Mumbai: messages from the global terrorism
Valeria FIORANI PIACENTINI
The reactions at both a political and press level and of the intelligentsia (scholars, analysts etc.,) have been among the most varied, not free from polemics among themselves, often also harsh.
The Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, Dr. Muhammad Sabah al-Salem Al-Sabah, has bitterly condemned the attacks on the Indian commercial city, when he met a group of Kuwaiti citizens at the airport of Kuwait City – hostages in one of the hotels of Mumbai – escaped from the massacre. Interviewed, in the heat of the moment, he defined the attacks as “crimes against humanity and Islam”, adding that, “If those who carried out the attacks did so in the name of Islam, well then, Islam is better off without them”.
Equally hard declarations of condemnation were issued by all the heads of the Moslem States, who, likewise, formally expressed their solidarity with the Indian Government and their appreciation of the decisive intervention of the Special Corps. Also Salaphite circles and the press of radical tendencies, in their turn, openly denounced the terrorist attacks of Mumbai, condemning it “in toto”, as an attack that “cost the lives of hundreds of innocent citizens, and where foreign citizens were used as human shields – for objectives which have nothing to do with Islam, invoking completely unacceptable ideologies”
Statements that can be read in the different Moslem web sites are rather motley, some of which leave room for varying interpretations, from the Malaysian (Professor Abdullah al-Ahsan, who lingered over an analysis of the attack on the centre of the “Ultra-orthodox” Lubavitch to Nariman House), to the Norwegian (Dr. Sindre Bangstad, Associate Professor at the Oslo University College).
The editorial of Faryal Leghari – researcher ‘Security & Terrorism Studies – on the “Gulf Research Center-Analysis”, of the 4th of December, 2008, was particularly interesting. The analyst furnishes, with detached objectivity and precision of information – as is her style – the growth of terrorist episodes from 18th August, 2008, the day of the resignation of President Musharraf. She underlines how the spiral of the economic crisis, inflation, famine and lack of food supplies have fuelled much violence in an atmosphere of growing political instability and renewed tension between the “Judicial”, the different Pakistani political forces, the Army and the ISI; tensions which have played negatively on the generous financial-economic interventions of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and even Oman. In this difficult situation, local militant organizations of various origins have restructured themselves, contributing to worsen the already critical circumstances of the tribal areas of Kashmir. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are perfectly aware of this instability and consider it a formidable force of pressure to overturn the pro-American politics of the post-Musharraf policy-makers and as a deterrent from the perseverance of militant actions against them. Faryal Leghari analyzes the various attacks, from both the strategic and tactical viewpoints, and the strong emotive and psychological impact they are having on the civil society, exhausted by the growing state of insecurity, disorder and the economic precipice, faced with a government that does not spare expenses for continual trips abroad and non-priority investments: a government that has reached a complete impasse and takes no political initiative directed to resolve this emergency, but continues to occupy itself with the management of power, “permitting unnecessary bombardments by the U.S. Forces on Pakistan territory, with consequent grave problems for the civil population”. This is the picture, by now, no longer only ideological, from which the new militant forces draw support.
Many more have written and spoken of the “horrors” of Mumbai, from Ahmed Rashid to Nazanin Shahrokni (Berkely University), from Tarek Fatah (The Calgary Herald, also author of “Chasing a Mirage”: The Tragic Illusion of an Islam State” – Wiley), to Mirza A Beg and Shafique N. Virani, from Doug Sanders (Columnist of The Globe and Mail, Canada) to GLORIA (Israel), Y. Tzvi Langermann (Bar Ilan University, Israel) and Yoram Schaweitzer (director of the “Terrorism Project” at the University of Tel Aviv – Institute for National Security Studies, and editorialist of the Maariv). And the list could continue to infinity, including also authoritative Italian voices like Stefano Silvestri (IAI – Rome).
Strategy and tactics: a new form of terrorism?
What can be added? The co-ordinated attacks on the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Oberoi Hotel of Mumbai and on other neuralgic points of the Indian industrial and commercial center were not “exceptional” attacks from the point of view of planning, execution, randomness, but they depart from the schema as far as root objectives and motivations are concerned: in other words: “who” is behind the planning and execution of the attacks, beyond the simple underlings who just carry out the orders. Only time and a detailed analysis will be able to furnish more solid elements on which to make a real reconstruction.
The group of the Mujahedin of the Deccan – which immediately claimed responsibility for the entire operation – is little, if at all, known, and very probably, it is doubtful whether they could have planned such a complex operation alone. An attack of this size ( the kind which is called a mega-attack, today) requires, in fact, a strategy directed to a very precise objective, an intelligent, expert and meticulous planning – also according to the English acceptance of intelligence i.e. “knowledge of the ground and territory”, quality and professionalism in the implementation, sophisticated arms and equipment, perfect synchronization, ability and discipline in both command and execution i.e. a meticulous training, and – an essential factor not to be neglected - huge investments and powerful financial availability. All these elements seem to indicate that the organization at the root was not composed of “novices”, but rather of people with experience tested by similar attacks: ability which cannot be expected from young local groups on their first proof of ability.
With regard to the other group, the Lashkar-and-Taiba, the subject becomes more interesting. It deals with a well-known group, with base in Pakistan, trained for terrorist operations on the ideological basis of Jihadist militancy. It seems that the first cells date back to the end of the 19th Century and are connected to the Islamic religious school of Deoband and to the ideology of the incompatibility and perpetual hostility between the Hindus and the Moslems. It is the so-called theory “of the two nations”, that which in 1947 – on the remains of the pearl of the English colonies – led to the birth of the two distinct States: India and Pakistan. It is still today, the ideology that legitimates the existence of Pakistan, and still today, it is taught to the children at school, with the words of Muhammad Ali Jinna (“Father of the Pakistani Homeland”). Independence led to the artificial division of certain traditional provinces, such as Punjab and Sind and to contentious cases, yet unsolved, such as Kashmir. Strong tensions were created (in the case of Kashmir, three wars were fought), and in the climate that followed – in which also the Cold War was not unrelated – various groups of militants were organized with the objective of destabilizing the adversary. The Lashkar went into action in Punjab, used in anti-Indian activity and support to the Pakistani claims to the entire Kashmir. During the Cold War, they received substantial aid and training from the Zia ul-Haqq regime – tolerated, if not benevolently assisted by the United States in anti-Soviet activity in Afghanistan. It was in the 80’s of the last Century that the Lashkar and similar groups better organized themselves: rooting themselves deeply in the territory and in the local emotional breeding ground, becoming political forces of militancy and influencing the elections and affairs of the Country.
The Lashkar even reached the point of evoking a “global Caliphate” – old motive of the school of Deoband – which was to be able to unify the entire world under the banner of Islam. It was bombastic rhetoric in which probably the leaders themselves did not believe. Nevertheless, it had success and contributed to the mobilization of the ever-growing number of young people, above all, from the poorer levels of the population. The Saudi financing goes back to this period. However, very soon, things began to escape the control of the Pakistani Regime. By the end of the Cold War, the Lashkar had training camps both in the Pakistan Punjab around Lahore (it seems that their H.Q’s are at Muridke) and Afghanistan. In this last war theatre, they have given both military and ideological support to the Taliban forces, and, probably continue to do so, especially, in European and Pakistani territory. With regard to Punjab, they have always served the strategic interests of the Pakistani State, above all, in the Kashmiri theatre against the Indian Forces, fighting for a Jammu & Kashmir sovereign, independent of both Pakistan and India. It is said they enjoy the benevolent “indifference” of both the ISI and the Army, if not their open support, although the Pakistani Government maintain they have outlawed this movement. Nevertheless, signs exist that indicate that the Lashkar groups continue to operate under the new “label” of Jama’at al-Dawa’, the website of which is easily accessible on the Internet. Propaganda leaflets and newspapers continue to be published and are easily obtained, especially on the streets of Lahore. It is estimated that several thousands copies are also circulated outside of the Country, in the English, Arabic and Urdu languages. Their present ideology is strongly anti-Indian and anti-Hindu, but they do not hesitate to attack also the followers of those movements more inclined to a settlement of the disputes with India, defining the movements as not genuinely Islamic. The precipitating of the political, social and economic crisis of the Country – so well analyzed by Leghari – has only given material and ideological force to this movement, which from the very misery and poverty draws its best recruits.
And now let us come to Al Qaeda and its ties with the Lashkar. Certainly, collusion is not lacking, as we have already said. Even though it is not exactly clear whether it has a direct involvement with Al Qaeda, nevertheless, it cannot be excluded, especially if one looks at the possible targets and the possibility of self-financing the entire operation (the narco-traffic). However, although the Mumbai attacks were indiscriminate, very choreographic, highly lethal and of the kind organized by Al Qaeda, two essential elements are lacking: (1) the suicide bombers, the principal trade-mark of the organization. (2) In addition, even if it is not yet clarified whether the intention to barricade themselves with hostages in both the two hotels and in the Nariman House was part of the original plan, if the attackers had been from the Al Qaeda, they would have asked – as is their habit – the release of their comrades held in Guantanamo, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as the liberation of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and detention camps. In fact, Al Qaeda is perfectly well aware how this kind of request arouses strong sympathy and agreement in both Arabic and Islamic ambits.
Vice versa, certain schemes seem to recall other systems already adopted in various battle theatres around the world (including Europe), such as the attack at Luxor (Egypt) of 1998, and others: large number of casualties, no ransom request for hostages; combination of lighting attacks and barricading in fortified positions; frontal fighting between military units and guerrilla cells in urban centres…. Substantially, the strategy remains the same, certain tactics change a little. Examples: the nuclear danger, if this should fall into the hands of irresponsible subjects (India has adhered to the ABT, Pakistan, not yet); the possibility of requests for more sophisticated arms (including non-conventional); a model of escalation of the global Jihad, always more aimed at direct interference in the internal affairs of other Countries.
The Mumbai attacks – on immediate consideration - seem to have had a list of very precise targets, and identifiable beyond the mere physical damage and the elevated number of casualties. And many of these targets seem to lead to India itself and its internal problems.
On the one side, the Mumbai attacks follow on a series of attacks in various regions of the Country, New Delhi included, and on signs of diffused malcontent throughout the Indian population. On the other side, they are distinctly different for their organization, training, arms employed, professionalism planning and execution of the entire operation, including the recruitment of the basic fighting power and the perfect knowledge of the ground of action. It seems much more likely that they fall within what is conventionally called the global terrorism made up of mega-attacks, in other words of attacks which – choreographically planned – and blown up by the media, are brought into every home around the world. Mumbai has the trade-mark of a vast ring of similar attacks, not only local and, not last, also those of Madrid and London. As we have said, the strategy is the same, only the tactics change.
Returning, therefore, to the targets:
1. One target which has certainly been achieved is that of undermining the sense of security of the residents of Mumbai – especially Indians and those belonging to the more wealthy levels and/or to the professionals of the Indian society.
2. Also the security in the capacity of the Government to protect residents (Indian and foreign) has been considerably shaken. And a line of resignations of excellent subjects has followed.
3 With regard to striking hotels and other structures frequented by foreigners, the fact is not new (Egypt and Sharm el Sheykh, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Indonesia, Pakistan itself, etc.) It falls within the modus operandi of similar non-conventional actions of war. And also in this case, the choice of the Indian tourist season, par excellence, was not just random. Undoubtedly, the attacks affected one of the major sources of the national income and in addition, giving moral dividends to the attackers, in other words, to acquire prestige and acclaim a spiritual victory. In fact, the tourists have always been considered by the Islamic extremists, as an element of corruption for the local population as bringers of hedonistic and consumerist values.
4. Another objective which was certainly achieved was that of drawing world attention, exploiting to the maximum the theatricalities and the media impact of the attacks.
5. To expose to the entire world the fragility of the “Indian political-institutional system”, the collusions and the ambiguity of the system, the social rifts (the eternal clash between the Hindu majority and the Moslem minority) and the huge economic inequalities existing within the Indian Republic.
6. To increase the friction between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers And, with this, to slow down or directly impede the fragile, but ongoing dialogue for the solution of the contentions between the two Countries and a stabilization of the entire region.
And, to conclude, in No. 3/2008 of Gnosis, Giudo Olimpio, in his reflections on “Al Qaeda twenty years later …” observes: “but the crisis within the organization does not mean the decline of Al Qaeda. Missing the occasion of the Peking Olympics, for some analysts, the American Presidential election is the next appointment with the Islamist terror”.
And was Mumbai the appointment with Islamist terror? The elections were over. The Country is going through a particularly serious political-economic situation; The President-elect is not, at the moment “appreciated” by the Arab and Islamic world in general; he formally committed himself to reinforce the “allied” presence in Afghanistan and to a growing responsibility in the fight against global terrorism, to Al Qaeda and to the Taliban. India is a Country that supports the American politics. It is far from a secondary regional protagonist from both the economic and political point of view. It furnishes substantial direct and indirect aid to the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It has serious internal problems; also with its “Moslem minority” ….. it is an ideal arena for an indirect and global response.