Terror in Mumbai – Again
by Irfan Al-Alawi
Once again, terror has struck the metropolis of Mumbai, India's leading commercial center. In a repetition of the homicidal assault on the city in December 2008, three coordinated bombings on Wednesday killed 18 people and injured 133, according to the latest report. The main blast erupted at the city's southerly jewelry market, which features a large diamond trade. Secondary assaults took place at Zaveri Bazaar, where gold bullion is sold, and Dadar, a shopping area where stores are owned by Muslims as well as Hindus. All three took place during early evening rush-hour traffic, when the jewelry and gold markets are typically crowded with customers.
Zaveri Bazaar was similarly hit by terror bombs in 1993 and 2003, while Dadar is near a train station that was one of several rail terminals attacked in 2006. The wider district was the targeted location for the 2008 attacks.
Noting that the victims included gem and precious-metal traders, some Indian media speculated that the bombs, which are believed to have been improvised explosive devices (IEDs) carried by an automobile and at least one person on a motorbike, were planted at the order of India's criminal underworld. A fourth IED was located in Mumbai, but did not explode.
The Indian government has imposed a high alert against terrorism. Indian public opinion and many moderate Muslims cannot avoid speculating that, as in the 2008 attack, Pakistan and its powerful radical Islamist ideological networks stand behind the carnage.
Mumbai police blame the latest horror on the "Indian Mujahidin," one of several terror entities supported from Pakistan. As became known throughout the world, Pakistani extremism benefits from subsidies from the commanding sectors of the country's military, particularly their Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
South Asian Muslim extremism – beginning with the Deobandi sect that inspires the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, and including the jihadist Jamaat-e Islami (JI), founded by the radical theoretician Abu'l Ala Mawdudi, and its many satellite organizations, factions, and grouplets – has made clear that its ambitions are not limited to the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan or the teeming cities of Pakistan. The violence of the Taliban is more than an expression of the Pashtun ethnic claims, as is mistakenly assumed by foreign observers.
Pakistani radicals have recently conducted a sustained campaign of terror and penetration, extending as far as Bangladesh. Their weapons have included violence against spiritual Sufis; Shia Muslims, whom they accuse of apostasy from Islam; anti-radical Sunni Muslims, and secular citizens. Earlier this year, in Pune, east of Mumbai, a bombing that killed more than a dozen people and injured scores, was blamed on Pakistani fanatics.
The radical Islamist offensive against India began in earnest in 2007 with a murderous attack on the Ajmer Sharif shrine, the mausoleum of the most famous Indian Sufi saint, Moinuddin Chisti, who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries. In that feint across the border of Pakistan, two people were killed and 20 were injured. The Ajmer Sharif incident was the most daring such act in a series of outrages against Sufi institutions in southwest Asia.
In Bangladesh, once known as East Pakistan, Islamist extremism has been the object of significant suspicion and fear since the country won its sovereignty in 1971. JI cadres, driven by the fundamentalism of Mawdudi and his vision of an "Islamic state," were involved in massacres and other crimes during the Bangladesh independence war; the Islamabad regime still harbors resentment of India for having intervened to assist Bangladesh. Pakistani Muslims often appear united - aside from their sectarian and doctrinal differences - in blaming New Delhi for Pakistan's separation from Bangladesh, even though the citizens of former West and East Pakistan had only religion in common. Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims are distinguished from one another by culture, language, traditions, and even different alphabets.
Deobandi fundamentalists, having brought the Taliban to life at the western extreme of South Asia, have embarked on a program of infiltration in Bangladesh through the activism of the "Tabligh-i Jama'at" movement, which captures millions of young believers with its campaigns of preaching and mass participation. Bangladesh, with its popular dedication to Sufism, and its securely democratic political institutions - that includes a woman prime minister, Shaykha Hasina Wajed - has, at 160 million, a population almost as large as Pakistan's 190 million, and could lead South Asia's Muslims.
But Islamabad, however, is jealous of its prerogatives as the "recognized" Muslim power in the region. Its animosity toward India is also fed by long-standing rivalry for control of Kashmir. The once-paradisiacal northern region, now partitioned between Pakistan and India, has been the pretext and training ground for Pakistani and foreign jihadists. South Asian and other radicals recruited in, and blooded in, Kashmir participated in defending the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, and were then "re-assigned" to Kashmir. More recently, they returned to combat in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The dreaded - and unfortunately efficient - terrorist network, known as "Lashkar-e-Taiba" or "Army of the Righteous," is an ally of al-Qaeda. It was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai bloodshed, and treats Kashmir as its home and hearth, nesting there with the complicity of Islamabad authorities between its sorties into Afghanistan and the main territories of Pakistan and India.
The permanently festering Pakistani grievance over Kashmir has other ramifications. Indian strategists worry that China is furthering the goal of Pakistan's extremists to dominate the subcontinent. Chinese troops have been reportedly patrolling Kashmir as Pakistan allocates its military resources to the conflict in Afghanistan - a "shadow war" in which the real intentions of Pakistan are seldom revealed.
It is no secret that both Pakistan and India possess nuclear weapons, and that the Pakistani atomic physicist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, handed over military technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. If, therefore, one counts China and North Korea and Pakistan as members of a nuclear alliance, India faces three nuclear-armed opponents.
While Islamabad politicians insistently accuse India of attempting to "encircle" Pakistan by influencing the Afghan government, in the wider sphere, Pakistan and China have already established an atomically-armed 'ring of fire' around India.
Indian Muslims, who have embraced, in their majority, cooperation with their non-Muslim fellow-citizens, are also threatened by Pakistani radicalism. The bombings in Mumbai most certainly took the lives of Muslims as well as Hindus and others.
Finally, for Muslims in the United Kingdom, the latest onslaught of violence in Mumbai once again points to the role of extremist ideology among South Asian Muslim immigrants and their offspring.
South Asians make up the overwhelming majority of British Muslims; and the Deobandi and Saudi-financed Wahhabi sects, along with other jihadi groups, are fighting hard for control over the community. The traditional, Sufi-oriented Islam of the Barelvi sect - which is culturally conservative but anti-radical - has been challenged in mosques across England by Deobandi, Wahhabi, and jamaati preachers. Bangladeshi Muslims in the UK have also proven more susceptible to Islamist ideology than their relatives in Bangladesh itself.
The latest gruesome news from Mumbai underscores the dangers to the region - and the world - posed by the Pakistani romance with radicalism. Unfortunately, moderate, traditional Muslims, Pakistani and Indian politicians, and anti-jihadist religious leaders in the subcontinent – as well as South Asian immigrants in the West - have proven long on complaint but short on practical action to obstruct the extremist invasion. It is doubtful that this incident will be the last of its kind.