Ten Outsiders: How many Insiders?

The Indian government is leaning heavily on the West. This spells bad news. It will force us to fight un-winnable, highly destructive wars with damaging, long-term consequences

Sanjay Kapoor Delhi


The television footage at the Chatrapati Shivaji Stadium-CST (VT), on the day the terror struck Mumbai on November 26, is illuminating. Young men with backpacks casually move in with their sub-machine guns. Typical of trained commandoes, they routinely look over their shoulder to ascertain whether anyone is following them. Quite evidently, the young men were no casual suicide bombers or fidayeen fighters that have confronted Indian security forces in the past. Not even like those who stormed Parliament in December 2002.

The Mumbai terrorists seemed to belong to ‘Special Forces' of an army backed by quality intelligence out to accomplish an agenda that still remains shrouded in mystery. Walid Phares, an American expert on counter-terrorism, claims: "If you look at the scheme, the structure, you will see the interests of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the execution by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and security provided by an intelligence apparatus in Pakistan." Phares believes that the decision for the attack took place at the top echelons of Al-Qaeda and execution was "outsourced" to LeT.

The immediate fallout of the attack has been stirring tensions between India and Pakistan and aggressive saber-rattling not witnessed since the attack at India's Parliament. The attack has raised the specter of the entire South Asia getting destabilised.

Likelihood of tensions could result in the relocation of Pakistani army from their western border facing Afghanistan to India. Besides easing pressure on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), perceived by the US as the epicenter of terrorism, this move could leave international forces stationed in Afghanistan vulnerable to Taliban attacks. Experts believe that the larger geo-political objectives of the attack were to create circumstances where the radical section of the Pakistani army in consort with LeT overthrows President Asif Ali Zardari. Such a development before the swearing in of Barack Obama as US President could present a real and clear challenge to his foreign policy.

However, the Mumbai attack and the manner in which it was executed points to a more complex reality. Interestingly, the Versace T-shirt clad young face of terror, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, was brought down by baton-wielding Mumbai policemen. Nine other terrorists were smoked out from high value locations like Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi Trident. Interrogation of Kasab has provided some details of the origin of these terrorists and where they were trained, but there is little likelihood of Kasab knowing the full contours of this operation, the real people behind the attack, the ground support they got when they took the amphibian route to reach the coastline near the Gateway of India.

Early reports suggested that they came in a fishing trawler after they were dropped by a Pakistani ship. Security experts say that the Pakistani ship, probably, dropped them in Indian waters from where they took the trawler to come ashore. Russian security agencies have been claiming that the Mumbai terror attack was facilitated by Dawood Ibrahim's underworld.

The style of commandoes taking over a city, in the reckoning of the Russian intelligence experts, is inspired by Chechen militants who used to takeover small towns. The Beslan massacre of school children and taking over a Moscow theatre were some of the operations undertaken by the Chechens. The Russian experts, who shared their understanding with the Indian government, claimed that the way the terrorists conducted themselves suggested that they were not only highly trained, but were also handled by those who were exposed to the training manuals that the US covert specialists had put together for rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

It is, however, the alleged involvement of Dawood Ibrahim which is giving a different spin to the horrific episode. If Dawood is really involved, it is possible to understand why the terrorists moved freely and why intelligence inputs on the impending attack remained unattended.  "Transnational crime is converging with the terrorist world," claims a US state department official. Another expert reckons that the world is witnessing a new hybrid of organised crime-terrorists.

Dawood, according to writer David Kaplan in the US News and World Report, lent his smuggling network and underworld assets to Al-Qaeda. There are suggestions that the Mumbai underworld helped Al-Qaeda to pull out their gold and valuables from Kabul after the US attacked Afghanistan in 2001. Although, Kasab's interrogation debunks suggestions of local support and credits their entry through the sea route and subsequent movement in the Colaba area to global positioning (GPS) devices, there have been plenty of eyewitness accounts that hint at local help. A woman, it is alleged, escorted the two terrorists to CST station.

Dawood, who enjoys phenomenal clout within the Mumbai police and coastal security, can explain why the intelligence reports indicating the movement of terrorists were not acted upon. Was there any insider involvement that stayed the hands of the police forces? If the allegations of former deputy chief minister, RR Patil, are anything to go by, then there was some top politician who had close links to the underworld who may have some role to play in this attack. His statement cannot be dismissed lightly as he was the home minister with access to intelligence reports.

Shouldn't the central government check out from Patil about the identity of the politician?

It is Dawood's involvement that many believe could have led to the killing of the ATS chief, Hemant Karkare, ACP, Ashok Kamte, and Inspector, Vijay Salaskar. Highly placed government sources said that there is no doubt about who killed Karkare and others, but it seems that they were "lured" into a situation. AR Antulay gave expression to these misgivings when he demanded an investigation in to the circumstances of Karkare's killing. Antulay's demand created a furore. But P Chidambaram is unlikely to satisfy many who believe that there was, specifically, a fanatic Hindutva (Sangh Parivar) conspiracy to kill Hemant Karkare - who was investigating the Malegaon blasts.

What is intriguing about the Mumbai attackers is the felicity with which they used Blackberry mobiles and GPS. These SIM cards were procured from Kolkata and they were loaded with mobile banking technologies. According to Andrew Cochran, US-based strategic affairs expert,
"This was the first large-scale terrorist attack involving stored-value cards and mobile
banking technologies..."

This is a serious revelation as scores of credit cards were found on the terrorists purportedly picked up from hostages in the hotel. What needs investigating is whether the terrorists or their handlers managed to access the bank accounts of these high value people who were kept hostage for 60 hours in the hugely expensive five-star hotels like Taj and Trident.

There are disturbing reports that some of the hostages were even tortured. Some hostages claimed that the terrorists were checking out with their handlers how to treat them. The terrorists seemed to have a list of the hotel residents and were clear whom they were targeting. Many high profile, wealthy people were killed, including the partner of Yes Bank, Ashok Kapoor. The big question is: did the terrorists, besides executing their larger agenda, also engage in transferring money out of the account of hostages?

Terrorism experts claim that Al-Qaeda and other terror outfits are relentlessly involved in raising funds. Although driven to create Ummah or Islamic order in the world, these terrorists use drug trade, counterfeit currency and gun-running to finance their activities.

It will take a while for the implications of the Mumbai terror attack to sink in. But one thing is clear: the Indian government, after this incident, has begun to lean very heavily on the West. If contemporary history is an indication - this
spells bad news for a country. Close ties with the West will not militarise India. It will force us to fight un-winnable, highly destructive and damaging wars with long-term consequences.

If that happens, the 10 outsiders in Mumbai would have succeeded in executing their agenda.