Mumbai 2008, India?s 9/11?

Rahnuma Ahmed

He couldn?t wait, he SMS-ed me from Dhaka airport soon after the plane had landed.
My media activist friend had returned from the annual South Asia Media Summit 2008, in Goa. ?These guys are crazy. They were not interested in my presentation on cultural diversity but in the existence of jihadi terrorist camps in Bangladesh. That is all they wanted to know.? We met up later, and he went on, You need at least a dose of scepticism when handling terror claims, but it?s become political football for the Indian media, the intelligence agencies and the politicians. It?s parallel to post-9/11 hysteria. It?s the same ?fear politics? that are at play in India.
This was two days before the 62-hour carnage in Mumbai began on November 26 night.

A fire breaks out of the dome of the Taj hotel in Mumbai on November 26. AFP
A fire breaks out of the dome of the Taj hotel in Mumbai on November 26. ? AFP

India?s 9/11?

And, before the carnage had ended, before the dead had been counted, before the injured had been rushed to hospitals, the 9/11 framework was in full swing on most Indian TV channels. Montage after montage of smoke-encased buildings dubbed ?Ground Zero? were shown while wartime captions declared, ?India at War?, ?Another 9-11?.
A day later, in his first reaction to the attacks in Mumbai, India?s prime minister Manmohan Singh pointed the finger of blame beyond India?s borders. He did not mention Pakistan by name, but the inference was clear. The external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee was more explicit. Preliminary and prima facie evidence, he said, indicated a Pakistani connection.
Secularist nationalist warmongers not to be outdone in expressions of patriotism, joined extremist Hindutvas in clamouring for ?tough action?, the need to teach the evil perpetrators ?a lesson they will never forget?, launching punitive raids across the border, destroying jihadi camps, bombing Muridke in Lahore, capturing the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Some went further and said a full-scale war needs to be declared against Pakistan. So did guest panellist Simi Garewal who ranted on the NDTV, ?We need to carpet bomb parts of Pakistan. Shock and awe. That is why America has not had an attack since 2001. That is what we need to do.?

But there are also voices of courage such as Shuddhabrata Sengupta who writes in Outlook that the Indian state and elements within the state have sinned as much as they have been sinned against. Criticising national amnesia, he reminds readers of the brutal slaughter of one hundred and twenty unarmed and peaceful Buddhist pilgrims in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka in May 1984 by the LTTE, an organisation that was ?housed, armed, funded and nourished by the Indian state led by Indira Gandhi,? and wonders should Sri Lanka then have carpet bombed Delhi and Chennai. And, he goes on, if a professional investigation into the horrific attack on the Samjhauta express reveals that the perpetrators were Hindu radicals assisted by rogue elements within the Indian military intelligence, would Pakistan be justified in ?carpet bombing? Pune, Indore, Jammu and other places that are linked to the cluster of organisations and individuals around outfits such as Abhinav Bharat?

Mumbai-based author-columnist Farzana Versey writes of class amnesia. Those who claim that there is no time for resilience anymore forget another dome that was broken down in 1992, they forget Gujarat in 2002. Those who rail against the government now had kept quiet earlier when the government and the police had backed local lumpens. The elite, says Versey, are unconcerned at other deaths in the Mumbai carnage, at the 58 deaths that occurred at the local train station, or the 10 others who died at the hospital, or the taxi driver who got burnt along with his vehicle. They protest now only because their cocktail party circuit at the Oberoi and the Taj are affected.

The Indian government?s accusation needs to be ?taken with a grain of salt?, says Ayesha Ijaz Khan, London-based lawyer and political commentator. This is not the first time that the Indian government has blamed Pakistan, only to discover later that the accusation was false. Investigations have revealed that four earlier incidents ? the Chattisinghpura massacre in March 2000, the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, the Malegaon blasts, and the Samjhauta express in February 2007 ? when the Indian government had directly accused Lashkar-e-Taiba of having sponsored the violence, and Pakistan indirectly for harbouring the militant group, were caused by groups from within India. The Samjhauta express incident, which killed 68, mostly Pakistanis, is the most troubling as four months of investigation revealed that it was not Lashkar-e-Taiba but Lt Col Purohit, who was serving in the Indian army, and had links with Hindu militant groups was responsible for the attack. Also involved was Pragya Singh Thakur, member of ABVP, an RSS inspired youth group.

Others have pointed out that India should not tread on the US government?s post-9/11 path. That the passing of more draconian anti-terror legislation, curtailing of civil liberties, expansion of police powers, and the dismantling of democracy in the defence of democracy is not the answer to terror attacks. That the Indian government would be better advised to turn attention towards the real grievances of 800 million Indians, the routine discrimination of India?s Muslim minority, real economic disparities that are blinded by the spectacular consumerism of its upwardly mobile middle classes.

In reply to those Indians who argue that America is safe after the war on terrorism, there are many who point out that the world is much less safe, and that Americans too are much less secure. Scores of terrorist attacks have been carried out against American institutions in the Middle East, South Asia and the Pacific, more than a dozen in Pakistan alone since the first American strike was carried out on Afghanistan in October 2001. And, as William Blum has pointed out, since there was no terrorist attack in the US during the six and a half years prior to 9/11, one may conclude that the ?absence of terrorist attacks in the United States is the norm.?

As accusatory fingers point at Pakistan, strengthened by the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff Admiral Michael Mullen?s assertion that the terrorists in Mumbai were Pakistani nationals and members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, both Pakistani and Indian journalists, those who do not belong to the ask-no-questions camp, express doubts and raise questions. Nasim Zehra of Pakistan?s Duniya TV says: an Indian TV network interviewed one of the terrorists holed up in a hotel surrounded by commandos. Why was his phone not jammed? How did the terrorist call the TV reporter? Or did the latter call the terrorist? If yes, how did the she or he get the latter?s number? How was it possible for Pakistani terrorists to travel in fishing boats for over 500 nautical miles? And, as Ayesha Ijaz points out, India has 22 separate radar systems that monitor the coastal line between Karachi and Mumbai, it is a heavily patrolled area, one in which hundreds of Indian and Pakistani fishermen are regularly apprehended and arrested for illegal intrusion. Indian journalist Neelabh Mishra remarks on the strange coincidence of Pakistani terrorists finishing off the top leadership of the Anti-Terror Squad, including Hemant Karkare, involved in probing a supposedly Hindutva terrorist cell. Wondering about the circumstances in which the ATS leadership was led into a position of extreme vulnerability to terrorist fire, Mishra writes, ?how is it that whenever the Hindu rightist extreme seems to be in dire straits as with the current Sadhvi-Purohit-Pandey terror investigations, some violent action undertaken supposedly on behalf of Muslims or Pakistan, as the case may be, comes to their aid and also vice versa??

What is needed is a thorough investigation, one that is conducted without assigning premature blame on any organisation or country. And, as Sengupta urges, what is needed is for ordinary Indians and Pakistanis to join hands across the Indo-Pak divide, to say that they will not tolerate the nurturing of terror, hate and division through covert and overt acts of rogue elements both within their governments, which have a vested interest in continuing conflict and enmity, and that of non-powerful state actors.
Post-script: As I write, I come across the news that Dar-ul-Uloom, the most respected school of Islamic teaching in the subcontinent, has suggested that Indian Muslims avoid slaughtering cows on Eid-ul-Azha as a mark of respect to the religious beliefs of Hindus, and to pray for the victims of the Mumbai terror attacks and express solidarity with Mumbaikars.

But I come across another news item that reminds me of the fear politics that my media activist friend, back from the Goa conference, was talking about. Ten SIM cards were bought a month ago from three different locations in Kolkata and sent to Pakistan via Bangladesh, three of these were used by the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists in Mumbai. I do not harbour any illusions about the present military-backed caretaker regime in Bangladesh, nor of the past governments either. None of the terror attacks that have occurred in this country has been credibly investigated. Public doubts exist that cannot be easily brushed off, doubts about the involvement of elements within the government, or of forces outside the government that were emboldened by state inaction. That is not my point, instead I wonder, how credible is this discovery of SIM cards? And in the absence of courageous officers like Hemant Karkare, DIG Ashok Kale and encounter specialist Vijay Salazar, who had been tasked with finalising the findings of both the Samjhauta Express incident and the Malegaon blasts, will thorough investigations of the Mumbai terror attack take place?
First published in New Age, 8th December 2008

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

3 thoughts on “Mumbai 2008, India?s 9/11?”

  1. This is an excellent reminder of the underlying scenarios which point to the truth, of the systems put into place which have most likely created such murderous acts which will benefit those very real perpetrators who claim to be the victims. The sickly web continues to be spun…
    Oh, by the way, this could not have been published on 20th december 08 because this is before that date!!

  2. Almanac, calendars & time
    Helicon publishing.
    Hutchinson Almanac 1999 page 15, the following times on that
    page are not correct at 12 noon Greenwich mean time.
    Baghdad Iraq………..shows time as 21:00.
    Bucharest Romania……shows time as 19:00.
    Buenos Aires Argentina.shows time as 14:00.
    Kuala Lumpur Malaysia..shows time as 01:00.
    Yokohama Japan………shows time as 06:00.
    Also see the calendars on pages 17 to 20.
    the calendars that are incorrect are listed below.
    calendar 1. Jul,aug,sep. (examine start & month end, day/dates)
    calendar 2.-September 30th (note alignment)
    calendar 4. November 30th (& December 1st both on Sunday)
    calendar 5. February 8th (& 9th share same day)
    calendar 6. October 31st (ends sunday.Then Nov. 1st is Tues)
    calendar 6. November 30th (wed. then DEC 1st is also wed)
    calendar 8.-September 30th (note alignment)
    calendar 9. September 30th (ends Monday. October 1st starts sun)
    calendar 9. November 30th (ends Thurs. December 1st starts sun)
    calendar 10. Omission (of leap year day)
    calendar 10. September 30th (ends on Fri. then Oct 1st starts wed)
    calendar 13. January 3rd (& 4th sharing same day)
    calendar 13. January ends (sat. 31st then Feb starts Monday 1st)
    calendar 13. June 5th (5th & 6th sharing same day)
    calendar 13. June/July (month ends wed 30th starts Fri July 1st)
    year for cal. 2 is 2001 (see Sept 30th) and 2001
    year for cal. 8 is 2012 (see Sept 30th) and 2012 is also the next leap year.
    description, from Sage English Dictionary and Thesaurus.
    Gregorian calendar.- The solar calendar now in general use, introduced
    by Gregory XIII in 1582 to correct an error in the Julian calendar by
    suppressing 10 days, making Oct 5 be called Oct 15,and providing that
    only centenary years divisible by 400 should be leap years; it was
    adopted by Great Britain and the American colonies in 1752.
    Description from Hutchinson Almanac 1999
    page 21 Hutchinson almanac, calendars and time, states
    “Britain and its colonies including America,adopted it in 1752 when
    the error amounted to 11 days,so that 3 September 1752 became the
    14 September 1752”

  3. It’s a welcome analysis. But I think as an Indian and somebody who lives and know the city of Bombay the Indian state has measured it’s steps well and in hindsight not fallen victim to warmongering. It has acted in a far more responsible fashion then some of India’s past governments.
    when you say that,
    “the Chattisinghpura massacre in March 2000, the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, the Malegaon blasts, and the Samjhauta express in February 2007” – were proved wrong you forget there were state agencies that did so – not external ones, hence I think India should be given more credit here.
    As for when you say the real issue here is not Pakistan but “routine discrimination of India?s Muslim minority, real economic disparities” I would agree in totality. But then again it destabalization of Pakistan (caused in part by the discrimation by the punjabi majority on the tribal minorities) and its possible impact on South Asia should not be ignored.
    I should be at chobhi mela inshallah, look forward continueing this conversation in person – perhaps.

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