Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mumbai mayhem & the fall out on Pakistan By Shamim-ur-Rahman

Mumbai mayhem & the fall out on Pakistan By Shamim-ur-Rahman

The author is a Senior Correspondent of Daily Dawn - Karachi - Pakistan

The human tragedy that took away about 200 lives in four days of terrorist attack and hostage taking in India's financial capital will be remembered for long not only due its fallout on the Indian society but also as a diabolic conspiracy to push the two arch nuclearized rivals to the brink of war—apparently due to some irresponsible media reporting by the Indian media and jingoistic blame game encouraged by the intelligence agencies who apparently failed to neutralize this threat to Indian security.

In the aftermath of the tragedy it was reported, quoting Indian leadership, that New Delhi had ordered troop mobilization. It rapidly pushed the two countries to the brink of war. Islamabad sharply reacted and highly placed security sources declared that if that happened Pakistan will pull out its troops from the Western borderlands. However good sense prevailed, perhaps due to serious indulgence of extra-regional stake holders, and that possibility that might have ignited the disastrous world war was averted for the time being. India refuted the media report of troop mobilization and both the countries got engaged in putting their own house in order. But how long this brinkmanship can save the situation?

Many heads rolled in India, as it immediately engaged in rethinking its security doctrine and taking measure for a new integrated security apparatus. It also exposed Pakistan's political leadership's inability to respond to the crisis situation in a cool and pragmatic way as India exhibited its arrogance of a regional influential following strategic partnership with the US. It compounded the threat perception. The off the cuff declaration to send the ISI chief on the summoning of the Indian authorities was one such decision that clearly exposed the increasing uneasiness between the political and military leadership.

But just like the political leadership demonstrated its lack of maturity, military's reaction to pull out troops from the Western borderlands was also careless, though it reflected the popular aspirations of the Pakistanis. In view of the reported Indian presence in Afghanistan and the alleged involvement in the tribal areas and in abetting some Baloch nationalists, as claimed by the security apparatus, perhaps that is exactly what the Indians want us to do so that they can have a free hand in the pacification of the area and cutting across Balochistan, initiating balkanization of the country. Their insistence that terrorists came from the sea is perhaps aimed at justifying the stepped up presence of the Indian Navy close to Pakistani waters, and when the need arise, establish a bridge head with the forces operating from the hinterland. They want to convert Arabian Sea into their lake, to begin with. This element must have been taken into

One should not forget that the incident occurred while the US President-elect Obama was in the process of finalizing his own foreign policy options and Indians might use this to convince him to endorse their security doctrine.

While efforts were still on to cool down temperatures between Pakistan and India, threat still persists as the Indian and Western media continue to calling it India's 9/11, without underscoring its chilling ramifications. Remember the Bush Administration had attacked Afghanistan. Was Mumbai a prelude to a surgical operation of that nature by India? Only time will tell. But relentless diplomatic efforts must remain the top priority and the government and the opposition parties here should take this as a challenge to galvanize the nation and also completely revisit its security policy especially in the context of war on terror. Security policy must be to serve Pakistan's interests and not of someone else.

Having said that many questions have emerged from the Indian media reporting of the tragic incident. The moment terrorists resorted to indiscriminate killing of innocent people and hostage taking fingers were pointed at Pakistan and elements operating from here, without even knowing who they were and how they sneaked into Mumbai despite heavy security.

Many Indian security operatives and experts, including anchors added fuel to the fire in what appeared to be a well orchestrated line. Even some of the Western TV anchors could not hide their bias and fixation on Islamophobia, ISI and Al Qaeda. It was also surprising that CNN and BBC remained hooked live to report the incident which they repeatedly projected as India's 9/11. Was it just a coincidence?

Was it also a coincidence that Israeli commandos and elements of MI5 were also present in the Jewish Centre where the unfortunate Rabbi and his wife and some others were killed? If it is correct then what were they doing there?

What was the objective of the terrorists whom the former RAW chief Vikram Sood described as "well trained persons, familiar with their surroundings and the task to be accomplished almost commando like in their training. They were either planning to drop their weapons after the act and melt into the crowd or go down fighting". Perhaps he rightly hinted at the motive when he said "The game is simple—the longer the crisis lasts the greater the publicity and greater the pressure on the government to do something. It will take consummate skill and determination to overcome the crisis with minimal loss of innocent lives".

The Indian intelligence experts were focusing on the stereotype threat perception based on status quo and involvement of ISI and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. Certainly the way the Indian media reported along with the international media, it provided New Delhi the opportunity to malign Pakistan to the hilt.

The terrorist attack took place while the Indian's in some of the states were going through the electoral process amid charged atmosphere, often cutting across the communal lines. Indians claim it was aimed at destroying investor's confidence, paralyzing government and political process, and provoke communal backlash and demoralizing the Indian people.

Some Indian media reported that terrorists were of Pakistani origin and came by sea to Mumbai. It was also reported that two of them had British identity, though it was played down by the Indian and Western media. Their number has been put between 16 and 25. They allegedly were dropped by two Pakistani ships to move into the target area on small rubber boats. They eventually killed many people and kept one of the finest commando outfits of the Indian military at bay for almost four days. They walked into the target area as if they have been living there for ages. The attack of this magnitude must have involved extensive rehearsal many times and insiders' involvement and local support.

An unidentified Indian intelligence official was quoted as saying that during the siege; the militants have been using non-Indian cell phones and receiving calls from outside the country, evidence that in part led Indian officials to speak publicly about the militants' external ties. They even claimed that the email claiming responsibility by the Deccan Mujahideen originated from Pakistan

There were conflicting reports that suggested they had arrived in Mumbai many days before and had even rented a house and had done their homework very well. So the contention that they came by sea and immediately went on a rampage is questionable.

But the question is how these terrorists could go undetected especially when the Indian Navy and Coast Guard were engaged in an exercise for defending the sea-board.

Indian intelligence officials reportedly said they had prior information of a sea-borne terrorist attack on Mumbai and that they had passed this information to the IN and Coast Guards and the state police. One cannot expect the Indian Navy to be so naive because they are very quick in apprehending the Pakistani fishermen near the Pakistani waters and coast. If they had come by two boats how could they carry so much of weapons for a well planned long operation?

Mr M.K.Dhar former joint director IBI told a TV channel that "we had information that terrorists would take the sea route but the state police perhaps did not take appropriate action". But neither the IN nor the CG could confirm this version and the state police was blamed for inaction, though the chief of Anti-Terrorist Squad Hemant Karkare was the first, and perhaps the prime target of the terrorists.

When we look at the reported number of the terrorists—16 to 25—the first question comes to one's mind how such a handful of people could attack and take hostages at more than one place at a time and keep the well trained and equipped Indian commandos pinned down for almost four days. One is also baffled at the claim that the terrorists had set up control room at Taj and had even booked rooms as guest in that hotel. But how could they smuggle in so much of weapons in such a short time when they reportedly landed from a rubber boat and went on a rampage? Why these terrorists did not cover their face while carrying automatic weapons. We don't see any credible attempt by the Indian security authorities to engage the terrorists in negotiations after they took hostages and allegedly demanded release of "mujahideen". Why they did not open the negotiating channel for seeking release of hostages and saving many lives?

The Indian security forces were mainly interested in projecting their ability to combat terrorism, for which many of them blamed elements in Pakistan—in a prime time globally televised operation. Was it necessary to get all the terrorists killed to establish their links with Pakistan through their questionable IDs. They later claimed apprehending one terrorist alive who they said received training in Azad Kashmir and naval training in Karachi and belonged to some place called Faridkot in Pakistan. Their claim that he belonged to Faridkot was also confusing because immediately it points to a city in East Punjab north of Bhatinda. Of course there are a few villages of same name in Pakistan. But they are very small, about whom not even Pakistanis know well.

Besides taking hostage the terrorists killed people of different nationalities, though not of high profile. It appears that their objective was to send their message to the world at large. But it could also be a tool to further alienate the international community from Pakistan and for increasing pressure on Islamabad. Perhaps it laid the basis for neutralizing international community's opposition to any future surgical operation against Pakistan.

Despite the fact that ATS chief Hemant Karkare was gunned down by the terrorists in their initial salvo, the Indian media played down the possibility of involvement of the gang operating under command of a serving Lieutenant Colonel Prashad Srikant Purohit and a Hindu monk and nun, have been arrested along with 10 people over alleged involvement in bomb explosions that killed four people in the Muslim-dominated town of Malegaon in the western Maharashtra state in India. The network is linked to another arrested former major Ramesh Upadhyay who represents the terrorist organisation Abhinav Bharat.

Given that Lt Col Purohit was working in the Military Intelligence Directorate, the possibility of the intelligence agencies having been tainted can hardly be ignored.

The accused Lt Col Purohit is also being investigated over a bomb attack in February 2007 that killed 68 people on the Samjhauta Express, between Delhi and Lahore, killing mostly Pakistani passengers. Investigators fear that the trail will go on to net more serving and retired officers.

According to reports the colonel has confessed to the Samjhauta Express blast and foreclosed the "options" of "conspiracy" screamed by some Hindutva politicians. Col Purohit has also confessed to training Hindu terrorists who had taken to attacking Muslims and has told investigators that he not only trained the Samjhauta Express terrorists, he also supplied them with the explosives to do the job. The intent he says was to cause armed conflict between Pakistan and India so that anti-Muslim passions could be nurtured in India, leading to violence. Perhaps the credible Indian media will now focus on this aspect and unearth the conspiracy within to topple Indian democracy.

Indian analysts are now worried about this threat directed against Muslims and Christian communities in India. The BJP has been wooing officers and brought into its fold many former generals, giving them tickets to contest elections for Lok Sabha. One former general affiliated with the BJP is a chief minister and one former governor S K Sinha stirred communal passions to a point where the Indian Held Kashmir is up in protest against New Delhi.

It is time that now that a connection between the Indian army and the Hindu fundamentalist has been discovered, New Delhi adopted a new policy that reduces focus on Pakistan as the origin of all such violence in India.

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