Mumbai havoc and lessons for us
THE nature of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai has demonstrated a change of tactics, not of strategy. And, of course, the modus operandii adopted was meant to fit the aim, which was to kill as many as possible -- the targets were the same -- unsuspecting helpless civilians.
But what was the purpose of the barbaric act, and what did the terrorists want to achieve, and what did they achieve after all?
By going after the icons of Indian economic eminence and targeting India's financial capital, was there any specific message the terrorists wanted to convey? According to a defense analyst, "the attack in Mumbai has done what may well be irreparable damage to the 'shining' image of the 'emerging global power.' "
Or was the attack because of India's closeness to the current US administration, as demonstrated by the Indian PM's comments during his visit to the US early this year, that President Bush enjoyed tremendous popularity in India. That had not been taken very kindly by those who consider Bush to be as much responsible, if not more, for the thousands of innocent deaths, as the terrorists he has waged his so-called war on terror against.
Or was it the act of those that would not like to see the Indo-Pak relationship move away from a path of hostility to an era of understanding and cooperative existence. Is there any group that stands to gain from a constant air of hostility between the two neighbours?
Or, as another analyst has said: "The Mumbai terrorists might have embarked on propaganda of the deed without the propaganda in the confident expectation that the rationalisation for the attack -- the narrative -- would be provided by politicians, the media and terrorism analysts."
It is very important that these questions be answered; otherwise India's effort to combat terrorism will flounder.
The Indian authorities have identified the ten terrorists from the statements of the one that has survived the encounter. While the Indian politicians may take comfort in the fact that there is lack of evidence to suggest involvement of any Indian in the terrorist attacks, anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the execution of such operations, planned, if not conceived, and launched from outside India, will know that it cannot be done without a local support base, either inserted from outside, well in advance, to develop a firm base, or created from within.
Very often in the past the Indian authorities had shifted the blame on the state or non-state actors in the neighbouring countries. That may be a convenient position to take since it spares one the agonising task of having to grapple with the realities at home and to address the fractures in the socio-cultural and religious-ethno-political framework that give rise to disgruntled elements who find in violence the only recourse for ventilating their grievances. But that in no way justifies acts of terrorism and killing of innocent people.
The fact is that there are enough causes and many disgruntled groups in India who have an axe to grind against the establishment. It is not that the terrorists are trying to weaken the country; on the contrary it is the weakness of the country that the terrorists are exploiting.
India is under great pressure from within to react with force. There may be some in the administration that may feel provoked to take the US lead and go for suspected training camps in Pakistan, in exercising its right to "defend itself." But there are compelling strategic compulsions that one feels might prevent India from exercising an option that has the potential for greater conflagration between the two countries.
However, terrorism in South Asia is not India's problem alone. We all are affected by it, one way or the other. Bangladesh has a fair share of extremist elements and has experienced their violence, and Pakistan is being haunted by the Frankenstein that it helped the US to create in the eighties.
Let's put the matter in perspective. While during the time near to 200 innocent civilians were being killed in Mumbai in India, at least 97 persons were killed in separate incidents in the NWFP during that period, and approximately 45 persons were killed in militancy-related incidents in the FATA, of Pakistan, while in Sri Lanka at least 164 LTTE militants, 105 soldiers and 10 civilians were killed in separate incidents between November 24 and November 30.
These militants may be of different cultural and religious colour, but they are the enemies of peace. The reality is that we are all facing a common foe, and we must all stand up to it together. It doesn't really matter what nationality or religion the Mumbai terrorists belonged to, what matters is that their warped ideology and the path of violence they have chosen are anathema to civilised norms, certainly to the teachings of all the religions.
The only lesson from the Mumbai mayhem is, cooperate regionally or suffer.