Thursday, November 27, 2008

No Obama Press Conference Today-- News Day Is All About Mumbai


I'm monitoring the real time live news feed at the CNN affiliate and there are still three sieges going on, one at the Oberoi (Trident) Hotel, one at the Taj Hotel, and one at Nariman House (where 10-15 Israelis are being held). There are hostages. Indian special forces are preparing to storm the three locations. The police say they picked up a cell phone from a terrorist inside the Taj and that its getting calls from "a neighboring country." Nepal? Myanmar?... Bhutan?

The weak and staggering Pakistani government is unlikely to have had anything to do with this travesty. Many in India will blame them anyway. It's more likely that the Pakistanis involved in this are at least as dedicated to see their own country collapse into anarchy as they are expecting to see India grant independence to Kashmir-- or break apart or whatever they want. The Pakistani Foreign Minister is in India and expressed shock and horror and pledged cooperation. The president and prime minister of Pakistan have condemned the attacks.

There is still too much confusion-- in a society where confusion is a hallmark-- to be able to even report definitively on what has happened, let alone why. Early analysis, though, seems to be headed towards "absolving" al-Qaeda. The e-mailers claiming credit, the "Deccan Mujahedeen," has never been heard of before.
Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation, was careful to say that the identity of the terrorists could not yet be known. But she insisted the style of the attacks and the targets in Mumbai suggested the militants were likely to be Indian Muslims and not linked to Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba, another violent South Asian terrorist group.

“There’s absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like about it,” she said of the attack. “Did you see any suicide bombers? And there are no fingerprints of Lashkar. They don’t do hostage-taking and they don’t do grenades.” By contrast, Mr. Gohel in London said “the fingerprints point to an Islamic Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group.”

Mr. Hoffman he said the attacks, which he called “tactical, sophisticated and coordinated,” perhaps pointed to a broader organization behind the perpetrators.

The Indian security official said the attackers likely had ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a guerrilla group run by Pakistani intelligence in the conflict with India in the disputed territory of Kashmir. On Thursday, the group denied involved in the Mumbai attacks. India blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for a suicide assault on its Parliament by gunmen in December, 2001 that led to a perilous military standoff with Pakistan.

...“There are a lot of very, very angry Muslims in India,” Ms. Fair said, “The economic disparities are startling and India has been very slow to publicly embrace its rising Muslim problem. You cannot put lipstick on this pig. This is a major domestic political challenge for India.”

“The public political face of India says, “Our Muslims have not been radicalized.’ But the Indian intelligence apparatus knows that’s not true. India’s Muslim communities are being sucked into the global landscape of Islamist jihad,” she said. “Indians will have a strong incentive to link this to Al Qaeda. ‘Al Qaeda’s in your toilet!’ But this is a domestic issue. This is not India’s 9/11.”

Even while the last 2-3 gunmen at the Taj and Oberoi hotels are battling it out with the Indian special forces and the Chabad community center at Nariman House is surrounded, many are trying to figure out the why. Deepak Chopra has far better analysis of what's happening than any of the CNN talking heads. Newsweek gives it a stab by asking Zareed Zakaria for his educated opinion:
I think one of the misconceptions we're seeing so far is the assumption that these attacks were aimed primarily at foreigners. Look at their targets. The two hotels they attacked-- the Taj and the Oberoi-- are old, iconic Indian hotels. It used to be true that these places were affordable only by Westerners. But this is no longer true, and it's one of the big changes over the last ten years in India. The five-star hotels today are filled with Indians. Businessmen, wedding receptions, parties…these are real meeting places now, and even those who cannot afford to stay there often pass through the lobby.

There's a Marriott, and a Hilton, a Four Seasons….The big American chains all have hotels there, and there are many more distinctly American targets. The Taj and the Oberoi are owned by Indians. My guess is that there will be a lot of Indians involved, and that this will generate a lot of domestic outrage.

...An Indian businessman who says he heard the attackers said he didn't understand the language that the young men were speaking. That means that it wasn't Hindi or Urdu… most Indians would recognize the major languages even if they couldn't speak one of them. But most Indians would be unfamiliar with what's spoken in parts of the Kashmir. That's a source of much of the terrorism. My guess is that ultimately this will turn out to be some outside jihadi groups who might also recruit among disaffected Muslims locally.

One of the untold stories of India is that the Muslim population has not shared in the boom the country has enjoyed over the last ten years. There is still a lot of institutional discrimination, and many remain persecuted. There's enough alienation out there that there are locals who can be drawn in to plots. That tends to be a pattern, from Madrid to Casablanca to Bali-- some hard-core jihadis who indoctrinate alienated locals they can seduce.

If you wanted to construct a conspiracy theory, it would go like this: elements of the Pakistani intelligence service that would like to get India more drawn into conflict in Kashmir might encourage this sort of thing. That would draw militants in the Pakistani tribal areas away from attacking the Pakistani state, and back to attacking the Indian state. But I've never tended to believe such theories. More plausible to me: this is a classic Frankenstein monster. All these groups have some degree of training and support from Pakistan. But this operation probably does not involve that directly. These groups are now autonomous, self-supporting, and have gone beyond those origins.


It looks like all the terrorists at the Taj Hotel have been killed or captured and the fire is under control if not completely doused. The Oberoi appears to be in more under control, although commandos are going room to room looking for stranded guests. There are still explosions and gunfire at the Chabad center at Nariman House. Seven hostages have left but there are still hostages inside, including Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg and his wife. Their 18 month old child was rescued by the cook who fled from the center. It looks like the death toll is up around 125 people so far, including 6 foreigners and 8 terrorists. Several hundred people have been injured, many critically. The death toll is expected to rise. There seems to be people upset about canceled cricket matches.

There also seems to be a Pakistani connection, though probably not a Pakistani government connection.


The terrorists might as well stick their guns in their mouths and pull the triggers now. India agreed to have 40 Israeli security specialists fly in to "help."

UPDATE: Oops... Noon in Mumbai and Terrorists Still Shooting

Despite reports that the Taj and Oberoi were cleared of terrorists, there are still shots ringing out from inside the Taj, which is still on fire. There may still be hostages. Another terrorist was killed by special forces at the Oberoi, as were, apparently, some hostages. 40 foreigners have been rescued from the Oberoi. Indian special forces are assaulting the Chabad House. The Indians don't know how many terrorists are still at large there or anywhere else.

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