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Mumbai – one year on from the attacks

November 25th, 2009
06:30 PM ET

On the streets at the time, the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai left one feeling that the city would never be the same. India would not be the same. 

Mourners paint artwork on a kilometer-long wall of tribute dedicated to the victims of the attacks.
Mourners paint artwork on a kilometer-long wall of tribute dedicated to the victims of the attacks.

A common mood sloshed through every alley, a rising, indignant anger: enough was enough, something needed to change. Commentators called the attacks India’s 9/11: a time when the world stopped still, shocked at the horrors of humanity.

I’ve always believed the 9/11 analogy was not entirely correct. Unlike the U.S., India has had a long history of terrorism, random attacks engineered by a variety of adversaries and carried out by often faceless operatives.

In 2008 itself there were attacks in the cities of Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Guwahati, and more. But what was truly ominous about comparing the Mumbai attacks to New York’s in 2001 was the expectation of a comparable government response.

A few days after the attacks I went with a CNN crew to a protest rally in Mumbai. Tens of thousands of Mumbaikars attended, venting their anger. Some of it was against politicians; most of it was against Pakistan. The mob was made up of young college students and professionals. Emboldened by their numbers, they demanded action. “Galli galli mein shor hai, Pakistan chor hai!” they shouted, roughly translating to: On every street, people are crying: Pakistan is a rogue country! On televisions, countless pundits insisted that this was India’s 9/11. And they expected a matching response from the government – against Pakistan.

Indian investigators have since laid out a mountain of evidence showing the attackers came from across the border, from the Pakistani province of Punjab. But it wasn’t clear who the anger in India was directed at: the Pakistan government and its inability (or in the protestors’ minds, unwillingness, or worse) to rein in the terrorists, or whether it was directed at the terrorists themselves who happened to be Pakistani. But there is no doubt that much diplomatic ire has been directed at Islamabad for failing to crack down on militants suspected of attacks in India. Finally today, one year later, Pakistan has charged seven men over the Mumbai attacks; they allegedly belong to the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba militant group.

A year on, where does India stand?

Given the immense internal pressure, it’s a marvel that the government rejected the notion of a military response. Elections were afoot; there was political mileage to be made. And yet by and large the public hysteria died down after a while. But India is right in pushing Pakistan to get its house in order.

Here’s a 9/11 analogy that works better: the main two hotels under attack in Mumbai – the Oberoi and the Taj – were symbolically the twin towers of Mumbai’s upper-class fabric.

But in 2009, the real terror story in India has been playing out far away from the corridors of finance, glitz, and glamor. Maoist rebels today operate in 223 districts, spread out across one-third of the country. The area is called the ‘Red Corridor’, where the rebels, known as Naxalites, routinely attack symbols of power. They orchestrate bombings, robberies, kidnappings, and massacres. The South Asia Terrorism Portal’s data shows these rebels have been responsible for 800+ civilians deaths so far this year – more than four times as many as those killed in the Mumbai attacks.

One year on, perhaps the greatest lesson to take away from the Mumbai attacks is this: defeat or victory can't be gauged by the success of a terror attack; it is determined by the response. In the end, India reacted responsibly to Mumbai – by pushing for investigations and justice, and by avoiding a reckless military response. It's important to recognize that combatting terrorism - be it from an internal or external source - requires a more nuanced approach than just fighting fire with fire.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Sudeep Motupalli Rao

    As someone with roots in India, I'm very glad that India decided to pursue a smart strategy while responding to the Mumbai attacks of 2008. The decision makers there get the point that M. K. Gandhi made when he said "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". Now, it's time to reform the justice system so it works for all in an effective way. Time to make governance transparent and provide the right to information for all citizens such that corruption is no longer worth it. High time that we educated the children in India to appreciate diversity and plurality of cultures such that an enlightened new generation is born to lead India in the 21st century.

    Sudeep Motupalli Rao
    San Francisco, CA

    November 25, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Reply
  2. Kanishka Banerjee

    I loved the way India allied with security agencies and diplomats from countries around the world to address the root of the problem, rather than just taking a symptomatic approach. International cooperation in all fields is the key to global peace. India has much to contribute to itself and the world. It's time the politicians made it happen. When every young mind in India gets a good education and an equal opportunity, things will automatically fall into place.

    Kanishka Banerjee
    Sweden

    November 26, 2009 at 12:41 am | Reply
  3. Zahid Hussain

    As an expatriate Indian living in the United States I remember the events of a year ago with horror. I grew up in the area near the Taj and I know people that lost family in the massacre. I think that was the day that I and most Indians I have spoken to feel that we have nothing more to do with Pakistan. They sent ten of their kids to kill innocent people and shamelessly try and blame everyone but themselves until the proof was just too great. I do not mean just the Pakistani government but I mean most Pakistani people. There used to be a time when as an Indian muslim I could say that the Pakistani people were not to blame, just their misguided army. Most Indians will not say this ever again. We hold the entire nation of pakistan, not just its army responsible and we nothing nothing to do with you ever again. We will not talk with you but we will leave you alone as long as you do the same to us. We will never ever be friends. We should unilaterally set the loc as the border and forget the animals on the other side even exist. If they ever try anything like this again, make the whole country and everyone in it pay the price and to hell with what the rest of the world thinks.

    November 26, 2009 at 2:34 am | Reply
  4. Prem Nizar Hameed

    Before we enter into a worship place, we keep our footwear outside the shrine. It means we should not carry dirty things even if we use them for our daily life into a sacred place. Similarly, when we enter into our conscience for introspection, we should not carry any dirty politics with us. Now the answer is crystal clear: This is the excruciating common agony and curse of our system. To protect a black sheep, either we sacrifice a goat or we make a scapegoat. A true citizen is much worried about the unwanted political, regional and religious interference of our law and order systems. The loss of all the devoted officers and soldiers is not a personal loss to their own families, but a great loss to the nation.

    We have better law and order systems for curbing social evils, corruption, hoardings, anti-national elements, terrorism etc. But we lack determination to precisely implement them. This is the crux of every problem. And, as you know, we face an established nexus between dirty politics and anti-social elements in India. They cling on to divide and rule policy to disintegrate our country for their simple material gains. I don’t segregate a particular wing for this. All are involved to a certain extent. Now no people movements are strong enough to address such issues sincerely and democratically. In that context, the terror outfits chance to take advantages and the isolated innocent people become susceptible to their dragnet. It is a very serious matter.
    We spend most of our working hours which we are supposed to devote to developmental programmes and defense, for unraveling and sorting out such issues. It is the greatest wastage of man power. The elected leaders must first invoke themselves the fundamental duties set for them so that we are able to see all the schemes and programmes are being implemented one by one meticulously. Our system should be bullet-proof first. Otherwise the bullets from the vested interest will pierce into the system to eliminate such duty conscious officers. Such officers and their families are always confident that our system would stand like a citadel to shield their lives. Kavitaji (Kavita Karakre) is a brave woman who could take up all challenges single handedly. But what will be the situations for the others? We frequently criticize about the mismanagement of our system. Nothing is being materialized. The authorities are least bothered about it. It seems it is time Lord Krishna has to reincarnate to exhort our people and purge our systems. Otherwise our situation will be similar to that of the Yadavas in the end: End by killing each other. Let us go ahead with progressive minds and optimism. At the same time, let us make a citadel of unity in such a way that not even a foreign nail can scratch on it. .

    Heroes never give in to threat
    Even if they fall into death;
    Recap their bravery as it is here;
    On the road lie many shattered dreams
    Enmeshed many in panic streams;
    Sure, this is a wake-up call for every one
    Sincere salute to all the brave hearts
    And a lamp of unity is lit in our hearts
    No more Black Wednesday for us
    Dear commandos, you saved Mumbai meri jaan
    Every drop of blood you shed
    Etches your portrayal in our mind:
    Portrayal of the patriotic Indian spirit

    November 26, 2009 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  5. A. Smith, Oregon

    It clearly shows the complete and total non-comprehension of the long lasting Kashmir feud between Pakistan and India by the American people to actually expect Pakistan to turn over any of the ring-leaders and at large Mumbia terrorists to India.

    The only saving grace thus far on this horrific slaughter has been to have no media coverage of the Pakistani people celebrating and treating those ring-leaders as their hero's.

    Did the high resolution spy photos used by the Mumbia terrorists to plan their attacks on each of the Mumbia targets, come from a Commercial Spy Photo agency which doesn't have high resolution capability, or were those from the CIA who has a long standing relationship with Pakistan's ISA who gave them those photos?

    November 26, 2009 at 11:05 pm | Reply
  6. Vijay Ho

    I am an Indian expat living in the US since the 90s. I was as shaken by the events of 11/26 as i was when 9/11 happened. We indians have always behaved as a "big brother " towards the evil doers across the border. We have ignored their motives behind the three wars which they started, all the terrorists they sent in to kashmir to create the problems not only within Kashmir but all over India, and finally sending the barbaric monsters in human form to Mumbai on 11/26. We have always gone out of our way trying to help them politically , economically , culturally, morally and every other way a civilized society normally does. Even here in the Us, whenever we socialized with the Pakistanis( among them Doctors, engineers, businessmen, we always heard that it was the politicians who created all the problems and that the people wanted peace. What a lie. Every pakistani hates India and Indians without exception. That country has become a true rogue nation in line with afghanistan, Somalia , N Korea etc. My Appeal to Indians: Do not trust the Pakistanis. Do not fall for the "oh we are like brothers " talk. Do not let them hide under the DESI chaddhor. Expose them.

    November 27, 2009 at 2:56 am | Reply
  7. A. Smith, Oregon

    @Vijay Ho,

    Unfortunately there are millions of Muslims living in India and like ticking time bombs, any of them could suddenly become faithful Muslims and attempt to duplicate the Mumbai massacre on innocent non-Muslim civilians.

    Without any doubt there were several Muslims in India that were involved in the Mumbai massacre that avoided capture by simply running to the homes of the nearest Muslim that would shelter them like cockroaches running from a spotlight.

    India could easily wake-up one day and find they are in the middle of the largest civil war, India has ever seen between the Muslims and the Hindus.

    December 1, 2009 at 3:41 am | Reply
  8. Ola

    @ A. Smith, Oregon

    Hmmm. some ignorance here. So you are saying that a faithful muslim is a terrorist? If that were so, why is it that terrorism barely existed in the Muslim Ottoman empire and is only a recent thing coming when Begin was elected in Israel and the Afghan war?

    America actually encouraged and created this twisted view of Jihad. In the Afghan war against atheistic Russians, America called upon Muslims of all arab countries to fight against the russians not because of invading forces but because they were infidels, thereby creating one of the first twists of Islam.

    America paid the most money to extremist groups like the taliban and Osama Bin Laden since it believed the most extremist groups would fight the russians better. They trained these people who were mainly radicals and outcasts from society in American facilities, and taught them the arts of espionage and deadly skills.

    Americans created text books which are still used in Pakistan today because of the poverty, stating problems like "If a mujahad has a machine gun and it is going at a certain speed, how long will it take to hit a russian in the forehead?"

    America then helped taliban to power since it believed taliban would allow Americans to put an oil pipleline under Afghanistan.

    America encouraged the production of schools which taught the American-made version of jihad to vulnerable, scared, young children.

    Looking at the attacks of terrorism on the US, England, Spain, etc. all of them are done almost entirely by Afghan veterans.

    Causation or correlation people?

    there are over 1.5 BILLION muslims worldwide. If even 0.1 % of these were terrorists, the world would be in flames.

    The terrorists come from poor, uneducated areas where people are brainwashed into believing a false version of Islam (in fact, i don't believe arabic which is the language of the qu'ran is the native language of these areas. Also, the qu'ran prohibits the killing of innocents and one is only to fight against those who fight against you. To save one person's life is as if one were to save all humanity)

    Americans recruited radicals, outcasts, and brainwashed Muslims everywhere to believe jihad is fighting against infidels, while in fact it is not.

    So spreading hate about Muslims and Islam is not going to work since a very very low percentage is a terrorist. Muslims are not the problem, it is the teachings and how America allowed terrorist groups to come into power that is the problem.

    December 2, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Reply

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