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Nov 27, 2008 | 20:12 GMT

5 mins read

India: Mumbai Attacks and Hints of a Pakistan Connection

PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
Summary

Indian security forces are trying to rescue hostages and mop up pockets of resistance following the massive militant attacks Nov. 26 in Mumbai. Given the pre-operational surveillance, planning and coordination of the attack, it appears that the domestic militants involved received outside support, most likely from al Qaeda in Pakistan as well as elements of the Mumbai underworld. The Pakistan link could well increase tensions along the Indo-Pakistani border.

Nearly 24 hours after the initial attacks in Mumbai, what is now being referred to as India’s 9/11 is still in motion. Operations by Indian security forces to release the remaining hostages at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi-Trident hotels and the Jewish Chabad House are ongoing, with reports of another explosion at the Taj hotel. Israel’s intelligence services are also helping the Indians resolve the hostage situation at the Chabad House.

Descriptions of the attackers thus far point to a combination of Indian Muslims, Kashmiris and Pakistanis, all 20 to 25 years of age. Hints of a Pakistani connection are also emerging, with the Indian navy now searching a boat that allegedly originated at the Pakistani port city of Karachi, delivered eight to 10 militants off the coast of Mumbai and was heading back to Karachi Nov. 27 when an Indian navy helicopter encircled and detained the boat.

As STRATFOR has emphasized, the Indian government will not be able to downplay its response to an attack of this magnitude, raising the potential for India to spin up the Pakistani linkages in the attack to create a crisis along the Indo-Pakistani border. STRATFOR has learned that discussions are already taking place among senior Congress officials in New Delhi to amass troops along the border in Kashmir, a situation reminiscent of the Indian response to the 2001 Parliament attack in New Delhi that led to a near-nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan. The connection between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and the Islamist militant groups operating in India has become a lot murkier since 9/11 while the current government in Pakistan has become extremely weak and fractured, making it more difficult for India to immediately blame Islamabad for the attack. However, with the political need to respond forcefully, the Pakistani link can still be spun up relatively easily.

Given the pre-operational surveillance, planning and coordination of this unprecedented attack, it also appears that the domestic elements involved in the operation received outside support, most likely from al Qaeda in Pakistan, which already has close ties to many of the groups operating in India, particularly Lashkar-e-Taiba. That one of the attacks targeted the Jewish Chabad House (an atypical target for the more indigenous Islamist militants operating in India) indicates more of a transnational jihadist linkage. Groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat ul Jihad al Islami and the Student Islamic Movement of India are all Islamist militant groups that have collaborated with each other under the Kashmir banner and appear to have now coalesced under the name Indian Mujahideen. The group Deccan Mujahideen, which claimed the Mumbai attacks, is likely an affiliate of the group.

In the bigger picture, however, the militant name game is unimportant, since it is meant primarily to confuse India’s security forces. What is important is the link that can be drawn back to the Pakistani ISI. The Mumbai attacks covered a large number of Western-focused targets over an extended period of time. While the attacks did not require the skills of a bomb maker, they did require scores of young men who were dedicated enough to essentially launch a suicide operation. Such an attack requires a high level of planning, training and coordination that has not been seen by the more homegrown Islamist militant groups operating in India over the past several years. It is quite possible that these Islamist militant groups received substantial support from intelligence elements in Pakistan in carrying out the attack.

Since 9/11, the Pakistani government and military’s command and control over the ISI has become more nebulous, as many of the handlers who worked directly with the militant groups have struggled to maintain a balance between obeying orders from above to crack down on their militant proxies and assisting in operations against India and the United States. In any case, it is up to the Indian government to decide how far it will take the Pakistani link in its response to the attacks. There is also a high probability that the Mumbai underworld was involved in this attack. Mumbai has a very active organized crime scene that has a great deal of influence over the city’s ports as well as the country’s movie-making industry. The triangular marine area between the coastal regions of India, Pakistan and Dubai is concentrated with organized crime elements that are heavily involved in smuggling operations. Many of these criminals are Muslim and harbor pro-Islamist and anti-India sentiment.

To transport the number of militants and ammunition used in this attack, particularly by boat, could very well have required some level of cooperation from Mumbai’s organized crime scene. In fact, there is historical precedent for this: Mumbai organized crime had links to both the 1993 and 2001 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Given the complexity and scale of these latest Mumbai attacks, it is little wonder that the Indian government is experiencing a kind of shell shock in their wake. Nonetheless, a forceful and timely response is needed if the Indian government wants to avoid collapse. STRATFOR’s eyes are on the Indo-Pakistani border for this response.

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