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


[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)

PBS Frontline: The War Briefing

Sneak peak of documentary here:

The full video is available from the Frontline Website.  A must watch in my book.  Interesting to note that many of the experts on the interviews are made up of the new left/center-left security outfits (e.g. CNAS) who are going to make up a lot of the mid level positions in an Obama administration.  Also a bunch of COIN guys (Nagl, Kilcullen).

There is so much to comment on, but the section (towards the middle) on Pakistan is the key portion in my book.  The prior colonials have never been able to hold Afghanistan (Alexander the Great, British, Soviets) because they could not deal with the tribal Pashtuns lands in FATA.  That sanctuary allows an on-going insurgency.  This to me is exactly the same and I’m not sure I see a way around that fact.

I’m not as concerned as some of the interviewers (e.g. Colin Kahl) that Pakistan is teetering on the edge of total collapse.  They are facing some serious threats–both financial and military.  But I don’t get the sense that the Pakistani Taliban want to overrun the Pakistani state.  They just want to be left to rule themselves I think.  They have launched a series of attacks on the Pakistani state and civilian population in response to periodic incursions by the Pakistani military into the tribal areas.

As Robert Kaplan notes, the Pakistani army is not built for such fighting–it is built for a conventional state war against India.  When Hussein Haqqani comes out at the end and says that the new Pakistani government of Zardari and Gilani sees the Pakistani Taliban (as did Bhutto) as an existential threat, that position is one of those elites and not necessarily of the Army, nor the ISI, nor perhaps the bullk of the population who I sense are anti-Taliban in the sense that they obviously don’t want to be ruled by the Taliban but not in favor of what they see as the US War on Terror.  The airstrikes into Pakistani territory don’t help in this regard.

The COIN Doctrine of winning hearts and minds is a particularly tough one, and I’m pessimistic that it can ever work at all. But certainly after the initial opportunity has been missed 6 years too late in the Afghanistan context and 3 years too late in Iraq when the surge came into existence.

The best it seems it can do at this point, in my opinion, is not make it all out civil war when one leaves.  But the state will be for a long time to come dysfunctional if not essentially hollowed out.

Eventually the Afghan Taliban are going to be part of the Afghanistan government.  There will have to be an amnesty, allowing them to join the National Army, etc.  But the Afghan Taliban are not centralized and controlled by Mullah Omar any longer.  Moreover, with the loss of the Taliban police state, the Taliban have now had to join up with criminal gangs, poppy growers, narco-traders, etc.  So even some attempt as Petraeus wants to do to separate the reconcilables from the unreconilables, which I agree is as smart a policy as can be done (and could do some objective good), with the fragmenting of these groups, such a policy as in Iraq post-surge may just be more a recognition of the basically failed state status/fragmentation of the country and work to undermine whatever state power is left (again as in Iraq with the Awakening Councils).

The Afghan Taliban at the end of the day and even a Pakistani Taliban that is not seeking to overthrow the Pakistani government are not threats to US national security.  The potential of failed/hollowed out states wherein trans-national terrorists can hang out, train, and launch attacks is.  [Not an existential threat unless we overreact to another terrorist attack like we did the first one–but a legitimate threat nonetheless].

But I’m not sure how those two get separated.  There are rumors like Mullah Omar will split with al-Qaeda (h/t Attackerman), but others could pick up the slack (Jalalludin Haqqani, Beitullah Mehsud in North and South Waziristan respectively).

What is clear is that as long as there are foreign troops in Afghanistan there will be a jihad.  As long as the Pashtuns (and their new Pashtun-reps the Taliban) are not part of the government, then the jihad will also be against the Afghan Army.  As well as on the other side, the Pakistani state/army/civilians.

The tribal lands are the hardest nut to crack.

China Hand on Afghanistan Policy Change

One of my favorite bloggers with a long, detailed, and brilliant piece that is a must read.

The context:

The United States and NATO can’t be driven from Afghanistan militarily. Nor, however, can the Taliban be crushed in the foreseeable future.


The US is going to be in Afghanistan for years to come.  The only thing that’s going to change in Afghanistan is the objectives.

General Petraeus as new head of CentCom along with Robert Gates (will he or won’t he stay on as SecDef under Prez Obama?) are working on major reviews of all strategy from Iraq & Iran to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The central core of which will be a call to begin negotiations with the Taliban.  Obama has actually had a quite hawkish hardline stance on the Taliban, so this will get interesting.  The idea will be to buy off and separate as many of the elements of the insurgency as possible, and see if possible to break the Taliban from al-Qaeda.

There are a couple of problems with this theory however as I see it. One, the Mullah Omar wing of the Taliban will never sell out bin Laden.   If they wouldn’t before the war, why now?  They are neo-fundamentalists in Olivier Roy’s terminology meaning they are interested in creating Islamic society not an Islamic state (they were very uninterested in actual governance when in power in the 90s).

Now the newer Taliban or Pashto insurgent groups in the south of Afghanistan can be dealt with it seems to me and realize they will have to get along with the Afghan Army.  But they will be seeking a withdrawal of all foreign troops in order to facilitate a stand down.  Plus, they have no real connection with al-Qaeda who is off in Waziristan.

Petraeus, as China Hand remind us, is a genius of the media age and has at times shown a unwillingness to bend to civilian rule.  The current batch of leaks to US media and from European allies is undoubtedly not accidental.

Ultimately the Taliban do not pose a threat to the domestic security of NATO countries nor to the international order.  They could become a FARC-like naro-terrorist group that will wreak havoc locally and/or a return to a brutal dictatorship but how is that different than say Burma?

How this all breaks down in real time:

It appears that the key job before General Petraeus will be to co-opt the regional impetus toward a negotiated settlement, prevent Saudi Arabia from mid-wifing a power-sharing arrangement favorable to the Taliban, assert American control and direction over the process to assure America’s continued presence at the center of Afghan’s security equation, and spike the loose cannons that threaten his plan.

And of course no discussion of Afghanistan without the broader regional question of which there as yet seems to be no consensus:

Even if NATO, the central Afghan authority, and the Afghan Taliban get on the same page, there is still the question of how much collateral damage to tolerate—or provoke—in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the same as Afghanistan. The Taliban, what we are calling the Taliban, is actually a series of global guerrilla groups–cellular, fragmented, networked, with fluid membership.  Some attack traditional tribal leaders, some don’t.  Some play by the old tribal customs, some are increasingly bucking them.  So a peace deal can definitely be made with some no doubt, but there is no one person–not even Mullah Omar–who has control over the movement and therefore can sign some treaty and end the conflict of all these various groups.  Particularly when so many fund their operations through crime (drug trade, kidnappings, smuggling, etc.).

What this still leaves open as a question that dare not speak its name in US foreign policy discussion is: how much of a threat really is al-Qaeda?  The Pakistanis don’t see the Pakistani Taliban as an existential threat.  There really is no proof that the Pakistani Taliban want to take over the government.  They basically want to be left alone to create their own idealized Islamic society in Waziristan.

The problem then is the continued hospitality/safe haven given AQ and its leadership in the Pakistani FATA region.  But why would they gain from selling out AQ?  What do they have to fear except some predator drones really at the end of the day?

No one will have this discussion it seems to me, but we need to ask how effective is all of this? How worth it is this attempt to get AQ? I’m not disrespecting the enormity of 3,000 civilian casualties inside the US, but AQ is predicated on more and more spectacular attacks and luring the US into Muslim countries around the world (by rasing the flag of AQ as bin Laden said–often as a decoy mind you)  and bleeding the  US dry.

Their weakness is the need for spectacular attacks and how difficult it is to pull off one always greater than the last one.  Particularly post September 11th.  But Obama is a Democrat and won’t be able to face any possible criticism of weakness, so he is going to charge in there and we’ll continue to muddy along I suppose for some time to come.

Bloody Brutal Bombing in Islamabad

Warning, by clicking the link to the Reuters story in the NyTimes you will see a disturbing photo.  The link is here.

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – At least 40 people were killed on Saturday in a suspected suicide car bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the city’s police chief reported.

The attack was timed at the exact moment that the new president of Pakistan, Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto) was to first address the parliament and call for a crackdown on militants.  The attack then sends the signal that the government is not in control, can not protect citiizens and most importantly can not protect foreigners–the Marriott in Islamabad is a major foreign (mostly Western) hang out.

The Reuters article unhelpfully in some ways refers to “al-Qaeda-linked militants” as having suffered a series of attacks by the government.  If I had to guess who was behind this, it would be the head of the Pakistani Taliban from Waziristan, Baitullah Mahsud.  He is the main suspect behind the assassination of Bhutto and this has all the hallmarks of their operation.  The other major candidate would be Jalaludin Haqqani who is thought to have been behind the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and is perversely known as the father of suicide bombing in Afghan/Pakistan.

This entire strategy of predator drones/airstrikes into Waziristan, special forces in there, the Pakistanis announcing that they will attack any NATO/US soldiers who cross into Pakistan (!!!!!), needs to be fundamentally re-thought.  Pakistan is being destabilized–Pakistan with a NUCLEAR WEAPON, that Pakistan.  The most dangerous nation on the planet getting more dangerous by the minute.

Suicide bombing is a tactic of populations perceived to be under occupation.

I’m glad I’m not in charge on this one because I have no idea what to do.  If you leave it alone, the Taliban is too strong and too well equipped/financed not to overrun all kinds of places, especially in Afghanistan.  In Pakistan, the Taliban just want (at this point) to be left alone and left to rule their haunts.  But in Afghanistan they want the government back.

But a cynic or maybe a realist would ask how we could simply disentangle al-Qaeda from the Taliban and make our fight only with them.  But that just doesn’t seem possible.  Mullah Omar, Mahsud, Haqqani, too many of them are connected with AQ.  From such a perch it seems inevitable to me that AQ would successfully land another attack–probably on Britain not the US but possibly in the US as well.

That worries me for the obvious reason of loss of life but also for the hysteria/over-reaction that accompanied the September 11th attacks.  Another attack and God only knows what more civil liberties we would lose.

It seems a real damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.  And by damned here I mean people damned to death.  I don’t mean that in some vague gotcha sense or political campaigns. This is real human life here.

At the end of the day, the Pakistanis it seems to me don’t really want this fight.  Zardari does because his whole power lies in it.  He is the fulfillment of the US-backed plan to install Benazir Bhutto, which at the time was a Bhutto-Musharraf power sharing arrangement but now is a Bhutto-clan only scenario.  Nawaz Sharif of course is running to unseat the government on an anti-US, pro-Pakistani sovereignty platform (and undoubtedly a peace with honor/deal with the Taliban plank).  Bhutto got US approval because she told the West she would take on the militants (never mind that she helped them prosper in the first place).

So that’s where it all is now.

Scheuer II: Criticisms

Following on the last post, some criticisms of Scheuer’s work.

The largest and most glaring is that while Scheuer properly notes the level of anti-American (anti-American FP) in the Muslim world, this does not translate into support for al-Qaeda.  In fact, given the recent spate of barbarism from AQ (particularly Zarqawi in Iraq, esp. between 2005-2007) support for the group has plummeted  in the Muslim world.  There simply is no desire for a caliphate with or without bin Laden at the head.  Guerrillas can self-sustain in this networked age without populace support but they will never gain power.

Another point that Scheuer underestimates is the degree to which there have been some real successes in terms of coordinated attacks on the terrorist networks (finance, communication, delivery).  Always derided by the right as the left fighting terrorists as if they were “criminals”.  As if their subjective state mattered as compared to their tactics and stated goals (both of which are clearly articulated by bin Laden publicly).

Fareed Zakaria has a piece today on this very theme. Zakaria also cites this excellent article by James Fallows from 2006.

Fallows says the war against (so-called) Islamic terrorism if there ever was one is already one.  Scheuer says we are losing.  I think both are in a way correct.  We are losing vis a vis lacking a strategy of aiming directly at AQ.  They are reconstituted in many regards (though not all) in Pakistan.  And still very dangerous.  The AQ ideology has morphed and virally spread and now the future of such terrorism will come from smaller, self-financed autopoietic cells around the world.

AQ-Central in Pakistan is hobbled (thank God) by its self-defeating proposition that each attack has to be bigger and badder than the last one.  And it would be hard to top 9/11.  Scheuer in this article I think seriously underestimates the damage (via their own theory of wanting to evoke over-reaction) that terrorists attacks on infrastructure, public events, and the like but not a made-for-tv catastrophic nature as say 9/11.

We are winning insofar as they do not pose a threat to the entire country.  Fallows’ article highlights that the greatest potential threat is over-reaction (see:  Iraq).  If for instance another attack did occur, the threat to the republican civil liberties order would be serious.

And also, as a point leaning more towards Scheuer, while it’s true as FZ says these groups can do damage, serious damage but if we don’t let me, they can’t destroy us, that is not the same as saying the Middle East and larger Muslim world (say into Pakistan) will not be roiled with convulsive violence for the next decade plus.  People may not want a Caliphate.  The US will not totally accept some neo-isolationist posture and withdraw completely from the region, but that arena will be rocked with violence for sometime to come.  And the US is bound to get pulled into some of that conflict.  Which if improperly handled could easily re-ignite support for terrorism (as Iraq gave new life to a terrorist system on life support prior to the invasion and occupation).

A key going forward will be (again on the theme of over-reaction) learning to live with the emergence of anti-US but not AQ-friendly regimes in the region.  The tyrants are going to have to fall at some point and God only knows what is on the other side of that happening.   But if we become locked into this loony right-wing nonsense about a Clash of Civilizations/they hate us for our freedom/Islamo-fascist worldwide conspiracy united front, then whether or not bin Laden/AQ are the beneficiaries, their basic theory of bleeding the US dry will continue apace.

To conclude, Zakaria’s closing words:

In a sense, the warriors are pessimists. In the old days they were scared that communists would destroy America. Today they rail that Al Qaeda and Iran threaten our way of life. In fact, America is an extremely powerful country, with a unique and extraordinary set of strengths. The only way that position can truly be eroded is by its own actions and overreactions—by unwise and imprudent leadership. A good way to start correcting the errors of the past would be to recognize that we are not at war.

In other words, the US is in wars not at war.  The US is in a war of discipline not a war of survival to borrow Shelby Steele’s terminology.  However allies of ours will be (that is at war/war of survival).  For Scheuer that shouldn’t matter given his tendency towards realism/isolationism/no foreign entanglements.  For others, the question then becomes how intelligently to operate given the risk of over-reaction as a self-inflicted suicidal wound both strategically and to the republic as a whole.

Michael Scheuer: Marching Towards Hell

Michael Scheuer, (formerly known as Anonymous), author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and Through our Enemies Eyes talks to the Middle East Institute about his new book Marching Towards Hell. The speech was recorded for CSPAN, you can watch it here, via BookTV.

Scheuer is an extremely provocative thinker–even when he is wrong, he makes me think. I read both of his other books when they originally came out. He is also is prone to some bats–t crazy pronouncements (see the NyTimes Review of the Book on that) which undercut (sadly I think) what are some crucially important points neglected in US discourse over tactics (pro/anti surge, COIN).

The primary thread through all of his works is as follows (after the jump): (more…)

spenglar iraq

Spengler with an essay on Israel and Syria (and by analogy US/Iraq).

He begins:

The only practical way to defeat irregular forces embedded in a civilian population is to destroy the states that back them. That is why America overthrew Saddam Hussein, and also why Israel is considering a pre-emptive war on Syria on the model of 1967.

This echoes and supports elements of the Bush Doctrine that are just ludicrous.  Saddam Hussein supported some terrorist groups (mostly Palestinian) but not al-Qaeda (sorry Stephen Hayes).


After September 11, the United States did not know precisely what elements of which governments sponsored terrorism, although it knew that Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran hosted certain terrorist groups. It did not have the leisure (and perhaps not even the capacity) to infiltrate these groups gradually; it was simpler and more expedient to take down one of the regimes as a horrible example to the rest.

Spengler’s wanting to have it both ways here. It’s true the US could not have known all the exact configurations of connections, but it did know that al-Qaeda was against Saddam Hussein (and vice versa) and that al-Qaeda had attacked the US.

The idea that somehow the US invasion and demolition of Iraq was going to scare off other countries from other terrorist connections is beyond loopy.  Spengler states he was for the war but against occupation–but how was the US ever going to invade and demolish a police state and not be left holding the after birth?

Iow, how was this every not going to expose the weaknesses of the US military (and therefore the state) and shock and/or awe any other state into submission (ok, other than Libya I guess)?  Not to mention that by Iraq, the Afghan/Pakistan border regions were left untended and the actual al-Qaeda regrouped.

Moreover, Spengler’s understanding is far too state-based. Lots of growth is from within as well as from non-state actors across the global black weapons market. Whether friendly ideologically or otherwise.

Now the separate question of whether his analysis of Israel vis a vis Syria is another matter (though not entirely separate).  The argument assumes that states must defeat the state sponsors of terrorism.  But again there is a black market which I think in the absence of state support could pretty quickly fill in the gap (perhaps not totally but combined with DIY in Robb’s terminology maybe).

The question is while not supporting terrorism is it or should it be US policy to go after all terrorist groups that are not threats to the US or it allies–not to mention low-level threat ones that do actually threaten US or allies?   i.e.  Questions like:  which groups are the most dangerous?  What are the reasonable chances of success, what are the costs involved?

The Global Guerrilla model suggests that these non-state (irregular forces) actors want the occupation to begin and continue. i.e. How do you get rid of the state sponsor without an invasion?  With fly-over bombing?  But that has been shown to not work.  So an invasion occurs, they allow the invaders in under the guise of retreat, embed in civilian populations, and then swarm/attack and bleed the occupier particularly with the use of global communication systems.

i.e. The “state sponsor” country can itself become an irregular force, transforming itself into the very force that Spengler says will be dried up by the destruction of the state sponsor.  Which means you either have to go the Barnett route (Dept. of Reconstruction) of the Robb route.   This Spengler half in/half out seems the worst of both worlds to me.

Published in: on April 15, 2008 at 1:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Quote of the Day

Actually from about a week ago but I missed it then.

From the world’s leading expert (imo) on Islamism Olivier Roy:

One of the key questions in the U.S. presidential race is what will happen if U.S. troops leave Iraq.

Of course nobody knows for sure. But I can say this: Al Qaeda will not take power and establish an Islamic state.

Too many in the West persist in seeing Al Qaeda as a territorialized Middle East organization bent on expelling the Christians and Jews from the region in order to create a “Dar al-Islam” (land of Islam) under the umbrella of a caliphate.

Al Qaeda is not a continuation of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas or Hezbollah. It is a non-territorial global entity which has never tried to implement an Islamic state, even in Afghanistan, where it found sanctuary in the 1990s.

Over you to John McCain, Christopher Hitchens, and right-wing pro-war radio and blogosphere.  There are other more serious things to worry about in Iraq–the continued violence, the re-igniting of full scale civil war, intra-Shia fighting.  But the fear of an al-Qaedastan in Western Iraq is totally ludicrous.


Al Qaeda goes where the Americans are while the U.S. Army goes where Washington thinks Qaeda might be . . . one day.

Secondly, Al Qaeda seeks to hijack existing conflicts and make them part of the global jihad against the West.

However, in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and now Iraq, the Islamist internationalist groups have been unsuccessful in diverting local and national conflicts, playing only the role of auxiliaries. The key actors of the local conflicts are the local actors: the Taliban in Afghanistan, the different Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon. These groups are not under the leadership of Al Qaeda.

But don’t ever expect to hear anything half or a quarter lucid in the US press.

al-Qaeda generational divide

clipped from

But what to the United States is a cohesive organization bound together by a common hatred is to Yemen a fragmented movement that is rife with infighting and dissension.

Over the past several months, a generational schism has emerged within Al Qaeda’s ranks in Yemen, pitting younger, more radicalized members against the more experienced old guard. Since 2003, the Yemeni government and Al Qaeda in Yemen have reached what could best be described as a tacit nonaggression pact. Through a combination of military action and negotiation, Yemen has attempted to convince the militants not that their beliefs are incorrect, but rather that they would hurt their own cause and base of operations by acting violently within the borders of the state.

To the new generation of Al Qaeda in Yemen, many of whom have been radicalized in Iraq, this arrangement is tantamount to a treasonous alliance with tyrants.

  blog it

Radicalized in Iraq.

Published in: on November 9, 2007 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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