Failed States Index 2008

July 1, 2008

While the bulk of Failed States are located in Africa, South Asia doesn’t fare much better with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, at #7, 9 and 12 (Bangladesh and Burma tied at #12) respectively, making the grade. Sri Lanka weighs in the annual list at #20, while Nepal figures at #23 and Bhutan, which just embarked on its road to democracy registering at 51 of the List’s 60 Failed States.

Both Pakistan and Bangladesh registered a fall from last year’s status, with Bangladesh featuring the worst fall of all Failed States, set off by postponed elections, deadlocked government and the continuance of emergency rule that has dragged on for 18 months (not to mention November’s devastating cyclone which left 1.5 million people homeless). Nearby Pakistan didn’t do much better with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

For the complete list and the whole story in Foreign Policy click here.


War without end

June 29, 2008

The last time he visited Sri Lanka, it was two days after the Boxing Day tsunami had struck. Yet among the devastation, a shaky ceasefire between Tamil rebels and government forces seemed to offer a glimmer of hope. So what went wrong? Euan Ferguson returns to find an island paradise once again torn apart by conflict. From The Observer:

Hard not to laugh, for a brief second, when you’re told about Claymore landmines. I am being told of them by a helpful young Sri Lankan near a military checkpoint, who is making a fairly compelling case not to be stupid by waiting till dark and dancing off around the guns and into the jungle. But I’m quietly laughing because I have just learned that the Claymore – shaped like a fat, convex, olive-green laptop with little legs to bury in the ground – has embossed writing on the business end. What the writing says is: ‘Front towards Enemy.’

Even the arms industry, apparently, can’t help but pap-feed us with health and safety disclaimers. And one of the most effective counters to tripwires, it turns out, is Silly String, which lands on the wires in all its gaudy, giveaway colours, without detonating them. The most inhuman, anonymous, cowardly, deadly weasels of modern warfare, and they come with safety warnings, and they’re battled by streamers designed more normally for parties featuring jelly. Hard not to laugh. Briefly.

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