Whenever New Delhi points a finger at Pakistan in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in India, a weary world seems to say, “Here we go again!” The old enmity between the two countries can tire spectators who often quickly dismiss Indian accusations of Pakistani malfeasance are little other than political recriminations. Yet, the latest terrorist assault in Mumbai - involving 10 co-ordinated strikes that killed close to 200 and the capture of a Pakistani terrorist, Azam Amir Kasab, from Faridkot - leaves no doubt about the authenticity of the Indian charge. Whether or not the carnage in Mumbai is India’s 9-11, the information now available abundantly confirms that it was not the act of domestic malcontents - another “Oklahoma City.”
The West would do well to take notice that this bloodbath was not the work of home grown militants aggrieved by India’s failure to integrate its Muslim minority but of the most dangerous Pakistani terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), whose wider goals threaten not only secular India but also the West and even Pakistan itself.
The early conclusion that the attack in Mumbai was the work of disaffected domestic protesters was arguably consoling because, if true, the threat to the international community would indeed be minimal. Moreover, the contention that New Delhi’s terrorism problem is largely domestic marginalises the extent of foreign - primarily Pakistani - involvement in India’s “million mutinies” and accentuates the centrality of the unsettled dispute over Kashmir.
These inferences are false. As is now clear, the atrocity in Mumbai was not masterminded by internal subversives - even if there were individual Indian participants. The meticulous planning, the enormous resources committed to a complex mission across great distances and long periods of time, and the burdens of a difficult sea-land operation, rule out virtually every indigenous terrorist group in India, Muslim or otherwise.
The attacks involved months of training in Pakistan and extensive reconnaissance of targets in Mumbai; after these were complete, the terrorists appear to have left Karachi by as yet unknown means, hijacked a fishing trawler on the high seas and, upon reaching India’s territorial waters, transferred to inflatable speedboats which landed at two different locations on the city shores from whence the assaults began. No domestic terrorist group has previously demonstrated the capacity to undertake anything as complicated and it would indeed be shocking if any did acquire such capacity unbeknown to Indian or Western intelligence.
All evidence points to LeT as the perpetrators of the killings in Mumbai conducted under the nom de guerre “Deccan Mujahideen” and reflecting its classic modus operandi: suicidal attacks, but not suicide, involving small squads of highly-armed individuals, intent on inflicting the largest numbers of casualties at symbolic sites. Such violence is emphatically not directed at remedying the grievances of India’s Muslims or resolving the dispute over Kashmir.
Although LeT has long operated in the disputed state of Kashmir, it’s not a Kashmiri organisation. Rather, it consists primarily of Pakistani Punjabis financed, trained, armed and abetted by the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) - a product of the latter’s war against the Indian state dating back to the late 1980s.
LeT’s objectives from the beginning have had less to do with Kashmir and more to do with India and beyond. To begin with, India’s achievement in becoming a peaceful, prosperous, multi-ethnic and secular democracy remains an affront to LeT’s vision of a universal Islamist Caliphate begotten through tableegh, or preaching, and jihad.
Further, India’s collaboration with the United States and the West in general against terrorism has marked it as a part of what LeT calls the detestable “American-Zionist-Hindu” axis that must be confronted by force.
Finally, New Delhi’s emergence as a rising global power represents an impediment to LeT’s objective of, in the words of its leader, Hafiz Saeed, recovering “lost Muslim lands” that once spanned much of Asia and Europe.
Given this ideology, the LeT attack is an attempt to cripple India’s economic growth, destroy national confidence in its political system, attack its open society and provoke destabilising communal rivalries, all while sending a message that India will remain an adversary because its successes make it a hindrance to LeT’s larger cause. In this context, the struggle over Kashmir is merely instrumental. To quote Saeed, Kashmir is merely a “gateway to capture India” en route to LeT’s other targets.
Such statements are not simply grandstanding. Outside of al-Qaida, LeT today represents the most important South Asian terrorist group of “global reach”. With recruitment, fundraising and operations extending to Afghanistan, Iraq, Central Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia, LeT has rapidly become a formidable threat.