People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 49

December 14, 2008


Mumbai Terror Aftermath: The Way Forward

Subhanil Chowdhury

A public discussion on ‘Mumbai Terror Aftermath: The Way Forward’ was organised in New Delhi on December 10, 2008 by Anveshan and Students’ Federation of India. People from all walks of life including a large number of university students participated in the programme.

The speakers in the seminar were noted economist Professor Jayati Ghosh, eminent journalist Siddharth Varadarajan and Central Committee member of CPI(M) Md Salim. The seminar was presided over by eminent literary theorist and political commentator, Professor Aijaz Ahmad. At the outset, a condolence resolution mourning the victims of the Mumbai terror attack was moved by Ritabrata Banerjee, general secretary, SFI.

In his opening remarks as the chair of the seminar, Professor Aijaz Ahmad pointed out that the attack on Mumbai is a watershed event in the ambiguous history of certain kinds of violence in India, which is christened as terrorism. There is ambiguity regarding the term ‘terror’. For example, we are often urged by progressive forces to struggle against both terrorism and communalism, suggesting that Jihadi terrorism and the communalism of RSS-VHP are different. These two should not be treated separately. What has happened in Kandhamal or Gujarat is nothing but terrorism. On the other hand it has to be acknowledged that Jihadi terror indeed exists as a global phenomenon which has a history and context. There is no point wishing away the existence of this force. Secondly, it is stunning as to how little the pubic has heard from the government on the terror attacks in Mumbai. Majority of the information has come through leaks by different government agencies. It is also unfortunate that the media has refused to question this form of news formation and has taken the information of these leaks on face value.

The first speaker of the seminar was Siddharth Varadarajan. He raised some key questions and tried to provide answers to them. The first and basic question that he raised was who was responsible for the Mumbai attacks? While it is true that repeatedly in the past the police has made false claims regarding the people responsible for the terror attacks, this time for the first time the police has captured alive one perpetrator of the attack, who has claimed to be a Lashkar operative. This has made the claims of the police that the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba is involved very credible. It is almost certain that in this operation the Al-Qaeda is also involved. While it is true that a lot of these information has come through media leaks, these evidences have been corroborated and hence it can be said that the LeT and Al Qaeda are involved in this attack.

The second question that naturally arises is what were the motives behind the attack? According to Varadarajan, at least three sets of motives can be pointed to. Firstly, this attack was clearly to derail the peace process between India and Pakistan. This peace process has brought India and Pakistan closest in the last 60 years and has undermined the cause of the extremists. Therefore, the militants wanted to destabilise the entire process. Secondly, this attack was aimed at undermining the transition in Pakistan from military to civilian democratic rule. In this sense this attack is as much on India as on the democracy in Pakistan. Thirdly, the attack is aimed at creating a military crisis between India and Pakistan. This is important for the extremists because the Pakistani army is fighting a highly unpopular war on the Afghan border. Both the extremists as well as the extremist section of the Pakistan military does not want to continue this war. A military mobilisation against India on the eastern border will relieve some pressure from the Pakistan military. It is also the case that it is highly unlikely that India and Pakistan will wage an actual war since both are nuclear states and the world will not allow that to happen. So, military mobilisation on the eastern border will relieve the pressure on the Pakistan military without any loss of lives to the military.

In this context, what should be India’s response? Military attack on Pakistan, given the above mentioned motives of the terrorists should be ruled out. In this context it should be mentioned that the Indian media’s advocacy for war is actually helping the agenda of the LeT since this is precisely what they want. The role of the media in this entire episode has been most unfortunate. It projected the Mumbai attack as unique since targets like Taj Hotel were attacked. This resulted in mass hysteria on the part of the upper class which the terrorists precisely wanted. In comparison to this jingoistic and hysteric response of the media, the government was much more restrained. Instead of blaming the entire people or the government of Pakistan, the Indian government used the phrase ‘elements within Pakistan’ to describe the perpetrators of the attack. This was a correct thing to do. The other problem with the media is the usage of the word ‘26/11’ in accordance with the USA’s 9/11. By making this comparison the media was valorising Bush’s response to 9/11, which resulted in the USA’s attack on Afghanistan and Iraq. The declaration of war by the USA to fight terror was a grave mistake, since terrorism can have no military solution.

The other point mentioned by Varadarajan is that the attack on Mumbai is the first real test of the strategic alliance between India and the USA. It would be wrong to assume that the USA is going to ensure that the Pakistani military act against the terrorists decisively. This is because the Pakistan military does not want to sever its links with the terrorist elements. On the other hand, the USA will also not cut its relations with the Pakistan military which it has nurtured for so many years. In this context, the role of India should be to engage democratic opinion in Pakistan and expand the space for democratic opinion in Pakistan, thereby marginalising the military and extremist elements.

The second speaker in the seminar was Professor Jayati Ghosh. She pointed out that the term war on terror is a misnomer. This is because terror is a tactic used by the enemy and it is not the enemy. You cannot declare war on a tactic. The usage of the term war on terror reflects a lack of understanding of this phenomenon. As far as the Indian media is concerned the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks has shown that the media in India is not learning from its mistakes. There is no introspection on the part of the media regarding the way the entire attack was televised. In this regard, four points were made by Professor Ghosh. Firstly, the media had completely sensationalised the Mumbai attack running it on television like a reality show with competitive journalism taking hold in terms of providing unsubstantiated breaking news and exclusives. Secondly, the media played a significant role in helping the terrorists by showing live pictures of sensitive details of the operation where the air dropping of commandos were also shown. The conspirators and their cohorts could see these pictures live and hence any element of surprise for the terrorists was lost. Thirdly, the media showed blatant class bias in the entire reporting. While the Taj Hotel, a place frequented by the rich was projected as an icon of Mumbai, the CST railway station was hardly covered. Fourthly, the media indulged in the worst kind of jingoistic aggression in response to the attack. This response of the media and the rich of the country was largely because of the fact that this attack was an attack on the image of Shining India that the elites want to project. Since the symbols of this Shining India like the Taj Hotel or Oberoi Hotel was attacked, it resulted in such anger on the part of the rich and the elite.

On the other hand, it should also be remembered that terror has its own uses. It serves as a distraction from the day to day problems of the common man. Hence we have seen that in the aftermath of the attack the issue of financial crisis and its faulty management on the part of the Indian government has vanished from the discourse. The positive aspect however is that the people in the latest Assembly elections completely rejected the BJP’s attempt to politicise the issue for votes.

An important question is why the entire South Asian region has become increasingly prone to terrorist attacks. This is because of the growing inequalities in the region which is fueling resentments amongst sections of the population. Secondly, there exists deep corruption in the state apparatus, whereby the Mumbai attackers could use the sea route and reach Mumbai without anybody noticing it.

The way forward lies in addressing the entire issue at a regional level and not merely at a country level since terrorism is now a regional issue in South Asia. Secondly, inequalities and exclusion of sections of the population needs to be addressed. Thirdly, we should guard against pressures to emulate the USA model of war and domestic draconian laws to deal with terror. In order to achieve all this what is required is much more progressive political and social mobilisation addressing all the above issues.

The last speaker in the seminar was Md Salim. He pointed out that the terror attack in Mumbai has again precipitated a crisis for the Indian Muslims. Yet again the Indian Muslims are being made to go through a test of their loyalty to the nation and reaffirm their allegiance. Secondly he pointed out that the constant pressure of emulating the USA and attacking Pakistan should be resolutely resisted since any such attacks on Pakistan will only result in strengthening the extremist voices within Pakistan and sideline the progressive and moderate voices. Salim also pointed out that with the terror attack in Mumbai, the USA has again assigned to itself a key role in the affairs of South Asia.

Salim also pointed out that the number of terror attacks has increased in the sub-continent. Arguments for military action on terror do not want to engage with the real factors behind the rise in terrorism in the country. The tirade in the media against politicians is leading nowhere since without democratic polity, terrorism cannot be countered. Our policies both domestically as well as foreign policies are responsible for the rise in terrorist violence. There is a sense of injustice within large sections of the minorities since the perpetrators of riots against the minorities be it in Kandhamal or Gujarat have not been punished. Secondly, our affinity to the USA and Israel is also inviting terrorist attacks in the country. The way forward in the context of the Mumbai attacks is to pressurise Pakistan diplomatically to act against terrorist elements within its territory. For this, the Indian government should move and ask the UN Security Council to compel Pakistan to adhere to the resolution 1373 which forbids any state from sheltering terrorist elements.

In summing up the discussion, Professor Aijaz Ahmad pointed out that neo-liberalism has paved the way for the middle class to flaunt their wealth and express openly their affinity to the ruling classes. This is why, the media had such a class response to the terror attacks. He also pointed out that one of the reason why we are facing these attacks is because of our proximity to US and Israel. It is shocking that the government has allowed the FBI and Mossad to directly intervene in the investigations in the Mumbai terror attack. In terms of a regional response to terrorism and tackling Pakistan, Professor Ahmad pointed out that we have to distance ourselves from the USA and start a dialogue with Russia, China and Iran. He also pointed to the fact that the death of three senior police officers, Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar needs to be investigated properly.

The presentations in the seminar were followed by a lively question answer session. In response to the rumours doing the rounds that the ISI, CIA, Mossad and the RSS are behind the attacks, the speakers pointed out that this is completely wrong and those who advocate this view deny the existence of Jihadi terror which is very dangerous. In response to a question as to why India is facing increased terror attacks, Professor Aijaz Ahmad pointed out four important reasons. Firstly, the defeat of the insurgency in Kashmir has directed the anger of the extremists towards other parts of India. Secondly, it must be remembered that the first act of Jihadi terrorism in India was the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai immediately after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. In this context the communal pogrom in Gujarat was decisive in terms of pushing many more Muslim youths to the path of terror. Thirdly, the way our state agencies have performed targeting the Muslim community has only alienated large sections of the community. Fourthly, the Al Qaeda’s coming to India is directly connected with India’s growing proximity with the USA and Israel. All speakers in the seminar urged the audience to strengthen democratic and progressive opinion in the country to fight against the menace of terrorism.