One year ago this Thursday, 10 gunmen wreaked havoc across Mumbai. The targets they attacked included two world-class hotels, a café popular with foreign tourists, the headquarters of India's Central Railways, and a Orthodox Jewish center. One hundred and thirty-eight Indians were killed in the attacks, and 28 foreign nationals lost their lives as well. It took almost 60 hours before commandos from India's National Security Guards killed the last of the remaining terrorists. One of the gunmen was captured in the early hours of the attack. Muhammad Ajmal Amir Kasab admitted to being a member of the Pakistani Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the most powerful militant groups in South Asia. Pakistani promises to dismantle the group in the wake of the Mumbai attacks remain unfulfilled. A year later Lashkar remains a potent force, capable of striking Indian as well as Western targets.
Lashkar's rise was facilitated by the Pakistani government, which supported the group's participation in the insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir. After the Sept. 11 attacks in Washington and New York, Lashkar took pains to present itself as a purely Kashmir-focused organization, but its interests are much broader. Although India has remained its primary target, Lashkar began waging a peripheral jihad against the West soon after 9/11. It has been involved in terrorist plots against Western targets and several years ago began deploying fighters to engage coalition forces in Afghanistan. Despite this, Lashkar managed to maintain a low profile relative to its potent capabilities. That changed last November.
The training and preparation provided to the militants involved in the Mumbai attacks highlight Lashkar's impressive organizational strength, and explain why the gunmen were able to carry on for several days. Prior to the attack, the militants underwent approximately 10 months of training, including religious indoctrination, strength and endurance conditioning, extensive firearms practice, swimming and maritime instruction, map reading, and classes in counterintelligence. They were taught to speak Hindi by an Indian national who was working as a Lashkar trainer, and received false identification cards with Hindu names in order to confuse Indian authorities and hide their true nationality.
Lashkar also commissioned extensive surveillance. Two Indian operatives are currently facing trial for providing reconnaissance on targets selected for the attacks. Indian authorities are investigating whether David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, two Pakistani-Americans who were arrested by U.S. authorities and allegedly connected to Lashkar, also assisted in surveilling some of the targets attacked last year.
One of Lashkar's goals was to halt peace talks between Islamabad and New Delhi and possibly to invite Indian retribution. Peace is not only antithetical to Lashkar's ideology, it also would make the group irrelevant to the Pakistani state. A belligerent Indian response would have increased Lashkar's utility to Pakistan and strengthened hardliners within the Pakistani security establishment.
The Mumbai attacks may rank as the most successful "terrorist spectacular" since 9/11 and certainly marked Lashkar's emergence onto the global jihadi scene. Although Pakistan took some small steps to limit the group's activities, it never came close to dismantling the infrastructure that made Mumbai possible. This reinforced the belief that Lashkar continues to enjoy the protection of the Pakistani military, especially its powerful spy agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate or ISI. The question of whether elements in the Pakistani security establishment directed, supported, or were aware of the attacks remains unanswered. Delhi has leveled accusations, but there is no definitive evidence to suggest official involvement. Nevertheless, Lashkar historically has been Pakistan's most reliable proxy and, at the least, continues to enjoy the passive support of the state.
Pakistan has charged seven men in relation to the Mumbai attacks, including Lashkar's operational commander, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi. However, the court has yet to issue formal indictments, and the proceedings remain in the pre-trial phase. Some Indian officials have expressed concern that most of the militants on trial are functionaries and criticized Pakistan for not going after more of Lashkar's leadership. Pakistanis retort by complaining their country is not getting enough credit for putting these men on trial, even as some of them recognize more could have been done.