No, Pakistan Is Not Off the Hook

Even if the speculation about this week's Mumbai attacks is true, Islamabad still has some explaining to do.

When three bombs tore through Mumbai on the rain-drenched summer's evening of July 13, more than a few people in windowless Washington, D.C., offices probably stopped eating their breakfasts, their hearts beating a little faster. If the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had hit the city once more, the beleaguered government in Delhi, sensing post-Abbottabad opportunities, might have felt compelled to strike out across the border.

As nameless Indian and American officials began hinting in anonymous press leaks that the "domestic" Indian Mujahideen (IM) was the more probable perpetrator, sighs of relief might have followed. Yes, this would be one more in the string of attacks that have killed 700 Mumbaikars since 1993, but its fallout would be wholly contained within India.

This complacency is unwarranted, however. It is true that the IM's distance from the Pakistani military establishment means that there will be no standoff like that of 2001-02, when India mobilized half a million men to the border. The IM's all-Indian membership and leadership, and its presence across the country, would seem to suggest that it's a purely domestic problem.

But it is no less important to understand that the group has flourished by plugging itself into transnational jihadi networks, enjoying the patronage of Pakistan-backed groups like LeT, which in turn remain the most serious threats to regional stability. Pakistan doesn't get off the hook so easily.

Who are the Indian Mujahideen?

The IM is an offshoot of an offshoot. In 1977, the Student's Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) emerged as a student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), a radical but non-violent Islamist movement headquartered in Delhi.

SIMI became progressively more radicalized through the 1980s, spurred on by Hindu extremists' destruction of a mosque (the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya) and consequent riots across Mumbai in 1992. An armed wing coalesced toward the end of that decade, with recruiting spreading from the group's northern heartland to southern India.

Around 2001, when SIMI was banned by the Indian government, IM formed as a splinter or successor organization (it remains unclear which). Its first claimed attack was a trio of bombings in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, described by the group as "Islamic raids." Other attacks followed in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmadabad, and New Delhi.

In 2002, horrific anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, in which the state's Hindu nationalist government was widely understood to be at least passively complicit, was a massive boon to the group's recruitment efforts. IM described its bombings in 2008, somewhat cynically, as the "revenge of Gujarat," even as it sporadically harnessed the language of Osama bin Laden's global jihad.


IM sits at the intersection of two interwoven strands. The first is India's own difficulties with integrating Muslims into a state whose noble secular promise has frequently been found wanting, in areas ranging from housing allocation to political participation to access to education.

In an unpublished paper, Praveen Swami, an authority on Indian jihadi groups, argues that Indian jihadists owe their rise to Muslim underrepresentation and marginalization. Though they "endorse the al Qaeda message," Georgetown University scholar C. Christine Fair writes, summarizing the article, "they appear to motivate cadres and leaders by focusing on the plight of India's Muslims rather than those of the larger Muslim world."

B. Raman, the former head of counterterrorism for India's foreign intelligence service, notes repeatedly in his memoirs that the 1992 mosque destruction "marked an important watershed in the attitude of sections of the Muslim youth" who were rendered into "fertile soil" for jihadi ideology. Before that point, there had been no jihadi terrorism on Indian soil outside of Kashmir.

This is not an argument for making excuses for terrorism, or a call for India to appease its neofundamentalists. Nor is this about money, as Swami notes elsewhere, as it can only be a short-term fix to deep problems of alienation and humiliation. Plainly put, India needs to do a better job in treating its 138 million Muslims equally under the law, thereby denying jihadi claims the ideological traction they seek.

...But foreign-fed

A closer look at IM's makeup, however, undercuts the facile notion that better communal relations would cause its hardcore adherents to disintegrate, or that we can make easy distinctions between "homegrown" and "foreign" militancy.

The IM was more than just an armed Indian student group. Its birth was midwifed by the LeT and Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami Bangladesh, as well as organized crime networks linked to Pakistan. The 2006 bombings of Mumbai trains that killed 209 were, according to Georgetown's Fair, "an LeT operation outsourced through SIMI," the earlier incarnation of IM. In an authoritative study of the groups, she notes that the LeT "serves as a provider of logistical and ideological infrastructure to the regional jihadist movement."

In South Asia's complex terrorist stew, it's often hard to distinguish one organization from another. For instance, in 2002, around 14 IM recruits from Hyderabad were trained in the Pakistani camps of LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed, a related group. It strains credulity to suppose that this was not done with the approval of the Pakistani spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence. When an IM bomb factory was raided in October 2009, the bombmaker fled to a LeT safe house in Karachi. He returned to bomb a bakery in Pune in February 2010.

In other words, "homegrown" doesn't necessarily mean "domestic." LeT and its backers in the Pakistani state have every incentive to give their covert war against India an indigenous face. The Indian Mujahideen may have been born of India's communalism, but it was weaned on the unrelenting militancy of a certain country to the north.



How India's Voters Can Stop Terrorism

The first step is demanding more from their politicians.

Terrorists have once again struck India. While we should never be too confident in early assessments, it looks to be the work of the Indian Mujahideen, an Indian Islamist terrorist group whose origins are rooted in the Students Islamist Movement of India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and organized criminal networks. As evidence continues to emerge about the attack and its perpetrators, a perennial question has re-emerged: Are Indians safer today than they were on Nov. 26, 2008? On that day, four Lashkar-e-Taiba attack teams assaulted multiple sites in Mumbai. The terrorists -- due in part to the ferocity of the attackers but in larger part due to the shambolic state of India's security apparatus -- held the city hostage for three days while the carnage was broadcast around the world. In the end, 166 people were brutally murdered including several Americans and Israelis.

Following that attack, India made important and historically unprecedented improvements in its internal security architecture, including the creation of a Coastal Command to secure 4,650 miles of shoreline, the establishment of 20 counterterrorism schools and standing regional commando units, the creation of a national agency to investigate suspected terrorist activity, and stronger anti-terrorism laws. But the country remains deeply vulnerable, as Wednesday's bombings show. And even if these attacks galvanize the Indian establishment to act, four important systemic barriers will limit the degree to which India can improve its internal security arrangements, particularly the state police -- the first line of defense in collecting information from the public about suspicious activities, conducting investigations after an attack, and limiting the scope and duration of the assault once an event begins.

First, policing is a state subject in India and thus the federal government has very limited ability to compel the states to invest in their police. And the states simply do not do so. Only Gujarat, Kerala, and Manipur have showed any interest in the central government's no-refund grant to states for modernizing their police forces, which totaled approximately $395 million as of March 2011. States have also been dilatory in securing funds available to them under the modified "Modernization of State Police Forces" program initiated by New Delhi in 2000-01.

Second, India's vibrant and growing private sector attracts high-quality youth with pay, status, and other amenities that government service cannot offer, at present. It's no wonder the Indian bureaucracy no longer has the allure of prestige and status that it once had. India's ability to expand the number, size, and geographical distribution of police, intelligence, and other internal security organizations may therefore be hampered by recruitment shortfalls.

A third and even more alarming barrier to more significant reform is corruption and patronage politics. India, as Kanchan Chandra argues, is a "patronage democracy," wherein elected officials have the ability to distribute state resources to voters thanks to their significant discretion in implementing state policy. This affects police reform directly and indirectly. First is the lamentable fact that many police forces in India are deeply politicized and, at lower and leadership levels alike, have colluded with politicians for mutual benefit. Many police officials engage in various dubious activities to blatantly support their benefactors in elections or other public fora, suppress protests against them, or even engage in violence at their patrons' behest.

For obvious reasons, politicians tend to resist serious police reform. A 2010 study by PRS, an independent Indian legislative analysis organization, found that insurgency-riven states like Jharkand have utilized only 61 percent of the resources available for police reform. In other words, it's political will, not resources, that is generally lacking. Corruption runs so deep, moreover, that police forces are often supplied with sub-par equipment, and in inadequate quantities. According to one retired police officer, at least two batches of body armor that had failed tests in 2001 and 2004 were purchased by the Mumbai police due to corrupt acquisition practices.

Finally, Indian voters have not demanded better security in a sustained and systemic way by punishing politicians at the ballot box when they fail to deliver. Lawrence Saez and Aseema Sinha, professors in political science at London's School of Oriental and African Studies and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, respectively, found that the timing of elections dictated public spending, with politicians being most attentive during an election year and less so after securing their positions. Another study by Arkadipta Ghosh, a researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, found that Indian voters are most responsive during an election year rather than consistently concerned throughout the politician's tenure. Despite the poor performance of the Maharashtra state government before and during the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, for example, that government was re-elected less than a year later.

Unfortunately, there is much work to be done. India's domestic intelligence agencies need to be restructured at the state and federal levels; its nascent Federal Investigative Agencies need to be better resourced and strengthened; and a host of other critical measures are needed to intercept terrorists at the planning stage, limit the damage of an attack once it begins, and finally identify and prosecute the perpetrators and identify their support networks.

While this most recent outrage has again prompted Indians to question the efficacy of their security institutions, it is unlikely that their skepticism will be sustained -- or, most importantly, reflected in the votes they cast. Until they hold federal and state politicians accountable, internal security reform will be a revolution deferred.