Friday, December 5, 2008

Reacting to Mumbai: The Dangerous 9/11 Precedent

My thanks to
for publishing the original version of this essay

As the world waits to see if the Mumbai attack will catalyze a nuclear war in South Asia, we see our first example of how much more dangerous the world is as a result of the Bush Administration’s response to 9/11. By reacting to the 9/11 attack from a terrorist gang with not only one but a series of wars of choice against, not the enemy, but a series of countries with varying degrees of complicity in the event (ranging from probably quite a bit to none whatsoever), the Bush Administration established an incredibly dangerous precedent.

I certainly am not suggesting that no country had ever before been guilty of such deception; rather, the precedent was particularly dangerous because of the preeminent moral position of the U.S. as the victorious leader of the free world and last remaining superpower in a world supposedly progressing toward the rule of international law. Whether the new and visibly uncertain Pakistani civilian government planned the Mumbai attack, looked the other way, got deceived by rogue elements in its unruly military-intelligence apparatus, is guilty only of past complicity with Pakistani terrorist attacks, or is in fact simply waiting for New Delhi to present evidence, New Delhi can cite the precedent of Washington’s attack on Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the time Bush chose to invade Afghanistan, Kabul was hosting bin Laden but was indicating willingness to compromise with Washington. Then, as now, there were calls for “evidence.” Was this stalling or a legitimate request? Do we, even today, know the answer? Almost certainly, as with Mumbai today, the answer was anything but clear at the time of the U.S. invasion.

Then, there’s Iraq, a secular, modernizing dictatorship under Saddam that was in no way connected to bin Laden, except for one consideration, about which more in a minute. The neo-con war of choice against Iraq was a war looking for an excuse. Knowingly or not, bin Laden was kind enough to provide one. Bin Laden seems to have foreseen that the U.S. would overreact, giving him endless opportunities to exploit the inevitable chaos and resultant global resentment against American heavy-handedness. One result was the emergence of terrorism in Iraq; another was the emergence of the Taliban-led violence in Pakistan. The terrorists who attacked Mumbai no doubt made the same calculation, with dreams of freeing Indian Kashmir and establishing a Pakistani caliphate. To this day, Bush appears likely to get away unpunished with claiming that attacking Saddam was part of the fight against bin Laden.

As for the one way in which Iraq and Afghanistan were connected…it’s all about energy. Iraq had it; Afghanistan was seen as a nice pipeline route from former Soviet Central Asia. And both Baghdad and Kabul were demonstrating an uncomfortable degree of independent-mindedness.

All that constitutes an array of precedents broad enough to drive any desired war of aggression through, which brings us back to the present and the uncomfortable question of who in India might see this as a good chance to achieve any of several goals: consolidating India’s harsh half-century-long campaign to subjugate Kashmir, ending the threat of Islamic terrorism, finally putting Indian Moslems firmly into the second-class status that some Hindu nationalists have long desired, or settling old scores with the Pakistani military.

Of course, alternative courses of action are open to New Delhi just as they were to Washington in 2001. New Delhi could admit that Nehru’s original promise to allow Kashmiris to choose among India, Pakistan, and independence was the right policy rather than trying to force them to be part of India just as Bush could have recognized that Israeli oppression of the Palestinians only fueled extremism. New Delhi could use the horror of Mumbai to build a global campaign for justice and against fundamentalist violence, including not just Islamic fundamentalist violence but also Hindu fundamentalist violence. (Note that the point here is to oppose that strand of religious or nationalist thought that promotes violence, not to oppose, say, strands of religious fundamentalism that focus on the resurrection of traditional mores.) For the thoughtful, alternative courses of action are always available. Unfortunately, short-sighted emotional responses are so much easier…and, for those in power, frequently so much more profitable.

Now, the Bush Administration finds itself in the embarrassing position of trying to persuade New Delhi to please, please ignore the Bush Administration’s own precedent. Please, New Delhi, resist the temptation to answer violence with violence; please, New Delhi, resist the temptation to attack the easy target (another country) rather than the guilty party (a terrorist gang skilled at melting into the general population); please, New Delhi, resist the temptation to turn what should be a police action into a war; please, New Delhi, resist the temptation to cover up your own guilt in creating conditions that open the door to extremism; please, New Delhi, resist the temptation to exploit the tragedy your country just suffered to improve your job security or conduct a war of conquest or punish your old enemies. Please, New Delhi, resist the temptation to act like us.


Appendix: What Is the Real Mumbai Story?

Pakistani Military Looking for Return to Power? one view is that the civilian government [of Pakistan] itself may be a target of the strike which may be used by the army to heighten tensions with India to return to power

Rogue Pakistani Intel? A former Defense Department official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that American intelligence analysts suspect that former officers of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency and its army helped train the Mumbai attackers.

Indian Crime Lord? Pakistan- and Dubai-based criminal syndicate boss Dawood Ibrahim’s gangsters handed over the weapons and explosive material to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) terrorists to carry out the assault on targets in Mumbai

Islamic Radicals Opposing Pakistani-Indian Friendship? Before the attacks, India and Pakistan were on the verge of concluding an alliance against their de facto common enemy, Islamic radicalism, under the guidance of the American government. In reviving Indians' fears that they were once again under attack from Pakistani security forces, the Mumbai atrocities may well disrupt the projected alliance.

Politically Marginalized Indian Muslims? the terrorists could be a homegrown variety, a product of the radicalization of young Indian Muslims who have finally given up on the indigenous political system

Hindu Nationalists? Interestingly, four times previously the Indian government falsely accused Lashkare Taiba directly as the organization sponsoring violent incidents in India....In each of the incidents, namely, the Chattisinghpura massacre, the attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001, the Malagaon blasts and the Samjhota Express incident, investigations were either refused or revealed that neither Lashkare Taiba nor Pakistan but groups from within India were responsible.

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