"I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera" Sebastian D'Souza the man who took the photo that has dominated the world's media, has transposed the fear and anger of a nation onto one fresh-faced young man. Azam Amir Qasab is the lone gunman involved in the Mumbai attacks to be captured alive. His arrest and subsequent disclosure of how the most strategic and successful terrorist plot in India's violent history was carried out has implications of the highest magnitude, perhaps even that of 9/11.
According to unverified claims by police, it is now apparent that Qasab interrogation has yielded information that has led the government of India to charge elements within Pakistan with the responsibility of planning and orchestrating the attack. The organization that the police claim that Qasab is thought to be affiliated with is a familiar name within the region but of which little is known beyond the immediate hemisphere of British and American commitments to the war on terror. The group named call themselves Lashkar-e-taiba. Having had its roots in Afghanistan pre-9/11, its parent organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, decided to move its base to Pakistan. They are one of the most active terrorist organizations within South Asia and are known to run several terrorist training camps inside the disputed region of Kashmir. 21 year old Azam Amir Qasab is thought to have been trained at one of these camps.
According to The Times of India, when found he played dead for several minutes until found out, upon capture he appeared to break down after seeing the dead body of his colleague. He pleaded for mercy begging hospital staff to save his life and that he wanted to live. He is understood to have later revealed the extent of strategic planning that stretched back a year having been trained by Lashkar-e-taiba in Kashmir for three months before being handed the mission. They were asked to 'cause maximum casualties' and to kill to his 'last breath'. It is his boyish face that has dominated the front pages, his youthful, decidedly westernized appearance forgiving his murderous actions. He and his accomplice Abu Ismail Dera Ismail Khan, 25, headed for the CST Railway station soon after arriving having conducted a reconnaissance mission a month before.
Did The Terrorists Win?
The testimony itself raises a number of important questions. Questions that have brought down several prominent state officials including top security official and Home Minister Shivraj Patil. The unpopularity of the government has pushed support the way of the opposing BJP party, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite doing his best to appear determinately steady, has suffered by the perception of his office being unable to protect Indians from those who wish to harm them. This notion has ramifications beyond the immediate ludicrous media debate about whether hotel security was adequate. These assault teams were heavily armed and were quite obviously under no orders to undertake sneak attacks. No bombs were planted so the mission was in short a suicide attack from beginning to end, all guns blazing. No amount of checks at entrances and hotel security personnel would have been able to constitute any credible resistance to the amount of bullets being sprayed about so barbarously. What should be in contention is the apparent amount of consideration that had been put into how to maximize the global value and international impact of what these extremists were trying to achieve. In so commanding the eyes of the world's media upon the spectacle over four days, the organizers of the attacks declared the first victory.
This attack is more important than the initial shocking manner in which it was carried out. We must look beyond that at the grander ramifications. If indeed Lashkar-e-taiba were the ultimate perpetrators, it is worth looking at the political motives of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed's organization and ask what they would gain from staging such an attack at this particular time. Timing is the key to the apparent reasoning.
The last five years has seen an unprecedented improvement in the relations between India and Pakistan. In Kashmir, trade routes have re-opened and commuter services between the two sides are running as normal for the first time in years. This has had a major impact in relation to troop numbers in Kashmir. Both Pakistani and Indian troop levels have eased mirroring a return to civil relations between the two countries but in the face of the United States involvement in Afghanistan this is not all that surprising.
As the U.S's involvement in Afghanistan drudges on, they face an open front at the border with Pakistan in an area called the North West frontier province. In direct consequence it would be in the U.S interest to broker a detente in Kashmir at least for the time being as to urge a re-committal on behalf of Pakistan for a military redeployment of troops from Kashmir to the North West frontier to shore up security in the region. Now with President-elect Obama having also shown urgency in pursuing an ease in relations, a severe jolt to the diplomatic landscape could be far reaching. Obama has long touted a military re-calibration toward the conflict in Afghanistan away from the debacle of Iraq and in doing so probably hoped to gain as much support, militarily or otherwise, from the surrounding countries as possible. This attack has now thrown those plans into disarray.
Since establishing a base in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-taiba have used violence in the past in order to challenge the legitimacy of India's sovereignty over Kashmir. A regression into old tensions between the two countries would be of great significance to Lashkar-e-taiba's cause. As Prime Minister Singh's pledge to strengthen his anti-terrorism sector will no doubt result in a rise in troop numbers in Kashmir, it would also provoke a response from Pakistan in terms of their own troop levels. But in an interview with Siddharth Varadarajan, the organization's founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed elaborated on what exactly the ultimate goal of Lashkar-e-taiba is:
"...the restoration of Islamic rule over all parts of South Asia, Russia and even China." It also "...seeks to bring about a union of all Muslim majority regions in countries that surround Pakistan."
They have also declared Hindus and Jews to be the enemies of Islam and India and Israel the enemies of Pakistan. Lashkar-e-taiba has long been suspected of aiding the Taliban against the U.S backed Northern Alliance in 2002. Now it is widely known that the remnants of the former Taliban regime has sought and received refuge in Quetta under the discretion of Lashkar-e-taiba and indeed, Pakistan's powerful secret service: the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI. The ISI have tolerated various terrorist organizations because of their usefulness against India. Whether or not funding and strategic help was ever given to these groups via the ISI is also an area that should be scrutinized by any intelligence gathering from India's perspective as this is an issue that is gathering a disconcerting level of interest. The motive for this attack might well be grounded in a regional conflict but the complexity of the political and geographical context of the region itself makes this a global event.
It seems to this writer, that India has two options. To be comsumed by the reactionary responses that those who are wronged understandably feel or to handle the procedure with bi-lateral co-operation. India is a proud country, and one who reveled in the positioning of would-be superpower. To be maimed on such a global stage will hurt and shame them. The knee-jerk response to this would be to act without seeing beyond the immediate, and there in lies the danger.
When America was attacked on 9/11 it led to war on two fronts, an economic downward spiral and inevitably lead to the capitulation of its national unity and international isolation. If India were to lash out at Pakistan it would pit two nuclear armed nations against each other. In the end, this is exactly why men like Asam Amir Qasab were sent to die. The ultimate goal; to destablize a globally significant region with a bloody history and plunge it back into the darkness witnessed a few days ago just when it seemed they were beginning to peak over the precipice of normalcy. The challenge will be for India to maintain a level head and instead of falling into the worn tracks of reactionary politics, reach for unity and co-operation with Pakistan against a common threat. If anything is true today it is that this threat has become global. So now, for the sake of us all, this time: no new war.