I haven’t blogged on this previously, since I was away from the computer when the actual events happened and since have simply been trying to make sense of what it means, both from direct geo-political consequences and as perhaps a signal for what we can expect in the future.
This article, from Asia Times Online does an excellent job of explaining the origins of the attack, and it’s rather complex pedigree. It is a must read if you wish to understand how Pakistan’s ISI and Al-Qaida are related to this attack.
There are a lot of troubling features about the Mumbai attacks, beyond of course the obvious horror at the loss of life and digust at the brutality of the killings and torture that were involved. Tactically this seems to be a very difficult type of attack to defend against. A whole lot of places, including American cities and towns, would have difficulty responding quickly and the multiple targets would confuse and slow any sort of response. I had actually expected some of this sort of thing immediately following 9-11, and was grateful that that sort of threat didn’t manifest. Now, I am afraid, it will become the terror tactic of choice for a while. Of course this sort of attack is very unlikely to result in 3,000 deaths, but it is so much simpler to organize that I can easily imagine multiple attacks being very signifigant.
More troubling though then the tactical aspects of this plan is the strategic maturity it displays. For the most part, even Al-Qaida tactical successes have been strategic failures. The Mumbai attack though is almost certainly going to be a strategic success, pushing Pakistan and India into deeper animosity, and hence putting pressure on Pakistan to distance itself from the west. It also seems to have incited further violence within Pakistan itself, which can only benefit Al-Qaida, and of course the inclusion of the attack on the Jewish center plays well in certain segments of the Arab world, and doubtless will help with recruiting and fund raising in that region.
Al-Qaida suffered a pretty bad blow in Iraq, where its tactics against Iraqi civilians backfired and caused a general loss of popularity for the group in the Arab world. Killing Indians, Americans and especially Jews is a whole lot more palatable for Al-Qaida supporters then killing and terrorizing fellow Muslims, especially fellow Sunni Muslims.