Terrorist in Victoria Terminal Sebastian D’Souza / Mumbai Mirror
As the siege on lower Mumbai stretches into its third day it has become clear that that attacks were not orchestrated by an unknown terrorist group, but that they had been planned, financed and carried out by elements within the Pakistani Intelligence agency known as ISI. It is still unclear if the intelligence agency acted alone or if high level members of Pakistan’s government had signed off on the operation, or whether individuals within the agency broke away with their own agenda. However, if the Pakistani government does immediate action against its rogue agency this assault could be considered an act of war.
Internally Pakistan is in chaos. The government has almost no presence in its Northwest Frontier Provence (NWFP) and has sacrificing its military sovereignty to American forces for the war on terror. After almost 60 years of stalemate on the Kashmir issue, Pakistan has begin to fall behind India. As its claim on Kashmir is losing strength hard-line Islamic militants and Taliban remnants are setting up shop across the country.
While at present, Pakistan is a major rival to India, ten years down the line the country could well be obsolete. India is becoming a major regional power, with a booming economy, a recently passed nuclear deal and a growth rate that touches on 10%. From an intelligence and security perspective, Pakistan has to either take strong measures to improve its domestic situation or hope that its rivals similarly falter.
With little hope of improving the problems within its own borders, ISI has opted to pull a card from the CIA’s former playbook and attempt to destabilize the region.
For almost forty years from 1960s through the 1990s the Central Intelligence Agency planned and executed several operations in South America, Asia and Eastern Europe, aimed at destabilizing the regions. Always operating under a guise of plausibly deniability, and without the broader support of the American people the CIA was successful at clandestine operations. By financing a war by proxy in Afghanistan, a guerilla army in Tibet, assassinations in Chile, a failed coup in Cuba and arming Contras in Nicaragua, the CIA bet that by destabilizing competing nation states the could further secure America’s position in the world. And, despite some terrible public relations, the CIA’s efforts worked.
The ISI has every motivation to do the same thing in India.
In the past six months there have been ten major terrorist attacks across India, the highest rate of violence in more than a decade. Bombings in Hyderabad, Jaipur, Varanasi, Bangalore, Delhi and Bombay spread panic across the country, and the groups claiming responsibility were new and apparently homegrown. These so-called “Indian Muhajaddin” use hit and run tactics and claim to have fundamentalist politics—but released very little information about its political demands claiming that it was practicing Jihad for Jihad’s sake. At best their ideology is just meant to signal general Islamic discontent. In other words, the ideology is a thin veil for ISI to claim plausible deniability.
The Indian versions of these so-called Islamic fundamentalists do not appear to have a legitimate ideological base. This separates them from every other terrorist group in the last 40-odd years that had specific political demands. The IRA strove for independence from Ireland, Basques from Spain, Hezbollah for an independent Palestine, the LTTE for an independent Tamil State, and Naxalites for a communist revolution. Even Al Qaeda’s rabidly fundamentalist politics expressed a political ideology for independence from the west and establishing a government according to sharia law.
Local terror groups in India did not seem to have any concrete ideology apart from spreading violence, and perhaps inter-ethnic conflict. At best they have the political savvy of the Columbine school shooters. Their motivations are ultimately inscrutable—and patently false.
Many reports show shady linkages kept to Pakistani immigrants and ISI funding, not local radical mosques preaching jihad. Only a few months ago even the CIA fingered ISI behind the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul. At best the half-hearted proclamations of the Indian and Deccan Muhajaddins to “free Islamic fighters from Indian prisons” were only a thin veil to disguise their real agendas.
Now, with a tactical attack on southern Mumbai that used military tactics, and even satellite communication with a base in Karachi it is clear that there is no homegrown anti-India Islamic agenda. Instead, it seems that Pakistan’s intelligence agency has been trying to spread instability across India to achieve its own strategic ends.
India now must contemplate a response to the actions of ISI. Many segments of Pakistan’s government want peace with the India, and it is likely that the agency has been acting on its own without approval from elected officials. But unless the government is able to regain control of ISI the recent attacks on Mumbai could be construed as an act of war.
**UPDATE: Some changes have been made to this post. In the original version I was more certain about the role of ISI, but reader feedback has made me reconsider some points. While it is apparent that the assailants on Mumbai had help from Pakistan, and likely from members of the intelligence service, it could be that factions from within the security agency acted without authorization from the top-brass.