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'India and Pakistan have a common enemy'

Arthur J Pais in New York | December 02, 2008 11:14 IST

Cautioning against coming to any quick conclusions in the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, Peter R Neumann, a terrorism analyst and a professor at King's College in London [Images], said he would not be surprised if it is proved that some of the attackers were British Muslims.

"I am sitting here in London and I don't have access to any privileged information Indian officials have," he said. "But it is perfectly conceivable that some of the radicals from the small extremist community here turned up in India. There are elements of extreme radicals among the British Muslims and they are very internationally oriented. We have found them in Israel, in Afghanistan and in Iraq."

While it is too early to say if a Kashmiri group with roots in Pakistan or any other international Islamic group carried out the carnage, looking at the pattern of attacks, and its focus on the Americans, British and the Jews, shows that the attacks fit with the Al Qaeda [Images] ideology, he added.

"It is not like Al Qaeda's high command or Bin Laden himself sent out these attackers," he said. "It is possible that the attackers were influenced by Al Qaeda ideology and worked with some of its operatives."

"The supreme irony here, it seems to be that India and Pakistan have had a common enemy, be it Al Qaeda or any other group which is also opposed to the civil authorities in Pakistan," he continued. "It will be sad that if both governments cannot overlook their differences and fight this common enemy. Terrorism [Images] is a huge threat to both countries."

Neumann, who is also the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King's College London, is one of the widely respected experts on terrorism.

He said when he first heard about the attacks, he was not at all convinced that there were just about a dozen gunmen were involved in the actual attacks in some 10 locations. "I would have thought there would be three times that size," he said. "I may be wrong and there were just about a dozen, and the situation then becomes suddenly more worrisome. For it would mean a tribute to their professionalism and precise training."

He said the attack might have appeared to be a commando-style assault, "an act of passion, carried out by a few people but soon it was appearing to be something else."

"I began to suspect that it was not a leaderless, grassroots plot," he said. Though some people in India have called it India's 9/11, Neumann said it was not as sophisticated or huge as 9/11 but it certainly needed planning and training camps. "And the planning and training could have been going on for months."

In a way, he was also reminded of the tactics used by the Irish Republican Army, in their terror war against the British government especially in the 1980s.

"It is quite possible some of the attackers or their helpers stayed at the Taj and Oberoi hotels, and knew exactly the location of each exit, each restaurant and each large hall," he said. "In that case they might have had plenty of opportunities to store the weapons in the hotels. Such a scenario is not at all inconceivable."

The IRA carried out an extremely planned operation in Brighton in 1984 and they almost blew up Margaret Thatcher (the then British prime minister)," he recalled. " Months before the assault they had booked themselves into the hotel where she would attending the party conference; they were pretending to be the guests, they studied the hotel, and even created space to hide a bomb."

What did he think of the reaction in some countries, especially in Israel that the Indian government was slow to react to the crisis?

"You don't hear scathing criticism (against the Indian government) here," he said. He chuckled and added: "On the other hand, there is some post colonial reaction by some people. They are surprised that Indians have sophisticated commandos and equipment at their disposal."

He said he could believe the suggestions that Indian authorities refused to negotiate with the attackers.

In an interview with America's NBC television channel, he had said India remembered what happened in the 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814. The government released three terrorists in exchange for the release of 155 hostages; one of them, Masood Azhar, went on to create Jaish-e-Mohammad, a major terrorist organisation, and a second, Omar Ahmed Sheikh, was later convicted of murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. 'This (hijacking) is the thing that politicians are thinking about right now,' he said. 'They look backwards, and they also know there is a precedent to set.'

What does he make of the suggestions in some British publications that hi-tech equipment is often not as effective as human and political intelligence?

"We have seen the failure of that policy, of putting too much of emphasis on the hi- tech," he said. "The Americans and many Western countries did it in the 1980s and they neglected the human element. It is very important for any country to rely on hi-tech as well as the human and political intelligence."

"Satellite pictures won't show what people do in their homes," he continued, "or how bombs are carried in suitcases or shopping bags to crowded markets. The human element in terrorist plots is the most difficult to trace but there is no alterative but keep going after it."

He also said that many people like him are worried that some Westerners will decide not to go India or Western businessmen will reconsider investing in India. "I even heard that some airlines did not want to fly into India as the Indian officials were containing the situation in Mumbai," he said. "I think there is an over reaction here."

Doing so, he said, would only embolden the terrorists, and that could give them more ammunition to go after targets elsewhere even in the Western countries.





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