THE ATTACK ON MUMBAI By Stig Toft Madsen Lund University
The attack on Mumbai came after a series of terrorist acts in other Indian cities. Shortly after the attack, a hitherto unknown group, the Deccan Mujahidin, took the responsibility. Because the attack on Mumbai followed the attacks to which the similarly named Indian Mujahidin had owed responsibility, many commentators initially connected the two groups, tracing both of them to the better-known organisation called SIMI (The Students Islamic Movement of India).
With the discovery that the group had apparently reached Mumbai by sea and that they may have communicated in Punjabi (which is spoken by only a few Indian Muslims), the needle of suspicion started turning towards Pakistan. The lone surviving terrorist confirmed this track of thinking by apparently admitted that the whole team of gunmen had reached India from Karachi after receiving training by the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The Lashkar-e-Toiba has for many years been in the forefront of the jihad in Indian Kashmir. It is also suspected of having (or having had) strong links to the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI and to the al Qaida (Matzen 2008). Unlike the Taliban which thrives in Pashtun dominated areas, the Lashkar-e-Toiba has its headquarters close to Lahore in the Punjab.
Indian (and Russian) news media further submitted that Mumbai gangsters may have helped the team of attackers. Many of the gangsters in Mumbai have been smugglers with extensive contacts around the Arabian Sea (Sheth et al.1984, Sanghvi et al. 1984). This brought the name of Dawood Ibrahim back to the headlines. Dawood Ibrahim is strongly suspected of having organized the serial bomb attack in Bombay on March 12, 1993 and he is among the people that India demands that Pakistan extradite.
The locations of the explosions in 1993 in chronological order were:
Bombay Stock Exchange
Narsi Natha Street
A petrol pump near the Shiv Sena headquarter in Dadar
Gopal Nagar Worli, near the passport office
Air India’s building at Nariman Point
Zaveri Bazar outside a well-known jeweller’s
Plaza Cinema, Dadar
Sea Rock Hotel
Centaur Hotel, near Santa Cruz airport
Centaur Hotel, Juhu,
and Machchimar Colony, Mahim (hand grenades)
These serial bombings were described as “The World’s Worst” by the Frontline magazine (Ramachandran 1993). Therefore, the present attack on Mumbai has awakened a range of memories in both the public mind and in the official mind in India.
This has lead Indians to speak of “India’s 9/11”.
The attack on the USA on September 11, 2001 was the first of its kind on US soil since Pearl Harbour. The attack on Mumbai on November 26 was not the first on its soil. In terms of causalities, the Bombay blasts in 1993 caused more fatalities. However, the notion of “India’s 9/11” does make sense for at least three reasons.
The attack on the USA on September 11, 2001 made the USA confront Pakistan, which for years had supported the Taliban regime that gave shelter to al Qaida in Afghanistan. The day after the attack, the ISI chief (who happened to be in Washington DC) was called to a meeting, where he faced Richard Armitage. Armitage demanded that Pakistan make its position on terror clear. Pakistan complied with USA’s demands and joined the war on terror. However, the Pakistani interpretation of what that meant focussed on al Qaida. The Taliban was not subjected to an all-out assault by the Pakistani military, and as regards the many jihadist groups found practically all over Pakistan, Pakistan did even less to curtail their activities. Nevertheless, Pakistan did scale down its subversive activities on its eastern sector, and from late 2002 onwards the relations between India and Pakistan markedly improved. The Pakistani election in 2008 promised further improvement. It is this improvement, which “India’s 9/11” may now jeopardize. Just as the USA talked tough to then ISI chief, India apparently was about to do the same to the current ISI chief until his visit to India was called off. Just as USA went on the offensive, Indian politicians came under pressure to act tough. Citing the US aerial attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan, some Indians even demanded that India attack Lashkar-e-Toiba camps or other goals inside Pakistan. Despite the heightened tension between the two countries, their leaders have eschewed jingoism to a surprising extent. If the intention of the Lashkar-e-Toiba was to engender a war between India and Pakistan in order to give the Taliban and al Qaida a breather on the western front, the Lashkar has failed (Deadline 2008; see also Ghosh 2008 and Rashid 2008).
The phrase “India’s 9/11” also makes sense in an entirely different way. The attack on the World Trade Centre hit many people hard because it took place on an iconic building in a metropolitan city killing and wounding people of diverse backgrounds, including the wealthy. Similarly, the attack in Mumbai hit iconic buildings in a metropolitan city killing and wounding people of diverse backgrounds, including the wealthy.
In Mumbai, the attack hit ordinary people at the main railway station (Victoria or Chhatapati Shivaji Terminus) journeying locally, along the Konkani coast, or into the Deccan. A Jewish institution was singled out for murder and mayhem. Further, the attack was aimed at hotels and restaurants at Nariman Point and Colaba. Hotels and restaurants may attract the attention of terrorists, because the many unsuspecting people gathering there are easy targets. Moreover, at both the Taj, the Oberoi and in Café Leopold many guests were likely to be non-Indians.
Apart from offering potential high-value foreign victims, some buildings in themselves may attract terrorists. The pictures of the Taj at fire will stick in the minds of many people across the globe. The Taj is an institution closely connected with Bombay’s history over the past one hundred years. Built by Jamsethji Tata, the hotel is now owned by Ratan Tata. The Tatas are Parsees from Iran, who made Bombay their home. As the article “The Taj and Swaraj” in its in-house magazine amply bears out, the hotel has hosted key events in Indian history right from its inauguration (Allen 1998). The staff at the Taj has included both Muslims and Hindus as senior managers. The family members of a senior manager residing at the hotel apparently lost their lives during the attack.
The Taj hotel is expensive, but its doors have generally been open for anyone not too scruffy. By contrast, the Oberoi chain has cultivated its own image of exclusivity a notch or two above the Taj chain (Sanghvi 2007). Riding on a bubble in the Indian economy, both have been able to charge more than comparable hotels in Shanghai or Bangkok (Henrik Lewis-Guttermann, pers. comm.). Clearly, both hotel chains belong to the “Upper Crust” (Anonymous 2005).
Close to the Taj, Café Leopold was also attacked. Though much cheaper than the Taj, their clientele may overlap. Writes Dipankar Gupta about the place:
“The terror is now over but will Colaba Causeway be the same again? Will Cafe Leopold still attract sailors from the docks, unhappy clerks and Konkani girls with flowers in their hair? …. Mumbai is cosmopolitan and modern in a way no other Indian city is. A liquor vend can be run respectably by a woman… When beer was quaffed secretly in Delhi, one could have it in the open in Mumbai. It was not necessary to go to a luxury hotel or doctor a health certificate to buy beer. It was always available in Mumbai’s signature “Irani” restaurants. Schoolboys, sporting a shadow on their upper lip, grew up fast in these unpretentious watering holes. Cafe Leopold was one of them…. “(Gupta 2008).
“Dining out in Bombay” (cf. Conlon 1998) has acquired a sad connotation, and liberal cosmopolitanism has suffered a blow similar to what happened in New York in 2001.
There is a third reason to consider the attack in Mumbai “India’s 9/11”. In USA repeated intelligence failures allowed the hijackers to succeed. As detailed by Lawrence Wright, the FBI and the CIA rarely exchanged information “over the wall” that divided the two agencies. In India, the incompetence characterizing the response of the Indian state was plain for all to see. According to Edward Luttwak, it took 90 minutes for the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Vilasrao Deshmukh to call the Home Minister Shivraj Patil:
“Because Patil had no information of his own – a very peculiar situation for an interior minister anywhere – he put the key question to Deshmukh: How many commandos of the National Security Guard were needed? Deshmukh replied 200…. Patil had no competent staff to intervene to determine the right number, which was at least 1,000” (Luttwak 2008).
With some difficulty a plane was found in Chandigarh to fly the commandos from New Delhi to Mumbai. The commandos reached the scene of the attack at 7 AM, 9 ½ hours after the first reports of the attacks. It took an assorted force of police and military personnel several more days to neutralize the ten attackers. The political fallout of the poor response forced both the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra to resign. In New Delhi, Patil also had to leave office. As in the United States of America, security failures have led the Government of India to initiate a reform process to improve performance. Time will show whether this will make a difference.
In conclusion: The attack on Mumbai does, indeed, bear comparison to the attack on the USA on September 11, 2001, but so far India’s response has not been proportionate to the attack it has suffered. Instead, it has been measured in accordance with India’s new role as a responsible super power, and muted in view of the danger that a confrontation with Pakistan may cause a full-scale conventional or nuclear war.
With thanks to Henrik Lewis-Guttermann for bringing a bundle of newspapers from India to Denmark.
Allen, Charles 1998 “The Taj and Swaraj”, The Taj Magazine 27, 1: 40-53.
Anonymous 2005 “”Married to the Taj”, Upper Crust 6, 4: 58-61.
Conlon, Frank F. 1995. “Dining Out in Bombay”, in Carol A. Breckenridge (ed.) Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asia World, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
”Terror i Indien et forsøg på at få Indien i krig med Pakistan”, DR 2, Deadline, December 14., 2008, 22:30, http://www.dr.dk/DR2/deadline2230/Deadlineindslag.htm
Ghosh, Amitav ”India’s 9/11? Not Exactly”, New York Times, December 2, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/03/opinion/03ghosh.html
Gupta, Dipankar “What We Have Lost”, The Times of India, New Delhi edition, December 1, 2008, p. 12.
Luttwak, Edward K “MIA in Mumbi. Indian officials, police and commandos must share the blame for mishandling the attacks”, Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2008, http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-luttwak5-2008dec05,0,7905913.story
Matzen, Jeppe “Islamister i fri dresser”, Weekendavisen, December 12, 2008, p. 10.
Ramachandran, VK “Blasts of Terror”, Frontline, April 9, 1993
Rashid, Ahmed “Are Mumbai attacks a chance of peace?”, BBC News, December 10, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7764475.stm
Sanghvi, Vir Men of Steel, Roli Books, 2007
Sanghvi, Vir, Shirin Mehta, Hutokshi Doctor, Amrita Shah and M Amin “The World of The Smugglers”, Imprint, April 1984, pp. 23-27.
Sheth, Ketaki, Shirin Mehta, Vir Sanghvi, and Hutokshi Doctor “Will The Real Haji Mastaan Please Stand Up”, Imprint, April 1984, pp. 16-22.
Wright, Lawrence The Looming Tower. Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (many editions and translations)
PHOTO: The author (second from right) with fellow travellers in Colaba, January/February 1970.
Revised and enlarged December 21, 2008