Mumbai Attacks as India’s 9/11? (Questionable Thesis and Partial Refutation)

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[Image courtesy Flick-er Stuti via CC]

I have to say I find this notion that the Mumbai attacks are India’s 9/11 is somewhat very unnerving.  India has been experiencing terrorism, either by Hindutva far-right extremists as well as Kashmiri based Muslims for decades.  Decades.  They are hardly some Johnny-Come-Latelys to the terrorism game.  In fact, the situation I would argue is the complete opposite, where the US should be learning from India’s resilience in its decades long struggle to maintain democracy–the world’s largest–in the face of terrorism.  Not the India should be learning from the US in its post 9/11 guise.  See Juan Cole on that point.

So the first link up there is from Greg Sheridan at the Australian.  It’s a rather fetid imagination piece which not only wants to link Pakistan in but also al-Qaeda to the attacks.

Sheridan writes:

They [Mumbai attacks] represent, too, a probably definitive merger of internal Indian conflicts with the global war on terror. They also represent a formal notice of combat to the American president-elect, Barack Obama. The implications for the US of these attacks are in fact enormous.

First off the Global War on Terror is really at this point The Southeast/Southwestern Asian Crisis.  Pakistan, India, Afghanistan.  India’s embassy in Afghanistan was bombed most likely from groups from the NWFP of Pakistan.  So if Sheridan wants to make the link between the so-called (and badly named and theorized and fought) Global War on Terror and India, that already happened with that embassy bombing.

It might in fact be the complete reverse, with al-Qaeda Central being subsumed into what are essentially local/regional fights:  Kashmir, the Taliban Pashtun resistance against the Indian-backed Northern Alliance in Kabul, and the rise of the Pakistani Taliban.  All of course with the inter-relation of a NATO mission in Afghanistan and US predator drones bombing targets, both civilian and terrorist in territory that is supposedly under Pakistani sovereignty but which practically is self-governed.

The problem (as Cole notes) with all these views on whether Pakistan was behind the attacks or not is that we still think in terms of states as opposed to state-less or trans-national guerrilla networks.  Sheridan’s piece assumes al-Qaeda is a state-like entity.  Which in a certain way it is actually is which is why it has become increasingly less effective.  It’s message gets amplified and decentralized groups can pick up on those issues and run with them however they like, but that’s not the same assuming operational coordination.

And if even there is training, these groups are fluid and individuals within the groups can bleed over into another and they can form, disform, or reform basically at the drop of a hat.  Any possible combination of connections is really possible.

But one point I would strongly disagree with of Sheridan’s is that the attacks on Westerners is hallmark al-Qaeda.  Except that al-Qaeda’s MO has not been to take hostages.  There were no suicide bombers in this attack (al-Qaeda’s real hallmark if it has one).

Ultimately al-Qaeda supposed political objectives have failed.  It frankly has none and is ultimately nihilistic.  It’s attempt to plant the (false) flag of al-Qaeda around the world, suck the US in, and then bleed them dry by aligning with local grievances in an attempt to globalize them has been effective through the stupidity of Bush in invading Iraq and perhaps Obama tripling down in Afghanistan.

The problem then immediately is the state-relation to all of this.  Even if al-Qaeda was in charge of this operation or coordinated with some group in the NWFP, do we invade Pakistan?  Does India?  When the government of Pakistan clearly is not supportive of these attacks, however much some rogue elements within the government/Army and/or ISI might be in favor of them?

How does this lead anywhere other than to what was pretty obvious from the beginning, but never done by Bush with his war metaphor/paradigm for this construct.  Namely increased nation-nation intelligence coordination and the creation of decentralized intelligence (counter-terrorism) groups by the nations affected by terrorism?

The question from the beginning has been about creating a legal paradigm resilient and flexible yet with enough standards to protect the rule of law (civil rights, democracy, etc) in the age of terror.  Something like what apparently the PM of India is calling for today.

This is light years more important than creating some League of Democracies or getting all the countries together into war mode who have had their own 9/11s against some worldwide united terrorist front (which doesn’t exist).

Rather 1. Create the New Legal Paradigm and 2. Crush the Cell(s)

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