As I write these words, Mumbai is the focus of world attention as ten targets throughout the Indian city have been attacked by an unknown terrorist strike force. Over 143 people have been killed and hundreds more injured. It didn’t take long for the pundit-ocracy to declare the attack another manifestation of the long string of Hindu- Muslim clashes, which predate today’s attack by more than 150 years.
But there are outstanding features of these latest series of attacks which distinguish them completely from anything that has gone before. The first is the scale and sophistication of the operation. The terrorists, landing by sea from Mumbai’s largely unpatrolled port, operated simultaneously to attack and occupy significant landmarks in the city. As they accomplished this, they were able to target three of the most important members of the Indian anti-terrorist unit in Mumbai who were shot within minutes of one another. Once taking charge of the hotels, they set up command centers in both, a military tactic previously unknown in terrorist circles. The reconnaissance alone involved in planning, coordinating and executing this surprise assault was of extraordinary sophistication and on the level of a first world military operation. The targets must have been scoped out for months, if not years, and the financial resources that would make the training and arming of the operatives, extensive. That funding could not have come solely from the ranks of the usual Kashmiri terrorist groups which have perpetrated bombings and attacks against India for decades.
The second unique aspect is the identity of the kidnapping victims chosen by the group. In the two major hotels the assailants isolated Americans, Britons and Israelis and in another part of the town they led an assault on Chabad House which operates as Mumbai’s unofficial Jewish community center. The fact that foreign nationals were chosen as kidnapping victims is already a major departure from previous attacks. That a Jewish center was attacked and the rabbi and his wife kidnapped, is an indication that these Islamists see their fight as united with that of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, who have all conducted or facilitated attacks on other Jewish centers around the world. They are all no longer simply dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state but to a confrontation with Judaism, Jewish life and the infrastructure that supports it. Here were terrorists then making a statement, not to India, but the world: Western civilization, not just India, is under assault and no place that supports Western ideals, policies and lifestyles will be safe from similar attacks in the future
India, with 1.2 billion people is one of most populous countries earth. It is one of the “Asian tigers” whose extraordinary growth has fueled global economic expansion over the past twenty years. But it is also a country, since its founding, that has suffered continuously from sectarian violence and internecine violence. Attacks on Parliament in 2001 killing 70, on a train in Mumbai in 2006 killing 187, and in New Delhi earlier this year are only a few of the atrocities suffered by the country in this century. But the country is also notoriously porous, its anti-terrorism infrastructure weak and immature and its intelligence services uncoordinated. It is therefore a soft target for terrorist and a perfect for forum for the Islamists’ deadly form of political theater.
However one cannot talk about India’s security problems without mentioning the country’s birth partner, Pakistan. When the two countries were partitioned in 1947 over one million people died as revenge and reprisal killings by Muslim and Hindu nationalists roiled the sub-continent. Three wars and countless border incidents since then have sown a climate a deep hostility, suspicion and distrust. Yet Pakistan suffers from its own scourge of terrorism from Islamic fundamentalists and the recent attempt of new Pakistani prime-minister Asif Ali Zardari at rapprochement with India is a recognition that the survival of both countries is now at stake. They must recognize that they are unavoidably dependent on a cooperative approach to destroying the Islamic fundamentalist fires that burn uncontained within their own borders.
Such cooperation, of course, should not just be regional, but international. If the terrorist assault in Mumbai has now anything to teach us in the West, it is that terror still threatens us all; that Islamic fundamentalists will take heart and courage from their successes on Thursday and Friday and that more such attacks are on their way. Without a united international effort, possessed of a central Allied command and an intelligence network that is thoroughly coordinated between the Western aligned countries, the Mumbai assaults will inevitably be duplicated against other soft targets in Asia, the Americas and Europe. The incoming Obama Administration should therefore be forceful in stating American commitment to leading this international effort and providing countries such as India and Pakistan with the training, armament, intelligence and networking resources that will assist them in their battle on the war’s front line. Such leadership is ultimately crucial to defeating the single greatest threat to life and liberty in the West.