The Tale of Two Nuclear Crises: Past and Future
History repeats itself with fatal intent in terrorist attacks on Mumbai last week. I fear they are strategically aimed to accomplish what was tried nearly seven years ago but failed only by the grace of a momentary pause of human reflection before pushing the button of nuclear war.
On 13 December 2001, five al-Qaeda backed jihadists from Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad terrorist groups operating from mountain bases in the Pakistani-held part of Kashmir, infiltrated India and stormed it’s parliament building compound in New Delhi. Their goal was a suicide mission to decapitate the Indian government in enfilade of AK-47 bullets and by blasts of suicide body bombs that would enrage India enough to start a nuclear war with Pakistan.
Indian security forces checked their charge at Parliament’s threshold, killing all five terrorists. Five policemen, a Parliament security guard, and a gardener were also killed, and 18 others injured. No parliamentarian was killed, however, the damage was done to tenuous Indo-Pakistani relations. Few in the West who at that time, reeled from 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist strikes on the US just three months earlier, understood or even cared to understand how far more dangerous were the consequences of this terror attack on India. It was clear to me, at least, having spent much time in and out of South Asia since 1980 that Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad were trying to goad India into a border standoff with Pakistan — both being nuclear powers. Their aim was part of Osama bin Laden’s grand strategy to destabilize the region with an Indo-Pakistani military crisis that might lead to a nuclear war. Millions in Pakistan would be sacrificed for global Jihad. Dozens of millions of non-Muslim Indians would be killed as well. Terrorist organizations in the western Pakistani mountains and in Kashmir, up-wind of the fallout and devastated cities would be free to flourish and metastasize in the post-war chaos.
The attack of five terrorists on Indian Parliament was far more serious than any hijacked jet taking down the World Trade Center or crashing into the Western wall of the Pentagon in Washington DC.
The Indo-Pakistani standoff from December 2001 to June 2002 remains at the time of this writing the most potentially dangerous military crisis of this troubled opening decade of the 21st century. Indeed, it remains the closest humanity came since the Cuban Missile Crisis to suffering a nuclear war. The human masses on both sides worked up to a feverish nationalistic state were keen for it. Vast demonstrations in Indian and Pakistani cities lobbied their legislators hard for a nuclear edged stab at the other irritant. Only the “nay” vote of the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee prevented a nuclear punitive strike during the final weeks of the South Indian dry season. India’s military leadership pushed hard for a decision before the Monsoon rains came. Flooded mountain passes would inhibit a full-scale conventional invasion of Pakistani held parts of Kashmir after Indian jets unloaded the atom bombs and a few dozen Agni missiles bearing nuclear warheads fell on Pakistani cities and military bases. Tempers run hot in the 40-degrees Celsius dog days of June before bracing Monsoonal rains cool passions as well as temperatures.
Dial destiny forward. Here we are again, potentially a few weeks or months from a new terrorist triggered nuclear crisis.
On the night of 26 November 2008, well-armed and well-trained Islamic terrorists based in Pakistan infiltrate and strike several high-profile targets in Mumbai’s financial district. Explosions thudded along the Mazagaon docks where terrorist commandos in zodiac rafts disembarked from the hijacked fishing trawler Kuber. They had seized it in international waters after sailing out of Karachi, Pakistan, 38-hours earlier, in a smaller boat undetected by the Indian Navy. They killed the crew of four and forced the captain to set a course for Mumbai waters. They killed him too, once he brought the Kuber to anchor a few miles off Mumbai’s shoreline.
The terrorist commandos landed and fanned out through the streets. Two cut down Indian police, stealing their rover, launching into a spree of drive-by strafing of crowds in busy downtown Mumbai streets. In the late evening hours of 26 November 2008, gunmen sprayed bullets into stampeding crowds of thousands in the sprawling Shivaji Railway Terminus. The wounded brought to Cama Hospital were drilled again by bullets and grenade shrapnel. Mumbai’s downtown police headquarters was hit. Heavily armed terrorists broke into a Chabad house, a Jewish outreach center run by Chabad-Lubavitch orthodox Jews, shooting down a young rabbi and his wife along with five hostages. Bollywood Cinema crowds coming out of theaters were hit. Bullets and grenades sprayed the fallen dead with the food of life in popular Leopold’s cafe. The premier hotels of downtown where most western tourists and business people converge, the Oberoi and iconic Taj Mahal, were set ablaze, wherein terror stalked smoke filled halls and the dark warrens and rabbit hole rooms as hunters of jihad looked for their hiding prey.
The hell of Mumbai’s 9/11 attacks lasted the bulk of three days before Indian paramilitary and Indian Army commando Special Forces in what they would call Operation Black Tornado silenced the last terrorist. White and brown, Muslim or meditator had been coldly and indiscriminately slaughtered and wounded by the hundreds. The death toll is up to 188, with at least 33 foreign nationals and just under 300 seriously wounded or injured. Some of the dazed survivors I saw by chance on a BBC photo being gently ushered by police out of the smoking ruins of the Oberoi are personal friends of mine and fellow travelers on the path meditation.
I currently seek to know who else of my friends and acquaintances was there among the living or under the tarps for the dead.
One terrorist survived to tell his tale to Indian Intelligence Officers, and I dare say he’s using his words as the one weapon left remaining in his possession. His unsheathed and sharpened tongue readily willing to relay evidence of a Pakistani source of his attack could bring on a new military crisis between India and Pakistan. Not only were these men of Jihad well trained in weapons and commando-style operations in the Pakistani terror camps, but they were also trained to play a psych-war game, if surviving, explaining in detail to those in India, just how involved Pakistan was in their plans to hit Mumbai. Beware the tongue of terrorism for it will fan passions of Hindu fundamentalists on the streets and in Parliament to a new war fever pitch once again.
The interrogated has so far not hit his target. Both Pakistani and Indian military spokesmen officially deny seeing any troop reinforcements detected from their opposite along the Line of Control — the militarized no-man’s land dividing Indian-held from Pakistani-held disputed Kashmir. For now, the nuclear nationalism is on the rise only in the streets and not in the trenches along the mountainous Hindu Kush or in the parliaments of Islamabad and New Delhi.
Another scenario is looming. The Indian government demands Pakistan seek and destroy those terrorist camps at once and hand over to Indian justice a list of high-profile terrorist leaders it has incarcerated responsible for ordering previous attacks on Indian soil. If Pakistan does not comply the Indian government says it will “leave all options on the table” for a retaliatory response.
In Part Two of Mumbai 9/11, we will return to points I made in an article written on 31 December 2001 concerning the four Indo-Pakistani wars predicted by Mahatma Gandhi. There’s just one war left to fight. It could be coming soon. It is the one Gandhi feared would be the end of South Asia.
(05 December 2008)
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