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With more than a 190 confirmed fatalities, and still rising, at the time of writing, an many of the over 600 injured still in a critical state, the enormity of the latest serial blasts in Mumbai is still to sink in. In terms of fatalities, this is already the second largest terrorist attack ever to be executed on Indian soil. The largest was the series of 13 coordinated explosions on March 12, 1993, again in Mumbai, in which 257 persons were killed.

Between 1993 and 2003, there were another 11 incidents of explosions engineered by Pakistan-backed Islamist extremist terrorists in Mumbai , in which a total of 78 persons were killed and another 349 injured. The worst of these were the twin blasts on August 25, 2003, at the crowded Zhaveri Bazaar and the Gateway of India, in which 50 persons died.

The latest series of blasts is, in essence, a continuation of a sustained covert war against India in which Pakistan has created and exploited a number of Islamist terrorist groups over more than a decade and a half. While the principal focus of this war remains, at presents, the State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), there have been sustained efforts, since the early 1990s, to extend this war to every part of India, and there has been a cyclical succession of terrorist operations outside J&K and across the length and breadth of the country, from the extreme North to the far South, and from East to West. The frequency, spread and, in some cases, intensity of these operations has seen some escalation in the past years, as international pressure on Pakistan to end terrorism in J&K has diminished levels of ‘deniable’ engagement in that theatre, and as violence in that State demonstrates a continuous secular decline since the events of September 11, 2001 in the US.

It is significant that hundreds of Pakistan backed terrorist modules have been discovered, disrupted and neutralized over the past years, and the cumulative evidence of these operations has systematically confirmed a sustained and comprehensive Pakistani strategy of subversion and mobilisation for terrorism in virtually every significant concentration of Muslim populations in India. This strategy has failed entirely to secure a mass base among India’s Muslims, but a handful of recruits, sufficient to sustain a sporadic and, given contemporary technologies, fairly devastating, terrorist campaign, has been available.

Definitive identification of the responsible groups and individuals will, of course, have to wait till investigations have arrived at some conclusions. However, given the record of past incidents, arrests, seizures, and activities within Maharashtra, particularly including Mumbai, the needle of suspicion points inexorably to three organisations as the probable architects of the latest carnage in Mumbai. The first of these is the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), now renamed Jamaat-ud-Daawa, headquartered at Muridke in Pakistan, and led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who has full freedom of movement and operation in Pakistan. The LeT was prominently engaged in relief work, with full state support, after the earthquake of December 2004 in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, despite the fact that the organisation figures on the Indian, the Pakistani and the US list of proscribed terrorist groups. The Let is the principal Islamist terrorist organisation that has been engaged in operations in a wide number locations outside (as well as within) J&K, and has a confirmed role in several of the earlier bomb blasts in Mumbai. A number of arrests over the past few months, as well as in 2004 and 2005 has resulted in the discovery and neutralization of several LeT modules in Maharashtra, confirming a continuous effort to execute terrorist activities in the State and its capital. The Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) also has a very significant presence in Maharashtra, and has facilitated a number of past LeT strikes in the State and in other theatres in the country outside J&K. It has increasingly emerged as the principal recruiting organisation and facilitator for the operation of Pakistan based Islamist terrorist groups outside operating in India, outside J&K. The third organisation, which has been involved in trafficking in arms and explosives, as well as the illegal transfer of funds to Islamist terrorist groups operating in India (as well as abroad) is the Dawood Ibrahim gang, currently headquartered in Karachi. The evidence suggests that one or a combination of these groups will be found to be responsible for the latest serial blasts in Mumbai.

The lessons of this latest outrage, as of the unending sequence that has preceded and will inevitably succeed it, are that there can be no permanent strategy of defence against terrorism. Intelligence and enforcement agencies have had hundreds of successes, but a committed enemy will eventually find a breach, or will be able to engineer a failure through sheer attrition, to execute an attack. Unless the source of terrorism is targeted, and unless unbearable costs are inflicted on the state and non-state sponsors of terrorism, there can be no solution to this unending war. It is useful, within this context, to realize that the most significant terrorist organisation in South Asia is Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, and hence the Pakistani state; all other organisations, the LeT, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen, and the many other groups are mere instrumentalities. India’s counter-terrorism strategy will have to come to terms with this reality before it can move towards a resolution of unrelenting violence Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorists inflict on the innocent.

(Published in Daily News & Analysis, Mumbai, July 13, 2006)






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