Mumbai Restarts, Terrorist Hunt Continues



  • Mumbai hoped back to normal in just 12 hours

  • Govt, especially Home Minister, criticized heavily for lax management. PM defends him but part members say that Shivraj Patil is becoming a liability

  • Suspicion for activities is firmly pointing to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). SIMI being helped by Samajwadi Party members and Government in Uttar Pradesh

In true defiance of terrorism, Mumbai restarted life in just 12 hours after 8 blasts ripped through suburban trains causing scores of death and mayhem even as authorities are on heels of Islamic terrorists from Pakistan outsourced terror to local disenfranchised youth. Trains started running on the same tracks where bombs ripped apart carriages, office commuters except Government employees took trains to work, school and college students found their way to educational institutions, and the famed dabbawallas taking lunch to offices across the city were also on schedule, and the stock markets bounced back a whopping 315 points as if nothing happened.

However, a palpable feeling was visible over the city as hundreds of relatives and friends continued to find missing loved ones. Heart-rending images from various government and municipal hospitals were thronged by wailing relatives and friends and anxious family members waiting to identify the injured or dead were beamed by sensationalistic news channels bringing sorrow into homes. Many of the bodies in morgues have not been identified and some injured children are not able to say where they came from. The net effect is that there is anger, determination, and resolve in the whole nation that is standing up as one in solidarity with those dead in Mumbai and Kashmir. The only problem is that now that they are aroused, they do not know what to do as the Government itself is not showing direction or leadership on what needs to done and how they individuals can help.

Director General of Police P.S. Pasricha is still refusing to implicate those who are responsible for the bombings possibly because he and the security apparatus do not have credible and verifiable information. The investigation has been transferred to Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and samples from the targeted coaches sent to the Central Forensic Laboratory. While the composition of the bombs is still not known, initial reports suggest RDX, pretty much like the large caches captured from arrested Pakistani militants Nashik, Aurangabad and Malegaon two months back. Earlier crackdowns on LeT modules in Malegaon and Aurangabad in Maharashtra unearthed more than 43 kg of RDX and police officials feel that additional caches of RDX could still be floating around in Mumbai waiting to be used in terror operations.

Security and intelligence experts study terrorist activity see a lot of similarities between the Mumbai serial bomb blasts and the New Delhi pre-Deepavali blasts implying that the same group could be behind both attacks. Apart from RDX as the common material, timing, planning, scenario, use of timers, and the execution seem to be similar. Intelligence agencies say that only the Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Toiba are known to have the expertise and resources to fabricate such powerful explosive devices using RDX and execute this elaborate a plan.

Intelligence officials also say that the terrorists must have studied the operation of the local trains thoroughly before executing the mission. The compartments and the time too were apparently chosen after considerable deliberations to inflict maximum damage to human life and property. The First Class carrying the upwardly mobile urban population shows the target to be the educated, middle class. They also suspect that the operation included a bunch of sleeper cells of rookies to evade detection as all suspicious sympathizers and organizations are being watched and tailed. This was the reason that they were unable to get prior information of the blasts. Even so, questions on how the sleeper cells were activated, materials transferred, transportation of bombs, planning, etc are unanswered.

A group that is suspected most of colluding with the principal handlers – either al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Toiba, is the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Although banned, political considerations by major recruitment states like Uttar Pradesh have allowed the group to reform under new names and reorganize themselves. Most members of this group have had training in Pakistan but have not participated in any major terror activities yet and therefore are ideal sleepers.

Woken up by the terror, the Federal Government has ordered all State Governments to crackdown on SIMI cadres, splinter groups, sympathizers, and front organizations. Another alarming element is that certain powerful politicians of the Samajwadi Party (SP) Abu Azmi led by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Maulayam Singh Yadav are reported to have a strong following of SIMI cadres. Azmi is accused of instigating the Islamic community in Bhiwandi last week ending in two policemen being brutally hacked to death. One report said that this SP politician from Mumbai stopped the trail of successes that the ATS had in capturing Pakistani terrorists, busting major terror cells, and large arms caches that included weapons, arms, and bomb making material including RDX. The Home Ministry’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) claims it has evidence linking SIMI with Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).

The founders of SIMI say that they are not linked to terrorism but the Supreme Court (SC) reviewed material evidence against them and allowed the Government to ban the organization. In its dubious history SIMI was first banned in September 2001 by NDA Government under section 3(1) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 security agencies found proof linking SIMI to LeT. The SIMI also has links to the Jamat-e-Islami (JeI) and its students' wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) apart from the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (HUJI) of Bangladesh. There is enough evidence showing that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has successfully outsourced terrorism to Bangladesh based organizations. The Varanasi blasts were clearly linked to terrorists who trained in, operated from, and enter India from Bangladesh. Having lost its terror factory under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, ISI has been sponsoring Bangladesh with a view to create an Afghanistan-like situation in Bangladesh. These terrorists have been wrecking havoc  in that country forcing it to consider draconian laws to stem the menace.

Maharashtra  itself has 3,000 Madrasas, 500 in Mumbai alone, with about 200,000 students and Intelligence sources say that a majority of these Madrasas are SIMI bases. Many major cities in the state have become major terror factories including Aurangabad, Malegaon, Jalgaon, Thane, Mumbai, Shirol, Udgam in Kolhapur, Jalgaon, Nashik, Thane, Sholapur, Kolhapur, Gadchiroli, Nanded, Aurangabad, Malegaon, and Pune. Reportedly, Lashkar is believed to have an aggressive recruitment plan in Maharashtra and Gujarat using SIMI as the driving force. Deviating from its policy of recruiting poor and illiterate, SIMI is has been specially targeting well-educated and technically qualified people for its operations much like the profile of those who flew the planes into the Twin Towers in New York. They say that at least four of the 11 LeT operatives held from Aurangabad and Beed were well educated and technically competent. This leads to belief that al Qaeda may be behind this operation. However, the two bits of information about Madrasas, usually populated by illiterate and poor, and the one about the educated profiling does not match. This requires an intense study to see if the two recruitment drives are complementary or parallel.

With such a background, the major question is what the Government did to the founders and office-bearers of the organization after the SC concurred on terror links. If the organization is found to have terror links would it not follow that the office bearers and its founders would also be tied to terrorism? Vote-bank politics in India where marginal political parties are using Muslims to create power centers for themselves often with the connivance of terrorist elements. This practice has gone to such an extent that there are Federal Ministers in the Government who have criminal cases ranging from murder, extortion, rape, and embezzlement against them. Incensed by this wanton hemorrhage of democracy, the SC demanded why the Government continues to have individuals with dubious record on its Cabinet. The Government’s defense is that a person has to be presumed innocent till proven guilty. This sparked the Chief Justice to demand whether the Government will appoint an Election Commissioner if he has a criminal cases against him. The serious introspection that the SC demands is strangely related to the political stagnation that is drowning the nation in parochial, selfish, and vision-less interests.

Angry with political posturing and vote-bank politics, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has politically attacked the Federal Government and demanded that they either “govern or get out.” Party’s national office-bearers passed a strongly-worded resolution that wanted the Government to “choose between the vote and India” and give up its “soft approach” in tackling terrorism. The BJP accused the Government of not doing enough to ensure that Pakistan's territory was not abused for exporting terrorism to India. While this political posturing, the BJP has not said what it expects the Government to do to get Pakistan to stop terrorism. It lambasted the Government for repealing the draconian Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) and allowing “an environment wherein the infrastructure of terrorism can breed, promote itself, and subsequently create havoc in the country.” It says that the United Progressive Alliance Government following its vote-bank politics has made India a “soft state.”

For all its hardcore rhetoric, the BJP was unable to take military action against Pakistan after the Parliamentary action and had to withdraw defense forces from being in attack positions for weeks on end without any victory. Such posturing without clear objectives and will to go forward with a threat is far more damaging to the defense credibility of India. Instead of politicizing the event, the BJP should demand a series of steps that would improve security in India. This is a time for the nation to discuss differences internally and stay united publicly.

Most of the criticism, especially within the Congress Party, has been directed against the Home Minister Shivraj Patil for lax planning, poor intelligence, reactive operation, and failure to enforce ban on SIMI and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a belated attempt at damage control. On nation television, Singh called for peace and unity to cap growing anger against Patil and to send a message that he was on top of things within the coalition. The strange political logic in India is that honest, do-gooder politicians cannot appear to fail on any account as he will be quickly drawn down while corrupt ones will find ways to stay afloat. A senior minister anonymously admitted that the blasts, “crisis over soaring prices, the divestment fiasco and then the Agni and INSAT failures that have all done immense damage to our credibility.” Party functionaries privately concede that while Singh courageously defended Patil, the Home Minister’s failure to contain the escalating violence across the country was doing incalculable harm to the party.

Firstly, India needs to enforce the ban on SIMI. Secondly, it should arrest the founders, office-bearers of SIMI and investigate their links through narco interrogation. Thirdly, it needs to bring out a law that will regulate Madrasas so there is transparency in contact, funding, and training. Fourthly, it should ban the entry of Pakistanis by foot and small transport into India. Fifthly, it should create laws where Pakistanis caught in India without proper travel documents are meted extremely harsh treatment such as life-imprisonment or even death. Sixthly, India should review the Confidence Building Measures (CBM) in place with Pakistan and withdraw those that show leniency till there is measurable response from Pakistan. Seventhly, the Foreign Secretary-level talks must take place and India must deliver a strong message about Pakistan’s continued lack of accountability on terrorism and on Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri’s remark linking terrorism to the Kashmir issue. Eighthly, India should also communicate in the strongest terms the withdrawal of CMB measures and link it directly to lack of reciprocity from Pakistan. Ninthly, India should also communicate that the Indian Prime Minister will not visit Pakistan till there is concrete action from them.