Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Mumbai Attacks: The Pakistan Angle

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and India blaming Pakistan for any militant activity that takes place on its soil. Here's an excerpt from Manmohan Singh's address to the nation:
We are not prepared to countenance a situation in which the safety and security of our citizens can be violated with impunity by terrorists. It is evident that the group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country.

Really? It's already evident that the group was based outside the country? To be perfectly clear, I don't know whether the attacks originated from an arm of the Pakistan state (the ISI, for example) - though I consider the probability of our involvement to be anywhere between fairly unlikely to highly unlikely. What I do know is that the Indian government doesn't know, and yet pretends to know. This is Arif's point when he says:

Incompetence has also plagued India. After failing to prevent this sophisticated attack and bungling the subsequent operations, New Delhi
has magically found out the origin of the terrorists’ vessel and even their hometown!

In blaming Pakistan, Indian officials are masking their own incompetence. India’s security establishment has, much like Pakistan’s, failed to protect its citizenry. States are reluctant to acknowledge that non-state threats are purely that; it is humiliating.

He goes on to talk about the domestic imbalances between Hindus and Muslims in India, a point which is echoed by a RAND analyst quoted by the NYT:

Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation, was careful to say that the identity of the terrorists could not yet be known. But she pointed to India’s domestic problems, and long tensions between Hindus, who make up about 80 percent of India’s population of 1.13 billion, and Muslims, who make up 13.4 percent.

“There are a lot of very, very angry Muslims in India,” Ms. Fair said. “The economic disparities are startling and India has been very slow to publicly embrace its rising Muslim problem. You cannot put lipstick on this pig. This is a major domestic political challenge for India."

Given that we cannot know at this early juncture which group exactly is responsible, it would make sense - in a perfect world, of course - to hold off on judgment and saber-rattling. As we know, however, we do not live in a perfect world. The fact of the matter is that with national elections coming up early next year, and Congress already viewed as soft on terrorism, there really is only one smart and obvious thing to do politically speaking: blame Pakistan and up the rhetorical ante. It is what any rational actor would do under the circumstances.


asfand said...

Guardian's live text blog of the Mumbai attacks quotes various sources as pointing out that this seems to be something organized by the Laskhar-e-tayiba.

Rediff has more on the arrested man. It said: "He has told the Mumbai police that he has been trained by the Lashkar e Tayiba."

I don't think the "state" of Pakistan had anything to do with it. But is it really so easy to dispel the notion that some institutions in Pakistan might've had a hand to play in this? Our Government doesn't exactly know where it's own feet are.

Miliband came out saying that this bears 'some of the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda'. Now correct me if you will, but isn't Al-Qaeda more about suicide bombing? They also tend to be less discriminatory.

Nikhil said...

Who is your "our" in the following statement? "though I consider the probability of our involvement to be anywhere between fairly unlikely to highly unlikely"

If it's the pakistani government, i don't think manmohan said anything about state involvement.

if it's any pakistani terrorist group, then i don't understand how you can make that statement.

and look, i'm not jumping the gun here and blaming a pakistani terrorist cell - i'm just saying that i don't understand how the involvement of any pakistani terrorist group in this act can be deemed unlikely (fairly, highly or any otherfuckingwise).

Saadia said...

Has anybody here come across Zaid Hamid's take on the situation? I never thought of this as a conspiracy, but a forwarded mail has got me thinking.

Sing Man Moe Han said...

Terrorists do not wage a day long siege and then spill the beans five minutes after being arrested.

EVERYTHING said about the attacks is speculation. Oh it was big and complicated. Multiple attacks. So it must've been AQ! Oh, they used curry powder, must've been homegrown!

Indian officials have been contradicting themselves every five minutes.

Saadia said...

Very true. If you go to my blog at, you'll find a very relevant article titled 'Our Terror, Their Terror', in my post on the Mumbai Attacks.

Ahsan said...


As sources go, the credibility of Rediff is only slightly higher than that of our very own Hamid Mir. But I take your larger point.


I'm glad you make a distinction between a Pakistani terrorist group and the Pakistani state, because it is a distinction your countrymen and leaders have been loath to make in the past. With the 2002 Indian parliament attack, the 2006 Mumbai trains attack, and the 2008 Kabul embassy attack, the government and state of Pakistan was blamed, both explicitly and implicitly, for attacks committed by non-state groups. How much control the state of Pakistan wields over these groups is open to question, but that's exactly the point: it's an open question.

And MMS doesn't have to directly say the Pakistan state is involved. Anytime an Indian leader uses the term "external elements" or anything of the sort, we know what they mean.

My hunch (again, speculation at this point because we have no real hard evidence to go by) is that it was domestic home grown types. But again, that's mere conjecture.


No, I have not, but one of the few rules in life I abide by is: do not believe anything in a forwarded email.


Yup, I agree with every word.

Saadia said...

I second that one rule of yours, Ahsan. Only, that forwarded email was from a think tank in Pakistan, Brasstacks. So it had a reference.

Rabia said...

[there really is only one smart and obvious thing to do politically speaking: blame Pakistan and up the rhetorical ante. It is what any rational actor would do under the circumstances.]
totally agree. this is one of those situations where reality really doesn't matter.

btw, did you hear the audio interviews of the two terrorists? I really could not figure out where they were from.

Rafique said...

I agree with Nikhil's comment and your response as well.
India 'the state and people' sarcasm apart but fortunately not too distinct had its gripe against Pakistan 'the state'.
Opinion started tilting only after Pakistan started paying price in its own blood for the crime it created in the name of fundamental fanatism. Say what you may, blame America and India as you may but thanks to Pakistan's misadventrures, the people and state face the problem of proving themselves inoncent 'unless proven not guilty'
Being a Indian Muslim i blame Pakistan and Saudi's for bringing bad name to Islam

AKS said...

1) While almost everyone is interpreting MMS's inference to an outside country to mean Pakistan, I've heard a few Indian analysts say that MMS may also have been referring to Bangladesh. They are basing this on recent findings by investigating agencies that revealed that some of the recent terrorist attacks in India were by groups that are either based in Bangladesh or were aided by groups in Bangladesh.

2) I find it really surprising that the Deccan Mujahideen who spoke on the phone with the media did not have a Hyderabadi accent but an audible Punjabi one.

3) Talat Hussain dedicated his entire program towards highlighting the disenfranchisement of Indian Muslims. An important topic for him to raise, but I found the tone of his show to be really harsh and unnerving. He also failed to even consider that groups based in Pakistan may well have been involved in some way.

4) Talat's show made me wonder: would Indian Muslims still be as disenfranchised if there wasn't a tremendous leadership vacuum after a majority of their leaders deserted them in 1947? Abul Kalam Azad being a rare exception, I would certainly recommend his book "India Wins Freedom," which provides the interesting insight of a Muslim leader who rallied against partition.

5) Prof. Sumantra Bose of the LSE writing on the BBC website states that the "frontal assault" tactics employed in Mumbai are very similar to the "Fidayeen (literally death defying) squads" of the Lashkar-e-Tayabba, which wreaked havoc in Kashmis between 1999 and 2003. He also points out that if the reports that terrorists specifically looked for American and British targets (and Jewish ones, I may add) then "it would suggest that this terrorist spectacular had little to do with the prejudice and discrimination many Muslims do encounter in India."

Sharad said...

And this is what happens when you live next to a failed state/rogue state

Nikhil said...

These are the reasons I don't think it was domestic:

1) Not sure if the rumors about Brits / Americans being targeted have been verified, but Jews were DEFINITELY targeted - Nariman House pretty much proves that.
2) The kinds of bombs, etc that were used in the attacks on Delhi, etc earlier this year were rudimentary at best. These guys had RDX.
3) They had MP6s - weapons that are more sophisticated than even AK47s, and therefore, one would assume, harder to obtain.

Even if it is eventually proven that the attackers were Indians themselves, I would be shocked if they had zero help from "external elements." Imho, terrorist organizations in India are simply not advanced enough, for lack of a better term, to carry out such an operation without the abovementioned help.

Lastly, as a sidenote, Ahsan - thanks for emailing me, but if you guys could make some sort of statement of empathy before you rationally dissect the situation, I'd appreciate it.

Starting a post on the matter, mere hours after the initial act, and while the seige is still underway, with the statement, "There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and India blaming Pakistan for any militant activity that takes place on its soil." just seems insensitive to me. Maybe it's because this is my city, and i'm here right now - clearly not a rational observer; but still - it would have been nice.

Ahsan said...


To point number 4, there is a presupposition that Muslim politicians can cater to Muslims' interests. What in Pakistan's 62 years of existence would lead you to believe that claim?


Would you mind defining rogue state for me?


A couple of points. First, your argument seems to have the assumption (both stated and implicit) that Indian militant groups are not well developed enough. I have seen this sentiment expressed elsewhere too, and for the life of me, can't understand the logic behind it.

This, however, does not matter anymore. In the end, the culprits will be who the Indian government and intelligence agencies want them to be. This is how it was in 2001, 2006 and 2008. When information is asymmetric to the extent that it is in such episodes (i.e. every piece of information we rely on is controlled by entities with vested interests), then there is really no such thing as objective truth.

Finally, to your last point, I am sorry you felt a lack of empathy and sympathy, but I don't take that as my task on this blog. I emailed you personally as a friend because you and your family live in that city. But from my standpoint as a blogger and an analyst, the blame game IMMEDIATELY following the attacks has the potential to bring damage far greater than the attacks themselves. You may recall the near-nuclear war of 2002. That was the point of the post, nothing more, nothing less.

Again, I am sorry I was not sufficiently nice or sympathetic for your liking. But I really wonder how many India-centric blogs express empathy or sympathy every time there is a militant attack in Pakistan. Do you?

Aditya said...

There is a difference in a Pak State and a Pak Terrorist group? Really? I mean, REALLY. Go to indiaTv's website and check out the interaction of the Terrorist with the news anchor and then lets get back to the discussion of how we figured out its your country's involvement.
Now, the rhetoric will start...about Gujrat and all that crap.

AKS said...

@ Sharad

I think it's unfair to call Pakistan a "failed/rogue state," okay perhaps, we're a 'failing state.'

@ Nikhil

We've been glued to our seats watching the events unfold in Mumbai. The scenes have filled many of us here with horror but also a sense of familiarity - we, in Pakistan, have been there before. And while I'm sure some of my compatriots will be rejoicing that such an awful thing has happened to 'our enemy,' there are many, many more who are just shocked and saddened by the ruthless acts of these barbarians.

There are also those who are scared as to what happens next. We've heard so many Indians speak about Pakistan / Pakistanis being behind this that we're automatically becoming defensive here.

I'm sorry if you felt that we didn't show any empathy. I guess Ahsan's was a postmortem analysis where he felt empathy wasn't required.

Coming back to your comment, it's possible that the 'terrorists' received some sort of help from external actors, maybe they were trained in Pakistan/Afghanistan but surely that in itself isn't enough to make it a non-domestic attack? Sikh separatists who were fighting for Khalistan were always regarded as being a domestic menace, even though they received support from Pakistan. What makes this different?

I'm not discounting the involvement of Pakistanis in this attack either, but I do think that in the current predicament that Pakistan is in, it is extremely unlikely that the state had anything to do with it.

@ Aditya

Again, there is a difference between country and countrymen.

I don't think one should call the death of 2000 people or the grievance of Indian Muslims "as all that crap," but I do agree with the general sentiment; this is not the time to start hurling accusations, especially as no one has any substantial information about the terrorists' identity or motives.

Surely the same rule should apply to Pakistan and all that crap. No?

Anonymous said...

on cue... bbc reports that the only arrested militant from the oberoi is a pakistani national.

he must have taped his shenakti card to his forehead or something and forgotten to take it off in all that chaos...

jokes aside, these guys MUST have had external help/training as they are far too good at what they do. Latest reports say that the some 3 guys inside one of the the hotels managed to kill 14 policemen and upto 5 indian commandos. thats nuts.

the photos and videos of the militants released thus far also indicate that these are not haphazard 'lets hold a ak47 and shoot' loonies - they are using well-prepared rucksacks of ammunition, taped up magazine rounds for ease of switching, varieties of grenades and in general seem to be holding their firearms quite professionally.

im not saying these are not homegrown, but to train yourself up to that level within india is not that easy.

AKS said...

@ Ahsan

First of all, when I spoke of Muslim leadership vacuum in India, I wasn't just talking about politicians but about members of the bureaucracy, aristocracy and the intelligentsia - Muslims who migrated to Pakistan, except from the border provinces, were relatively more affluent and more educated.

The other point that I would raise, is that in a united Muslim politicians may find it more useful, at least on the national stage, to exploit religious identity rather than ethnic or tribal identity.

Anyway, it was just a thought that came to my head, we can debate this some other day.

In other news, the conspiracy theories / inane suppositions have started flying around. This is what I heard at the lunch table at work (seriously):

1) The BJP / extremist Hindus did it. Why, you may ask? Because they don't like India becoming friendly with Pakistan and they also want to tarnish Pakistan.

2) The Indian Army did it because they don't want the Kashmir issue to be resolved.

3) The ISI did it to tarnish India's reputation.

4) Indian commandos suck. Pakistani commandos would've resolved this in a few hours. (The 'Dal eater' theory returns, even though the Indian commandos looked crazy hard ass.) It is important to note that someone chimed in right after that statement to say that, of course Pakistani special forces would've resolved this, they would've been the ones behind it anyway!

5) This is all a game / conspiracy. (Repeated every few minutes by different people.)

Interestingly there was no mention of America. I'm sure that I'll be hearing that soon enough after all America did it to destabilise India, which it sees as a threat (didn't you read 2025 report!), and America will blame, and use, Pakistan as its proxy in this new Great Game.

Aditya said...

I am a well educated, sensible guy. I don't judge people by the religion they choose to practice. I have friends/bosses who are muslims and we get along like house on fire. But and herein lies the "devil in detail" kinda catch, if you kill innocent people, destroy an economy just so that you get noticed, I am sorry, thats just not on. And you cannot help it. Surely, there is too little time and too little evidence to suggest that pakistan is involved but Muslims are. After a certain time & limit, the distinction between good followers of faith and these terrorists kind of gets blurred and everyone gets painted with the same brush. A month or so ago,I would have said thats so unfair. I am NOT too sure now.

AKS said...

@ anon

I read the BBC online and there it says that they recovered a Mauritian I.D. card.

@ Aditya

I am dismayed about the change that you say is happening. And I fear that there are many more in India who will feel the same way after these attacks.

I can even understand where they're coming from. In Karachi, it is common to term every Afghani (there are a fair few here) a thief, and now increasingly a Taliban. Is it unfair? Of course. But it comes so naturally because many Afghanis are religiously conservative and are involved in criminal activities. The trouble is that those communities rather than taking any actions against that, tend to become highly defensive and insular, and it becomes even easier for the criminal elements to exploit that defensive attitude.

I would want nothing more than Muslims to take actions against the people who are waging a religious battle in their name. In Pakistan, those who have done so have also come under attack. Every day, people are killed in our tribal regions for not following the edicts of the Taliban and their ilk. And all those killed are Muslims.

I don't know what more to say to you. I hope that you will not want hasten to blame every Muslim for what is happening, and hope that there are few who do. That would be disastrous for India.

And lest I forget, I hope that Indians think twice before taking hasty actions(diplomatically or militarily) against Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

aditya, i assume you are hindu given your name.

that blur between good followers of a faith and the plain ugly was achieved a very very long time ago vis-a-vis hinduism. the current status of muslims in india, the pillage of kashmir, the hindus treatment of their own lower castes, widow-suicides, etc etc means that most muslims see hindus through this blur anyway and have done for a very long time. to them it doesnt matter if all of a sudden hindus suddenly use the relatively new tint of terrorism to view muslims in.

Aditya said...

@AKS I don't want to start the debate about the military worth (but frankly is their any debate), so I will not be tempted by your last resort.
I am disturbed and concerned with the change in my personal ideology but the very fact that I am disturbed (and I am sure many here are) makes me feel that we will tide over this feeling of uneasiness. I am sure, however, some of us will cross the line and will stop being disturbed.

@anonymous : Yes, you are right. I am Hindu. However, what do I make of you. I accept all what you said. But, can you look into your heart and look me in the eye and tell me that the situation is different across the border. So, if you treat Hindus in pakistan wrongly or unfairly, we should just come in, attack your buildings, kill innocent people and just create havoc. If you look around in most of these violence acts, Muslims are involved. Now, I understand that they have been subjected to un-fairness and etc, but Is this the ONLY way to make your point. Are there NOT other religions (I can shamefully say, Christians in India off late are facing it) who are being treated unfairly.

Rabia said...

AKS: they sound like Punjabis pretending very badly to be Hyderabadis. I believe at least some of them have turned out to be Pakistani: eal-terror-route.htm

"Police and central security personnel have arrested at least three Pakistanis, including Ajmal Amir Kamal, a resident of Faridkot near Multan in Pakistan's Punjab province. All the three belong to the suicide squad of Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

The terrorists told interrogators that 12 of them had left in a merchant vessel from the port city of Karachi, which was on its way to Vietnam, from which they got down and rowed 10 nautical miles into Indian waters up to Gateway of India."

anonymous @12:18 PM: maybe you should look at some aspects of your own religion (I am assuming you are muslim) that need reforming before pointing fingers at hinduism. At least hindus have addressed all the issues that you mention above openly and honestly.

Anonymous said...

It is blindingly obvious that these people have been trained/supported by elements in Pakistan. Whether this is the state or the ISI or random outfits like LeT or JeM or whatever is irrelevant.

Now when you have a problem in your country, you need to clean it up. One thing india has always said is that the Pakistani state has not done enough in the past to deal with this problem. Although I think in the past, this was because of unwillingness to act, today it seems like it is inability.

Good luck in dealing with this problem, but sooner or later, someone will decide to come in and clean up your mess for you.

Anonymous said...


I will not look at my religion first before I point fingers at others because I know there is shism between what my religion teaches and what its followers practice. I may look at my religions followers, but not my religion. As a muslim i believe islam is perfect and muslims are imperfect.

I will continue to point fingers at hinduism because it is not its followers that are abusing it but the religions inherent inconsistencies which make it criminal. Hindus do not abuse their religion to persecute the lower castes, the lower untouchable castes are an inherent part of the religions hierarchy.

This is amply demonstrated at various religious debates we have at university where we have no problem defending islam, but can not defend muslims. At such debates, the hindus spend most of their time defending hinduism itself rather than any acts committed in its name.

Anonymous said...

good post Ahsan

Nikhil said...


as happens once every so often, i am alarmed by the degree of logic / rationality you choose to display in your answer. take that as a compliment if you like, but i don't intend it as one.

Anonymous said...

I don't really have anything substantial to say about this post. What bothers me is this weeks poll question.

Option 3: "it will help ameliorate Pakistan's eocnomic crisis"

The writer could have used a less pretentious word. has a few (except for meliorate which I guess is just as pretentious)

alleviate, amend, help, improve, lighten, meliorate, mitigate, relieve, step up, upgrade

Just a thought.

Ahsan said...


Fine, fair enough. I was criticized on this blog a while back for saying earthquake survivors shouldn't be given tea. I have also been criticized for saying that the life of one Palestinian child is not central to Pakistan's national interest. I guess your criticism/non-compliment fits in with that thread, of not using emotion enough and using too much logic/rationality. Like I said, that's your view, and fair enough.


Please tell me that is some sort of joke.

Anonymous said...


No joke

pat1755 said...

Hi, Ahsan. I've been lurking for quite a while, wanted to say that I very much appreciate your perspectives on this situation.

Nikhil, I'm in Texas and many of us are watching the news obsessively. All the people of Mumbai are in our thoughts.

Anon 356, your comment is both hilarious and embarrassing (to you).

Best, Pat

AKS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AKS said...

@ anon 246

I respect your right to express yourself on the blog but I certainly don't appreciate what I consider to be a bigoted remark. It's certainly your prerogative to believe that Islam is perfect; surely everyone considers their belief system to be perfect. But I don't think that it gives you the right to denigrate the beliefs of others if they differ from yours.

Nikhil said...

haha - typical. but appreciated.

it's why you're so adored, choothie.

AKS said...

Watching the coverage on TV, I'm surprised to see crowds of normal people and media personnel being so close to the hotels and Nariman House. Shouldn't the security forces have cordoned off the entire area? Does the layout of the area not permit such a no access perimeter being created?

Saadia said...

Yeah, I noticed the same. But then, the media personnel are known to report from war zones. This isn't new.

pat1755 said...

AKS, I'm watching American TV and the intelligence people are all over this, they cannot understand why the areas have not been cordoned off.

Anonymous said...

interesting post, though a little early to jump into such 'logic / rational' discussion regarding theories.

my thoughts go to all the people in mumbai, and family members around the world.

Anonymous said...

Omar said...

Ahsan, I appreciate the fact that you take your role as a blogger very seriously and you want to deliver the rational response to anything that happens. But there is being rational and then there is being callous.
Now I've always taken your posts with a pinch of salt because I know you have a pretty dark sense of humor about most things and to put it plainly, I know you're not really that much of a dick. In our Journalism Ethics class we went back and forth over whether journalists have a duty to the public to show empathy, support or solidarity for the cause. At the end a journalists responsibility is to tell the story as it happened.
However , I think you and I will both agree that you aren't a journalist and have never claimed to be. You are a blogger, a commentator. I do not think your rational analysis would have suffered by you showing some element of compassion. Nor do I think your analysis would have suffered if you had timed it a little later when emotions weren't running so high. For what it's worth, you sent a personal msg to Nikhil and that's fine, but he's not the only Indian reading this blog. Your repeated stubbornness about this standard you've got in your head about being the rational observer is infuriating and frustrating at a time where we Pakistanis are struggling with what people think of us and it doesn't do us any good, it's only a matter of time before your opinion get's discounted as another dick Pakistani and nobody needs that.
I would urge not just you but everyone on this forum to just step back and remember your humanity first, it doesn't come at the expense of anything. I would hate to see FiveRupees turn into the kind of blog where you guys spend more time defending yourself against your entries rather than discussing the issues.

Ahsan said...


Can I surmise that your concert went badly last night?

I agree with you wholeheartedly on the point that I don't want this blog to become one where we're constantly defending ourselves rather than discuss the issues. This is why I always, uh, discuss the issues.

I would only say in response to your comment that it is not my responsibility, as an individual blogger, to make people think better of Pakistanis. This is not a PR campaign, it's a collection of thoughts and opinions of four people who don't matter all that much. It is also not my concern, ultimately speaking, if my views are dismissed as those of "another dick Pakistani". If they are, so be it - I can live with that. I write what I think at the time I'm thinking it, and people are free to react however they want.

Anonymous said...


If the pakistan state is not involved in anything which happens in India.....then "Dawood" would not have been harbouring in pakistan for the last 10 years..... when Pakistani government has given so many evidence in past of harbouring such anti social scum bags....don't u think the initial reaction would be of raising the finger....and as they say....if it looks like duck ...... it sounds like duck......then it is a duck.....

Anonymous said...

Sorry....i forgot to mention in my last post......that don't blind yourself......and fool has affected india today it has been affecting pakistan since many days u think Pakistani government is not aware where these trainning camps are.....jow is that an outsider "US" is able to locate these camps and eradicate at the end of the day can not happen without government's notice can it.....