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Message from the Mumbai blasts: Don't get close to the US

By Manohar Thyagaraj
July 12, 2006 12:13 IST
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If ever there was a demonstration that cross-border terrorism remains a pertinent threat to freedom-loving people everywhere, it happened on 7/11 in Mumbai, the financial capital of India.

A series of bomb blasts on the most crowded suburban rail system in the world has killed at least 174 people and wounded scores more.

As we recently observed the one-year memorial of the 7/7 blasts in London, these attacks should not be seen as separate from them or from the wedding bombings in Jordan in 2005, or from the daily explosions of violence by Wahhabi fanatics in Iraq, or from the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

Terrorism these days is a 'globalised' industry. The attacks in London were coordinated by a foreign Al Qaeda monitor; those in Jordan by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian operating out of Iraq; those in Madrid by foreigners to force Spain out of the war in Iraq. The London blasts were targeted at the transportation links that feed London.

In Mumbai, the bombs blew apart the world's busiest commuter rail system that draws people to work at the city's centre and takes them back home. The act was geared to disrupt the engine of India's resurgent economy.

A few months ago, terrorists attacked a major institution of technical learning in the city of Bangalore, India's Information Technology hub. Last week, a plot to blow up tunnels that connect Manhattan to New Jersey was disrupted.

A look at the panorama of cross-border terrorist plots in the recent past suggests that there is a concerted pattern emerging out of the attacks which is to target economic and transportation pillars in key countries which have the potential to escalate or perpetuate the War on Terror.

The Mumbai blasts bear the Al Qaeda signature of multiple and simultaneous attacks, much like the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Although Osama bin Laden is squirreled away in a cave along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier, it is apparent that the scattered elements of the movement have expanded their training and tactics to become highly adaptive.

Mumbai blasts: The Al Qaeda link

Indian intelligence believes the culprits in the attacks on Bangalore and Mumbai are from the Kashmiri groups Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The head of Jaish, Maulana Masood Azhar, was released by the Government of India on December 31, 1999 along with Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh in exchange for passengers of an Indian Airlines plane that had been hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Subsequently, Sheikh was convicted of the brutal murder of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl and Maulana Azhar became a vocal critic of the US presence in Pakistan.

Bin Laden and Al Qaeda previously included Kashmir on their hit list to the extent that several Arab fighters made their way there to battle Indian troops. Links between them and groups like Lashkar and Jaish, although now apparent, have existed for a long time, and became part of the global transnational Islamist network.

This also means that, although cooperation between the US and India on security issues is now escalating, it has been necessary for a similarly long time. If the India-Pakistan peace process has reached an appropriate level of d├ętente, why were these attacks necessary?

Make no mistake, 7/11 in Mumbai was not merely an expression of territorial desires by a disgruntled people. The scale and sophistication of the attacks suggest that they were meant to serve as a warning to India from growing too close to the US, especially in the wake of the passage of the India-US nuclear deal.

Much like Madrid 2004, 7/7 in London and the wedding bombings in Jordan were meant to send similar 'messages'.

At a time when methods used in the war on terror are being questioned in the US, the attacks in India should remind us that vigilance across the globe can not be relaxed. The enemy will continue to adapt, change methods themselves and identify new soft spots amongst countries with common interests.

Simple deterrence doesn't work against an enemy that has no borders. To successfully force the pace, democracies around the world must stand together to support the notion that political violence against citizens in countries with popularly elected governments, regardless of the 'justification', is wrong.

Only when democracies reach a unanimous opinion within themselves, only when they can wipe away the last smudge of doubt as to whether the victims did anything to 'deserve this', can a coherent strategy be forged.

It is a sad day in Mumbai.

Manohar Thyagaraj is a graduate student in international affairs at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, and a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London.

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Manohar Thyagaraj