On Point: Mumbai: The Terrorists' Gambit


by Austin Bay
December 3, 2008

The Islamist terrorist attack on Mumbai sets the stage for another majorwar between India and Pakistan. To avoid it, statesmen will have to controlinflamed public passion and manipulative politicians as well as confront theterrorists responsible for the heinous crime.

Diplomats know the act of mass murder spurs legitimate anger and rage.Mumbai's death toll reached 180 earlier this week, with some 240 people wounded.Most of the dead were Indians, but the list of victims included foreigners fromat least 12 other countries, including the United States, Germany, China, GreatBritain and Israel.

India's outrage has deep roots. Islamist terrorists likely connected toPakistan have struck Mumbai many times, with attacks in 1993 and 2006particularly notable. The July 2006 attack mimicked al-Qaida's March 2004bombing of commuter trains in Madrid. 2008's massacre-by-gunfire tactically andstrategically echoes the December 2001 assault by Islamist gunmen on India'sparliament building in New Delhi. That attack killed 12 and chilled prospectsfor a 9-11-inspired India-Pakistan rapprochement based on combatingterrorism.

With anger seizing India and fear of Indian attack gripping Pakistan,rhetorical belligerency is inevitable. Indian and Pakistani media reflect thiswar of words. Both governments have redeployed military forces, with thecontested state of Kashmir the focus.

Mediating anger and fear requires intricate diplomatic judo. Rhetoric isfine, as long as it releases passion rather than feeds it. To paraphrase WinstonChurchill, "jaw jaw" is preferable to "war war." Diplomatically structured troopmovements are also permitted, where Indian and Pakistani commanders know theother side's moves. This dangerous theater buys time for cool-headed leaderspushed by politicians demanding war. "Quartet discussions" involving India,Pakistan, the United States and the U.N. Security Council are a diplomatic venuefor directing this theater. U.S. satellite and electronic intelligence assetsare good at tracking large-scale conventional troop movements and provide atrust-building "third-party eye."

The diplomats' goal is to avoid the strategic catastrophe of anIndo-Pakistani war -- thwarting what I believe was the terrorists' strategicaim.

The Pakistani government says it wants to "dampen down the discourse ofconflict and work toward regional peace." Good. Ensuring peace between India andPakistan ultimately requires defeating the terrorists, and that entailseffective, coordinated action.

India wants Pakistan to arrest and then extradite several terrorists,including Dawood Ibrahim. The Indian government believes Ibrahim orchestratedMumbai's 1993 terror bombing. Pakistan needs to comply. India also wants actionagainst terrorist bases. Indian media report that the terrorist captured inMumbai, Ajmal Qasab, claims he trained at camps in Pakistan run by the Islamistand Kashmiri organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). Though LET spokesmen deny it,Indian intelligence believes LET is responsible for the Mumbai assault and wasbehind the 2001 parliament attack.

LET is an al-Qaida ally. While al-Qaida serves as a global ideologicalcollective for assorted Islamist sociopaths who use terror to achieve their ownlocal or regional political goals, its connections with LET are long-term.According to the State Department, in March 2002 Pakistani security arrestedal-Qaida "operations planner" Abu Zubaydah in a safehouse operated by LET.Personal connections go back to the mujahadeen war against Russia in Afghanistan-- that battle zone on the other side of Pakistan. They also connect throughPakistan's fragmented, corrupt, yet still potent Inter-Services Intelligencedirectorate (ISI). LET and rogue ISI operatives are dangerous to Pakistan, andPakistan needs to shut them down.

Al-Qaida lost in Iraq. It has now shifted its main effort to Afghanistanand Pakistan. Despite the negative headlines, al-Qaida is losing in CentralAsia. As StrategyPage.com noted on Nov. 20, al-Qaida's tactics aren't working inAfghanistan because there is "popular opposition to Islamic terrorism" and thatPakistan's "army offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan" has hurt theterrorists. For the last six months, strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban sanctuariesin Pakistan have been increasingly effective.

The terrorists' gambit? Replay December 2001 for bigger stakes. A massslaughter in Mumbai ignites a war with India and moves the Pakistani Army fromthe Afghan border.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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