Terror in the Maximum City

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 25 Jul 2011

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

Indian city Mumbai is famed as the ‘maximum city’ as it is in a sense represents maximum in everything. It represents all contradictions and paradoxes. A casual traveller to the city can find the wealthiest and the poorest co-existing side by side. The most beautiful and the most wretched co-exist in Mumbai. The city provides everything to everybody: daily work to a daily labourer, a job to educated, underworld facilities to mafia, tinsel town to socialites and sophisticated. Since its emergence under the tutelage of the British raj some hundred years ago, Mumbai has never looked backward. Mumbai is India’s most prosperous as well as most cosmopolitan city. The city’s local trains everyday carry about 7 million diverse people, and to this gigantic fare are everyday added 1200 families who reach city from different corners of India in search of better life. Mumbai has also become a constant target of terrorist attacks since the menace raised its ugly head in the Indian subcontinent. In the past decade, it has been the target of terror attack at least five times in 2003, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011. In these attacks, it is the common people who bear the brunt as the targets are usually (to the sole exception of attacks in 2008) busy market places, local trains, train stations, hospitals, etc. The frequent terror attacks make it clear that Mumbai remains a favourable target for terrorists and whatever happens in Mumbai instantly catches the eyes of the nation and the world, thus in a way fulfilling the aims of the terror designers and their organizations to highlight their presence and activities.

Worldwide Incidents Tracking System of the US shows that in Mumbai 390 people have died and over 1,349 injured due to terror attacks since 2005. This estimation does not add the city’s largest terror incident of 1993 which killed 257 and injured 713. The bomb blasts at the three locations in south and central Mumbai on 13 July 2011 killed at least 20 people and injured about 131 people. The targeting of three locations named Zaveri Bazaar, Opera House and Dadar west in the rush hours were aimed at causing maximum damage to the people. Though India invested heavily in anti-terror operations post-2008, it still appears not fully capable to counter the attacks. After 2008 India witnessed five terror attacks in various parts including New Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmadabad, Pune and Varanasi, Bangalore. Perhaps two factors explain the difficulties in these operations. First, the terrorists mostly target the busy market places or places which are mostly crowded like trains and that too during rush hours, hence making difficult security operations including surveillance of a particular area. In the case of Mumbai, it is one of the most crowded cities of India, with population at about 21million. Like any big city there are always bursts of activities in Mumbai. Hence, it becomes difficult to always keep a tap on developments in a particular locality in this huge city. Hence, while people this time appreciated quick actions by the Mumbai police and authorities, the fact remains that Mumbai still remains vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

International criticisms have poured in as many countries condemned the attacks in clear terms. But, there seems something is lacking at international arena to make a coordinated effort and to devise mechanisms such as to share real time intelligence to fight the menace. Though there are some effective bilateral mechanisms between countries, there is apparent lack of a unified attempt in this context. The Af-Pak tangle is a clear cut example of this conundrum. However, perhaps one positive thing is that India has not accused any particular country for this attack. The earlier habit in a section of Indian establishment was to point fingers at Pakistan for terrorist attacks in India. This restraint is perhaps a welcome sign for India-Pakistan rapprochement which was lagging behind since 2008. India’s Home Minister, P. Chidambaram clearly stated that there must not be any ‘pre-determined assumptions’ towards accusing any particular entity in this heinous act. Though he argued that India lives in a troubled neighbourhood, and countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan have become centres of terrorism, there is no apparent reason to accuse neighbours for this barbaric act. Pakistan’s foreign minister and the US Secretary of State are visiting India to deliberate on diverse issues of importance. In this backdrop, the bomb blasts will likely push the leaders to think in more pragmatic terms how to tackle the menace.

Is there a large picture attached to these blasts in Mumbai? An analysis of the recent developments in the wider region of South Asia provides some indications in this direction. The recent standoff between Pakistan and the US, the killing of Ahmad Wali Karzai, the powerful half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the rising to power of Ayman al Zawahiri and some Indian Mujahideen’s links to Al Qaeda as the last year’s arrest of an Indian techie in Paris revealed, present a picture of terrorism in the region with wider implications for the world. Though Indian authorities at present suspect the role of Indian Mujahideen, a home grown fundamentalist and terrorist network (emerging out of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India), which is comparatively amateurish and less sophisticated in comparison to other terror groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba or Al Qaeda, a wider linkage in triggering these blasts cannot be ruled out.

The emergence of Mumbai as a favourable target of terrorists brings into mind of Mumbai people a sense of puzzlement in which while the spirit of life goes unabated despite all tumults, the viability of the city as the maximum city may get undermined with constant terrorist threat. Various options are mooted by intellectuals at home and abroad to come out of this threat such as making the city self-governed without embroiling it in national or local politics, or making it an issue in India’s economic development and most importantly, making its security arrangements effective and strengthened.

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Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is currently part of the research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India. He specializes on issues of conflict, peace and development, terrorism and strategic aspects of Central Eurasia and is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Jul 2011.

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