Hudson Institute

Mumbai Blasts, Once Again

Research Fellow, India and South Asia

Kuch baat hai kii hasti mitati nahin hamari
Sadiyon raha hai dushman daure jahan hamara
(Something there is that keeps us, our entity from being eroded
For ages has been our enemy, the way of the world)

The above words were written a few decades ago by well known poet and thinker Muhammad Iqbal. That is the spirit of Mumbai; the spirit of India. The financial capital of India was struck by bomb blasts yet again a few hours ago.

A series of three simultaneous blasts struck Mumbai, around 6:45 pm local time, in Dadar, Zaveri Bazar and Opera House. That these locations had been carefully chosen can be gauged from the fact that bombs were timed to blow up during evening rush hour in a predominantly middle class residential area, a wholesale gold market and a building housing diamond traders and jewelry shops. As of now 20 people were killed and over 113 injured, though the figures will most likely increase once the final counts come in.

Mumbai is not new to either serial blasts or terror attacks. On March 12, 1993, a series of 13 bomb explosions hit various hotels, office buildings, markets and 257 people were killed and 713 injured. Dawood Ibrahim, head of a Mumbai-based crime syndicate, was blamed for this incident. Ten years later, in four separate incidents spread out over eight months--January, March, July and August--bombs exploded inside bus stops, at railway stations and even inside cars. Around 100 people were killed and many more injured.

On July 11, 2006, almost five years to today's date, a series of seven blasts hit Mumbai's suburban metro system, 187 commuters were killed and over 800 injured. The Indian government blamed both the local jihadi group the Indian Mujahideen as well as the Lashkar e Taiba, a Pakistan-based jihadi organization. On November 26, 2008 Mumbai was struck by terror attacks when a group of terrorists, belonging to the Lashkar e Taiba, struck hotels and railway stations across the city.

India has been the target of terrorism for decades. According to The South Asian Terrorism Portal, during 1994-2005, India had over 4000 fatalities on average every year. The highest was over 5000 in 2001 and though the numbers declined after 2004, the figures for 2011 already stand at over 595 dead.

Since the early 2000s well-planned bombings have struck regularly at Indian cities- Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Mumbai and New Delhi- to name a few. The last major bombing incident in India took place February 2010 in the western city of Pune, when a blast at a packed restaurant killed nine people including one foreigner.

What is evident is that these terror attacks and blasts aim to hurt India's economic growth by striking those cities which play a critical role this process. Further, the perpetrators of these attacks also want to create an atmosphere of fear, domestic instability and if possible, provoke violence between Hindus and Muslims. So far, those attempts have not succeeded.

In most of the blasts in recent years, a local jihadi group, the Indian Mujahideen, has claimed responsibility and always threatened more. As of now no group or organization has claimed responsibility for today's blast.

While the Indian Mujahideen took responsibility most experts believe that the group has close ties to the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). SIMI is a radical jihadi organization whose goal is the establishment of an Islamic state in India. These analysts believe that since 2006 the SIMI has apparently liaised with Islamist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Lashkar e Taiba and the Taliban, to secure logistics assistance.

According to Indian Union Home Minister Mr P. Chidambaram, this was "a coordinated attack by terrorists" and all major cities in India have been put on "high alert." A post-blast team from the Mumbai-based hub of the National Security Guard (NSG), India's special response unit for counter-terrorism, has been dispatched. While the NSG was formed in 1984, it was only in the wake of the 2008 terror attacks that regional hubs of the NSG were set up to facilitate fast action. Teams from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) from Delhi and Hyderabad have also been sent to Mumbai.

Further, according to Mr. Chidambaram a team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), led by an IG rank officer, was due to reach Mumbai later today. Soon after the 2008 terror attacks the Indian Parliament created the NIA, a federal law enforcement civilian agency empowered to deal with terrorism related cases across states without special permission from states.

While India's resources today are better than those in 2008, India would benefit continued investment in the field of internal security and counter-terrorism. Increased cooperation with intelligence agencies in other friendly countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel would also be beneficial. During the recent visit of U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, the US government offered to build deeper ties with and provide assistance not only to the Indian federal government but also state governments. The upcoming India-US strategic dialogue which Secretary Clinton will be attending will be a useful venue to discuss this issue.

Furthermore, India would also benefit from discussions and cooperation with its immediate neighbor, Pakistan. An underlying aim of these attacks has also been to hurt India's ties with Pakistan, especially since a majority of the groups involved in these attacks have ties with Pakistan-based jihadi organizations. It is to be expected that many analysts and politicians will point to Pakistan and more specifically the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, as being behind the attacks. Blaming one another is not going to solve the problem, finding the terrorists and trying to prevent future attacks should be the priority. India and Pakistan set up an anti-terrorism institutional mechanism a year ago to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations. However, skeptical one may be we should not forget that protecting people is more important than holding on to prejudices. The upcoming Foreign Ministers meeting in end-July will be the proper venue to discuss the issue of terrorism and counter-terror cooperation, rather than simply trading barbs.