The attack on Mumbai last week is being called `India’s 9/11,’ and rightly so. Like the bumbling Bush administration, India’s government ignored warnings of impending attack and reacted with confusion and ineptitude.
Equally important, the attacks that left some 173 dead and over 300 wounded, were clearly designed, like 9/11, to strike at India’s economy. Mumbai is the center of India’s business and a symbol of its spectacular 9% growth rate in recent years. Foreign investors are going to think twice about investing in India after last weeks horrors.
I have stayed at the hotels that were attacked: Mumbai’s Oberoi and the venerable Taj Mahal. The Islamabad Marriot, where I have stayed for 25 years, was destroyed in September by a truck bomb.
The Mumbai massacre is the most recent sign that the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir, and terrorist attacks in western India, are beginning to merge into something bigger and even more dangerous.
The seaborne raid, which India claims was launched from Pakistan, appeared to have twin goals. First, to punish and humiliate India over the Kashmir conflict. Kashmir is India’s only Muslim majority state. India has 500,000 troops and paramilitary units fighting Muslim Kashmiri independence-seekers. The brutal, 19-year old struggle there has left at least 40,000 dead, mostly Muslims.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars over divided Kashmir since 1947. Clashes between Pakistani and Indian forces along the Kashmir cease-fire line are frequent. I have been under fire on the border – known as the `Line of Control’ – numerous times.
The Mumbai attacker’s hunt for Britons and Americans also suggested revenge for intensifying US bombing of villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal zone that was recently denounced even by Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s US-installed leader.
Last June, 41 people died when India’s Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was blown up. India immediately blamed Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, and accused its agents of recent bombings in Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmadabad, and Bangalore. Islamabad denies these charges and accuses India’s spy agency, RAW, of bombings in Pakistan’s frontier tribal zone and Karachi.
On the surface, Indian-Pakistani relations have been improving under US pressure. But that was an illusion.
While Indian and Pakistani leaders were making nice to one another, India was rapidly expanding its influence into Afghanistan. Large numbers of Indian intelligence agents are now operating in Afghanistan. In addition, India is arming and financing the anti-Pakistan North Alliance and the old Afghan Communist Party, and has just opened an air base in neighboring Tajikistan.
Washington does not want Pakistan distracted by its old feud with India over Kashmir or India’s machinations in Afghanistan, which Pakistan considers its back yard. The US has rented 130,000 Pakistani Army troops to fight Pashtun tribesmen along the Northwest Frontier who are supporting their Taliban cousins in Afghanistan. Indian threats of retaliation for the Mumbai attacks could force Pakistan to redeploy these troops to its eastern border with India, exposing already vulnerable US supply lines to more attacks.
India insists Kashmiri and Pakistani extremists groups – it names 36 – are backed by ISI in an effort to destabilize India.
Recently, Hindu extremists linked to the neo-fascist RSS and Shiv Sena movements have begun attacking Indian Muslims and Christians. Add to this witch’s brew vicious Hindu and Muslim gangsters known as `goondas’ who terrorize and extort India’s violence-plagued big cities.
Regional secessionist plague India’s south and east, and some Sikh’s still struggle for independence. Some of these groups are discreetly supported by Pakistan. Naxalites, a Marxist revolutionary movement of landless peasants, remains one of India’s major internal security threats.
India and Pakistan’s large arsenals of nuclear-armed missiles and strike aircraft are on a hair-trigger alert. The ongoing Indo-Pak confrontation, which I warned about a decade ago in my book, `War at the Top of the World,’ is the world’s most dangerous nuclear threat. President-elect Barack Obama has laudably vowed to seek a settlement of the six-decade Kashmir conflict.
India’s 155 million Muslims have been largely passive and avoided violence. But there a growing belief among some young Indian Muslims that they are second class citizens, oppressed, and denied any part of India’s economic boom. Many were radicalized by the horrible pogrom in 2002 in the state of Gujarat in which up to 3,000 Muslims were massacred, many burned alive by Hindu mobs egged on by right wing Hindu politicians.
Small numbers of young Indian Muslims, infected by bin Laden’s jihadist philosophy, are turning to violence in spite of Delhi’s modest efforts to be responsive to Muslim demands and concerns.
The relentless expansion of the US-led Afghan conflict is dangerously destabilizing already turbulent Pakistan. As India and Pakistan intensify their proxy struggle to dominate Afghanistan, bankrupt Pakistan is being bribed by Washington to wage war on its own Pashtun tribal people who oppose the western occupation of neighboring Afghanistan.
Violence in Kashmir is again on the rise. Indian crackdowns on both violent and non-violent Kashmiri Muslim independence-seekers have recently intensified.
India’s patience is wearing thin. But after a decade of terrorist attacks, it still lacks a well defined target for revenge or a way of preventing them. Delhi is now claiming that the Kashmiri independence movement, Lashkar Toiba, was behind the attack. This is, in fact, quite possible, though in the past Lashkar has been quick to take responsibility for its attacks. Lashkar gunmen staged deadly suicide attacks on India’s parliament in 2001. But Lashkar denies involvement in the Mumbai massacre
Delhi has also long claimed that Lashkar and two similar militant Kashmiri independence groups, Jaish e Mohammed and Lashkar Jangvi, are armed, trained and financed by Pakistan’s ISI intelligence. They certainly were, as I saw while inspecting Lashkar training camps in Pakistani Kashmir. But Pakistan’s former dictator, Pervez Musharraf, cut off officially support in 2002 under US pressure. However, it is very likely that secret links still exist between the Pakistani Army and ISI with the Kashmiri militant groups.
However, it defies credulity that Pakistan’s current feeble, bankrupt government, which is wholly dependent on US handouts, would stage a monster provocation against India. But there are many groups in Pakistan who want to see their nation cease aiding the US war in Afghanistan and return to the struggle to free Kashmir of Indian rule.
If Delhi concludes that elements from Pakistan were behind the Mumbai massacre, it will either have to keep the finding secret or else take action. Indians are understandably demanding revenge and the Congress Party-led coalition is facing elections against the resurgent, Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is beating the war drums against Pakistan.
India could launch air strikes against militant training camps in Kashmir, or even send its increasingly powerful navy to blockade Pakistan’s main port, Karachi. Pakistan has only six days worth of oil reserves. After that, it will run dry.
Whatever India does, it must use extreme caution. Both nation’s nuclear forces are going on high alert. In the current supercharged atmosphere, a confrontation could easily get out of hand, leading to major military clashes that lead to a nuclear exchange.