Monday, December 01, 2008

Guest Post: An Interested American's Two Cents On The Mumbai Attacks

Negeen Pegahi is a candidate for a doctorate in Political Science at the University of Chicago, and a fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She works on India-Pakistan issues, and as a friend, very kindly agreed to write something for our blog.

Given how high emotions appear to be running in many of the comments, and therefore how appalling an attempt at sober political analysis will likely strike many readers, I should probably briefly note where I am, and am not, coming from. I’m an American of neither Indian- nor Pakistani-descent, writing a doctoral dissertation in political science about what the acquisition of nuclear weapons can and can’t do for weaker states in conflict dyads. Pakistan vs. India is the most interesting case for such arguments, and India vs. China is another important one, hence my interest in the region. I’ve spent only one year in South Asia and have not been to Bombay.

I’d like to comment on several issues:

1. Likely motivations for the attacks;
2. Parallels between the strategic situation of Pakistan and anti-Indian
3. The relative importance of that shared strategic situation and the nature the links, if any, between whatever portion(s) of the Pakistani establishment and these particular insurgents;
4. What the US role will likely be and should be; and
5. What lessons India will likely draw from our 9/11 experience and what lessons it should draw.

So first: “Why do they hate us?” This was what we in the States were asking ourselves after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and there were two possible answers:

- “They hate us for who we are,” and
- “They hate us for what we do.”

Most Americans went with the former because, I’d say, it was comforting and allowed no further debate. Why should we change who/what we are? Especially if who/what we are is great stuff like “freedom” and “democracy,” which is of course how we chose to define the issue. The only policy prescription that can come out of such conclusions is to kill or capture as many of them as you can as quickly as you can because how can you deter people who hate you for who you are?

A far smaller number of Americans suspected it was our foreign policy driving things. The locations and target types of al-Qaeda attacks, and how these expanded over time, supported such an assessment. A campaign against what was perceived to be US military occupation of the Arabian peninsula began in the early 1990s with attacks on US troops in Yemen, moved onto US embassies in third countries, and concluded with strikes on civilian as well as military and likely government targets on US soil. So we went from attacks on the actual “boots on the ground” to embassies believed to coordinate intelligence collection in the region to the very top of the ladder back in Washington plus our financial foundations in New York. Given continuing failure to achieve their objectives, each time insurgents faced the choice of “escalate” or “give up,” since “more of the same” presumably wasn’t getting it done, they chose the former. I suspect this is what’s happening in India.

There are two main ways to get an adversary to do what you want. One is to threaten him, which may include actually hurting him in order to make your threats of more pain to come credible, in an effort to make him give in because resisting would mean too much suffering to be worth it. The other is to threaten his military, meaning his ability to achieve his objectives, in an effort to make him give in because resisting you carries too small a likelihood of success to be worth it. Ironically, in asymmetric fights -- either between insurgents and states, such as the LeT and India, or between weak states and strong, such as Pakistan and India, respectively -- only the first type of coercion, a.k.a. “terrorism,” is an option. The LeT can’t defeat the Indian military in the traditional sense, and the idea of the Pakistani military being able to do so is only slightly less ridiculous. From the other side, the Indian military can’t press its advantages too far against Pakistan for fear of tripping the latter’s nuclear “red lines” and it can’t do much of anything against insurgents as these aren’t adversaries with much to actually target. So “terror” becomes the strategy of everyone, and that -- all these self-important“My Bombay,” “My Mumbai” articles we’re seeing in the NYT and the Guardian aside -- is what we’re seeing from both sides, not just one.

So the whole question of “Are the attackers linked to the Pakistani establishment and, if so, how closely?” is a red herring. Any weaker actor facing India -- whether a state, Pakistan, or not, the LeT, etc. -- will attempt to coerce by punishment, ie. commit terrorism, because doing so is their only option besides giving up. (Yes, yes, of course resistance through non-violent means is always an option, but when you’re not facing a colonial power on their way out and down anyway it’s a very different story: just ask the Tibetans how things are going for them.)

Given all this, and regional realities -- namely, that we need Pakistan to help us with cleaning up, or at least containing, our assorted messes and that we just cut a nuclear deal with India that gave us the short end of the proliferation stick but, we hope/expect, longer-term strategic benefits -- what can the United States do and what will it likely do? I think the answers, the same in the two cases, are “Not much.” Structurally, the India-Pakistan problem is very similar to the Israel-Palestinian one: a weaker party dissatisfied with the existing territorial distribution and a stronger one relatively content with it. The only “successes” we’ve ever gotten in the Middle East have come as a result of making the leverage-less Palestinians swallow absurd deals. However, given our dependency on Pakistan for the war on terror -- not that it’s doing much for us -- we lack even this option for “progress” in South Asia.

One thing I’ve found surprising in this particular crisis -- particularly when one compares it to the one sparked by the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament -- is how subdued the official Pakistani response has been. I see two possible explanations here:

1. In 2001, India couldn’t launch a full-scale attack on Pakistan because of the latter’s nuclear arsenal (not that such an option would otherwise have been considered) and, much more important, India couldn’t launch any limited attacks because it lacked the capability to do so in a timely manner. Pakistan was therefore free to act relatively belligerently. India’s “Cold Start” doctrine, developed in response to the perceived failure to have any good limited options in 2001-2002, is coming online though and may explain Pakistan’s relative quiet this time around.

2. The Pakistani leadership may not only not have had anything to do with this one but may not even see any potential gain in it.

Particularly given how decent Pakistan’s behavior has been this time around, it depresses the hell out of me to see India responding with all the self-righteous fury of the United States post-9/11, rather than concrete plans to work with Pakistan on containing the militancy and making such efforts worth Pakistan’s while with some actual progress/concessions on the Kashmir issue. We’ve seen how unsuccessful Israel’s “Do everything we demand and then maaaaaybe we’ll talk final status” approach has been with respect to Palestinian militancy, and we’ve seen how counter-productive (and hideous, immoral, etc.) the US response to our particular problem has been, so I’m very sad to see that India appears to be making the same mistakes.

It is of course fine to decide that suffering one of these attacks every few years is worth the benefits of keeping Indian Muslims fifth-class citizens, keeping Kashmir a garrison state, and being the regional hegemon. We in the US have of course implicitly arrived at the same conclusion vis-a-vis our own militancy problem: the occasional attack from al-Qaeda or whomever is not too high a price to pay to continue to try to run the world and its peoples. Reasonable people can disagree about which side of the cost-benefit ledger is greater in such cases. Pretending the ledger doesn’t exist, however, is neither a smart nor an ethical way to move forward.


Ahsan said...

I think India's "self-righteous fury" as you call it is directly due to the massive failures of its intelligence and security forces. Scapegoating the traditional rival is the obvious thing to do politically, especially given Congress' perceived softness and elections coming up next year.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I think its great how nobody in the intelligence setup had any idea what was happening. Then two minutes after the attack started they suddenly had all kinds of concrete evidence that Pakistan did it. Seriously

supersizeme said...

brilliantly written and terrifyingly true! i would've seen this whole mumbai seige as an isolated case, tracked down the beasts behind it, punished them etc, but the beauty of politics is you bring whole countries down on their knees to compensate for the actions by a handful of individuals. it just baffles me, it's like how everyone's got a complex, americans dont believe they can ever be the 'baddies' in all this, neither can india, pakistanis have taken a few knocks and small numbers and were getting started gravitating towards the prospect that there are rotten eggs amongst us, but this post is the mother! to admit (as an individual) your nation made a grave mistake is massive, bravo! i know it's something i couldn't do easily.

goc said...


AKS said...

I really liked your analysis of the situation.

The channeling of "fury" towards a historic external adversary in Pakistan has obvious political advantages, as Ahsan pointed out, but in addition to this, the 'external enemy' dampens internal communal tensions.

Another thing that I wanted to mention was the inherent unfairness of allocating collective blame to the Pakistani people, which many Indians, some on this very blog, have done. Moreover, there are serious dangers with the adoption of such an approach.

Many Indians who are blaming Pakistan sound exactly like the countless Pakistanis who continue to blame the U.S. for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, because it was the Americans who had created the Mujahideen in the first place. Can we please just let go of the past and try to secure the present.

SloganMurugan said...

Relax. In a few days this will all be forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Bull shitting. Enough is enough.

Justice League said...

Brilliant analysis.

Deep said...

Hello everyone ,
In response to the articles , one also have to take a different perspective as to why the indian government has to behave the way it has in response to the recent events. Public perception is an important part of politics and no politician be it india or pakistan would want to appear as if no action was been taken in front of an angry nation and a a curropt sensational media like the one that exists in our part of the world. I think it is the fault of our political system that forces politicians to react in a certain way after tradegies like this and to a certain extent. Obviously all Mumbaikars are hurt and angry right now and they want to see some action bieng done. Unfortunately i believe that this incident will be forgotten in a few days time and situation will be back to normal , therefore any angry statements made now is just to make the people hear what they want to and need to hear.

Rabia said...

I disagree with this analysis and I think it's dangerous for other Pakistanis to continue thinking this way, although it's not likely to change.

yes, Kashmir is a legitimate territorial dispute between the two states and yes Indian muslims are oppressed but these facts are completely orthogonal to the Pakistani army's sponsorship of the terrorist groups that are now... killing our own people. No analysis of the situation can be complete without taking into account the Pakistani army's decision to support terrorism (which does not happen in every territorial dispute between unevenly matched adversaries) and the willingness of those who believe in political Islam to fully endorse these activities. I am sorry to be sounding so hawkish about this, but that is just the truth about the army's history that all of us need to understand. It's not just enough for Pakistanis to condemn the terrorism -- we need to condemn the association of these grievances with the actual terrorist activities. And I'm not interested in making a moral argument -- this is a realist argument because Pakistan's survival depends on this.

Now where I agree with you is that India should not respond to this attack by blaming the highest levels of the Pakistani army and state for this attack because that would completely marginalize the part of the army leadership and the civilian leadership that does support the U-turn on the jihad policy.

Raza said...

This is slightly off topic, but am I the only one who thinks its weird that we still talk about "elements" in the military and ISI without knowing who the hell these people are? Pakistan's upper crust of society and power isn't a huge circle. The press is relatively free and vibrant, but we don't have a clue who it is in the agency who's running global politics--from the war on terror to nuclear south asia--these guys are determining the fate of billions. We don't know who the 'They' are.

Anonymous said...

i disagree with rabia's analysis because it is bullshit. yes the legitimate grievances of the kashmiris and/or indian muslims might be orthogonal to the pakistan army's support of such 'terrorist' outfits but it is not orthogonal to the existence of such outfits in the first place.

why don't people understand that IF kashmir was not occupied, there would be no LeT; IF palestinians were not oppressed there would be no hamas and IF america had not embarked on interventionist misadventures (usually to do with oil) in light of its new-found, post-cold war power then there would have been no 9/11.

instead of shying away from mentioning the cause and effect relationship of these grievances we should wholeheartedly explain them to every party at every instance no matter how insensitive it may appear BECAUSE that is the only genuine way forward - BOTH from a realist and moral point of view.

to pretend that these atrocities would not have been committed if pakistan's army did not support islamist is disingenuous - it would have happened sooner or later (probably later due to absence of training, etc) - but it would have happned and will continue to happen until we deal with the root cause. as the article correctly states, you have to deal with the 'its what we do' aspect and not harp on about the 'its who we are'.

finally, having said this, there is NOTHING wrong with pakistan supporting causes of resistance within kashmir to prevent the oppression and persecution of the kashmiris. in fact, taken in isolation, this is a noble and admirable cause to support and anybody with any values whatsoever would do so.

having said that, pakistan has no values because we can not take take things in isolation, but should balance their righteous support of resistance in kashmir with their own abhorrent persecution of the balochis, bengalis and massacre of their own people in FATA, etc etc...

in conclusion, you can run but you can not hide. india, the US or israel can run from their history and ignore the root causes of their problems or they can accept and reconcile them. only one of these will lead to an amicable solution, the other options will be like perfectly dressing a bullet wound to a mans chest, stopping the bleeding, and totally missing the exit wound in his back that will slowly kill him.

pakistan too has a reconciliation process to go through - it however, i feel, is far more complex and something i dont have time to write about. :-)

Rabia said...

frankly, I no longer care if grievances like kashmir are legitimate, or righteous. The duty of the military is to protect its people, not to go around fighting righteous causes outside the country, especially if it incapable of doing so. Why is it not a "righteous" cause to you that an entire generation of pakhtuns in FATA have been used as cannon fodder? Or that young men in Punjab and Azad Kashmir are being equipped and trained to fight an unwinnable proxy war?

Anonymous said...


Get over it

Anonymous said...

rabia we know you no longer care that is why your comments are like what Joey calls 'moo points' - opinions of a cow that dont matter. Your points are superfluous because they have neither a moral or a realist grounding. They solve nothing.

Rabia said...

sure, my points may be irrelevant but consider:
"why don't people understand that IF kashmir was not occupied, there would be no LeT; IF palestinians were not oppressed there would be no hamas and IF america had not embarked on interventionist misadventures (usually to do with oil) in light of its new-found, post-cold war power then there would have been no 9/11."

There is pretty much no difference between your point of view and the terrorist who called the tv station, except that he actually acted out your logic while you are just one of the few million hypocrites that urge him on in the safety of your home. And the best part is, you take no blame for the situation.

Aditya said...

"why don't people understand that IF kashmir was not occupied, there would be no LeT; IF palestinians were not oppressed there would be no hamas and IF america had not embarked on interventionist misadventures (usually to do with oil) in light of its new-found, post-cold war power then there would have been no 9/11."

This is the kind of motivation that the terrorists have. If that is indeed the case, then why does your foreign minister say that terror does not have any religion. With your argument, my friend, you are trying to prove that terror DOES have a religion. I totally agree with Rabia on this.

NB said...

This is really silly. You guys are debating rhetoric. And a bit of advice to the Anonymous commenter above, being rude and witless makes you less persuasive, not more.

With regard to the point:
"why don't people understand that IF kashmir was not occupied, there would be no LeT; IF palestinians were not oppressed there would be no hamas and IF america had not embarked on interventionist misadventures (usually to do with oil) in light of its new-found, post-cold war power then there would have been no 9/11."

This is correct. But the existence of those root causes doesn't justify terrorism, it simply helps to explains it.

To say that terrosim is justified in the circumstances is is to argue the objective morality of murdering civilians. Aside from being bizzare, that would be completely circular (because the 'root causes' equally have to do with the mistreatment and abuse of a civilian population)

To say that it terrorism is understandable however simply means accepting that these are contributing causes and terrorism is a systemic effect of the inter state dynamic which is what the writer was saying (far little more articulately than me i might add), and which i agree with.

That said, because it is not justified, and because the Army's involvement stems for alternative reasons (orthowhatsis?), Rabias point that "we need to condemn the association of these grievances with the actual terrorist activities" is also completely correct.

Rabia said...

I am absolutely not debating rhetoric. My original post was questioning the author's claim:
"Any weaker actor facing India -- whether a state, Pakistan, or not, the LeT, etc. -- will attempt to coerce by punishment, ie. commit terrorism, because doing so is their only option besides giving up. "

This is CLEARLY not always true without some qualifiers, because otherwise we would have this kind of situation everywhere in the world where a weak state had a legitimate conflict with a stronger one. The question is WHY hasn't Pakistan been able to accept Indian military superiority and it has something to do with the unbelievable swaying power of "righteous" causes like Kashmir over our population, like mr. anonymous demonstrates.

Ahsan said...


I think you're sort of assuming away the problem when you say we don't see the situation replicated in other parts of the world. The point is we see low level coercion (i.e. terrorism) based on both the balance of power (they must be a significant imbalance) AND the balance of interests(i.e. the weaker side must care a lot about the issue at stake). So the places where we don't see coercion could simply be a result of low issue-salience for the weaker side.

The anonymous who's been arguing with Rabia:

You're kind of a dick. In fact, let me take away the qualifier. You ARE a dick.

Anonymous said...

firstly, in defence of mr anonymous (moi) - he never actually justified the terrorism on the basis of the grievances. in fact he called the acts atrocities - which is what they are.

he just pointed out that until you reconcile the root causes, you will get nowhere. which is why you can not condemn the association of the acts with their root causes. ahhhhh! are you people really this blind!?!

you CAN condemn the use of terrorism to mitigate those grievances, you CAN condemn the pakistani military's support of any such terrorist actions (but NOT resistance actions), you CAN condemn the murder of innocents. you CAN actually condemn any contributory factor leading to terrorism, but you CAN NOT condemn the root cause itself or its association with the acts.

if you do condemn the root causes' association, however, out of which these acts are borne - not only is it futile in the long run, it will only seek to exasperate the contributory factors in the short term. but, if you remove the root cause, the contributory factors will have nothing to work on.

i dont believe i actually had to spell that out.

finally, if i was trying to persuade someone of my opinion, maybe i would not be rude and witless. but im not, im stating a fact. and if rabia, or anyone else really, needs to be persuaded of a fact then they deserve a bit of rude and witless-ness.

so what if im saying the same things mr terrorist said to the tv station on the phone?
i have no problem agreeing with a terrorists aims as long as i disagree with his methods and actions.

that is not hypocritical - i work for a better situation for occupied kashmir through non-violent and other direct means.

to me the terrorists are the hypocrites, arguing against civilian oppression under occupation but then going and killing who? civilians. and even then, at least they stand for something with their methodology being heinously corrupt. but judging by your vague and generalized comments thus far, you stand for nothing.

and in case you haven't noticed - this IS the situation everywhere in the world where a smaller weak state (or peoples) has a legitimate claim against a larger/stronger one.

Rabia said...

don't be idiotic. Don't you understand that if a large enough population does not condemn and explicitly disocciate the terrorist acts with the so-called root-cause then terrorism will continue to persist? Basically, your identification of Kashmir as the "root cause" of LeT is not a consequenceless action. It is actually one of the major contributing factors to the problem.

This is my last comment on this post.

Anonymous said...

'You're kind of a dick. In fact, let me take away the qualifier. You ARE a dick.'

Read that again Ahsan. Who the fuck takes out a qualifier and then calls someone a dick? You are so pathetic it makes me laugh.

'Oooh let me take out the qualifier and put the verb in capital letters and stick a grammatically correct capital on the 'y' and call this guy a dick'.


Anonymous said...

it may not be consequenceless, but it is the truth - something you have a hard time admitting. and terrorism will persist anyway until the root cause is dealt with, not until it is brushed under the carpet by the majority population.

Anonymous said...

'You're kind of a dick. In fact, let me take away the qualifier. You ARE a dick.'

WHAT clever rhetoric! However did you come up with that?

Jon said...

Just jumping in here...

"and terrorism will persist anyway until the root cause is dealt with, not until it is brushed under the carpet by the majority population."

Terrorism will persist precisely until the root cause is brushed under the carpet. Do you think that after your "same-ends-different-means" terrorists free Kashmir, India won't see itself as having a justified grievance to fund its own terrorist actions?

It's not hard to understand. Land disputes go on, and on, and on, and on, until they are forgotten or one party is completely eliminated. But they can be forgotten -- or at least brushed under the rug and not acted upon. Take a look at a map of Europe sometime.

Anonymous said...

kashmir, opression of indian muslims is all bull shit reasoning. it is the intent of radical islam to use terror and coercion to spread hard core islam ( wahabi islam). Otherwise why did the terrorists go out of their way to capture and kill jews. It is the confluence of saudi money and wahabi islam and pakistan based terror groups that are destroying the fabric of decent human scoiety. So your analysis is a fiction. Why should kashmir be part of pakistan, when pakistan cannot even assert itself within its existing boundary. Pakistani's should realize to achieve peace and progress as a united nation, they have to address the root cause of radical islam. the political and military class in pakistan has been using kashmir to distract the general populace, because of their failures in providing a social system where every individual can grow and succeed. What do you say about the marriot bombing and red mosque seize ? isn't that radical islam affecting the paki society directly. that's what they mean when they say "chickens come home to roost"

indian said...

it's not we as people or human beings not about politics and politicians who have been taking all of us for a ride always , it needs us to assert and reclaim what we have lost in terms of basic humanity that makes all of us to fight with each other till kingdom comes, come on let's wake up , both pakistanis and indians and confront our leaders and reclaim our humanity and our life.

Mumbaikar said...

I am writing as a grieving analysis of the situation is that of a layman, not neccessary most well-informed but based on what we have been absorbing over consumption of our media over the years. It could be flawed, it could be my perspective ...but right now it's more about what, 'i feel..' and not about 'what I think!' as I cannot be dispassionate about this anymore !

We in India have been facing so many terror attacks for years and had almost become immune to reading figures of terror victims in newspapers. Such was our apathy !Pakistanis say they have been fighting terror but immediate reactions to that here in people's mind are:
'are they really?'
'its their home grown terror..why are we suffering for it'
'why dont these elements let us get on with our lives...why dont they do something constructive and good about their nation instead'
'its our common man on the street who is getting killed...he has nothing whatsoever to do with the politics'
'why are they sheltering these jihadi camps which are anyway damaging to them too'

We are thoroughly disillusioned with our government and their corrupt administration, their vote garnering tactics, their insensitive approach to this incident...we want to put that to right !! Our people are taking to the streets and instead of our famed 'resilience' we are expressing 'anger' and a will to put things right !

Why don't Pakistani citizens do that instead of protesting against India.

When it comes to Indian Muslims...we are not perfect, we have huge problems but its a fact that Indian muslims are proud to be Indians..They are as distressed and greived as everyone and are expressing solidarity in this situation. (Its also a fact that an unprecedented 65% of Kashmiris voted at the elections when the elections were boycotted by the millitants...they want peace!)

Atleast we are angry with our people ...why aren't Pakistanis angry with what their country has come to !!! Why dont they take to the streets to clean out their country of these miscreants !!
Being defensive about the situation and trying to be blind to your faults is not going to help.

We hear of how Pakistanis treat Indians with a lot of love when Indians visit and vice-versa (we have so many Pakistani celebrities who enjoy a lot of popularity here)
We all really share the same culutural value...!! Why fall victim to politics..lets all try to clean up our acts !!!

Shafique said...

Your comment about keeping Indian muslims "fifth-class" citizens got my goat!

The truth is that at a national level, the existence of Pakistan has made life HELL for India's Muslims (and may I humbly add, to a large degree, for Muslims pretty much everywhere).

India is a secular republic that houses one of the world's largest and most ancient Muslim communities. Just because Hinduism flourished here doesn't make it a Hindu-only country - it's home to Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Janisism as well, all of which along with Islam form part of the national religious fabric.

Despite the vocal right wing Hindutivavadis, secularism is here to stay - cf the UPA government we have and BJP's own considerably diluted Hindutva. India's Muslims may be geographically dispersed, but they do wield considerable political power. Not being an Indian Muslim, you perhaps cannot appreciate just how much Pakistan's association with India's Muslims is eroding this power that's absolutely essential for the common good of the community.

Keep in mind that Pakistan movement was started by Indian Muslims (i.e., Indian Muslims as they're understood today). Indian Muslims are telling Pakistan now - please lay off India and its communities, and concentrate on your own mess. We can take care of matters here ourselves, along with our countrymen.