RAND’s study of the Mumbai attacks
Kolkata, January 25 2009
The conspicuously good thing that can be said about the RAND Corporation’s study of the Mumbai massacres (“The Lessons of Mumbai”, RAND January 2009) is that there is no sign of it having been affected by the powerful Pakistan lobby. Far too many purported studies emerging from American or British “thinktanks” cannot say the same.
If anything, the ten American authors of the 25-pages of the RAND text have among them two prominent advocates of better US-India relations. This is helpful to truthfulness because of the simple fact India has been in this case a victim of aggression that originated in Pakistan. Whether elements of the Pakistan Government were involved is almost the wrong question – if some retired underemployed former soldier drawing a Pakistan Army pension helped the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s commando training of the Mumbai terrorists, the existence of Pakistani state involvement is proved. Commando training requires technical skills of a sort that can only originate with a military.
In Pakistan as in any other large populous country including India, the state tends to be a hydra-headed monster and it may be foolish to imagine instead a rational, unified, well-informed or even a benevolent political entity. State involvement in Pakistan, India, China or elsewhere is something hard to isolate when there is so much mixing of private and public property or misuse of resources arising from the public exchequer.
What Pakistan’s PR campaign has done after Mumbai is not so much raise the Kashmir dispute as to obfuscate things by shedding crocodile tears and pretending to share victimhood saying, oh we sympathise with you but please sympathise with us too as we have been victims of even bigger terrorist attacks by the same kind of people, we have lost Benazir, we have lost many more people than you have, therefore cooperate with us and we will try to do what we can to help you in this matter. English-speaking liberals educated at places like Karachi Grammar School have then appeared on Indian TV stations (owned by Delhi people from places like Doon School) purporting to represent Pakistan on “the Mumbai incident”; none of them can have much credibility because the real India-haters in Pakistan might cheerfully make them murder victims too given half a chance.
The RAND study deserves credit for avoiding all misleading Pakistani rhetoric about the Mumbai massacres and at least intending to try to get to the bottom of things in a systematic manner. Beyond that, unfortunately, it has made logical and factual and methodological errors which cause it to fail to do so.
The key logical error made by the RAND authors arises from combining a central front-page statement
“Evidence suggests Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group based in Pakistan, was responsible for the attack”
with assertive suggestions about Mumbai’s police being backward, incompetent, cowardly etc (“passive”). Yet how precisely did evidence about LeT culpability come to light? Only because Mumbai’s police and the Railway police engaged, injured and then captured Kasab using their antiquated equipment the best they could. There is no evidence of police cowardice at CST Station; to the contrary, it took courage to aim .303′s at adversaries firing back with assault rifles. Kasab received his first hand injury there. ATS Chief Karkare and his fellow-officers may seem foolhardy in hindsight to have been driving in the same vehicle but they did engage their unknown enemy immediately they could and died doing so, crippling Kasab badly enough that he could be captured in due course at Chowpatty. [Correction: it appears that though Kasab was fired upon by the police at CST Station he received both his hand injuries from the firing by the ATS squad.] And the Chowpatty police action showed obvious bravery in absorbing injury and death in order to kill Ishmail and capture Kasab. (Kasab, among the youngest, had been paired with Ishmail, the apparent leader of the group.)
Furthermore, Kasab upon capture was treated humanely and lawfully. His injuries were treated, he was produced before a magistrate within a week who asked him if he was being mistreated to which he said no. Slumdog millionaire may get undeserved Oscars portraying torture of a British actor by Mumbai police but it is ridiculous fiction – Kasab the captured Pakistani terrorist mass murderer was not tortured by Mumbai’s police.
Contrast such Indian police behaviour with the “enhanced interrogation techniques” the Bush Administration used with negative results in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib – which President Obama has now started to end. Kasab, an ignorant misguided youth, was grateful enough for the humane and civilized treatment to start singing like the proverbial canary. The result of that has been precisely all the evidence the Government of India has now presented to the world and Pakistan about the LeT’s culpability.
As for the anti-terrorist actions of the Indian Army, Navy and NSG, the RAND study is right to point to multitudinous errors and it is useful to have these listed in orderly fashion. But many of these errors were obvious to millions of lay Indian citizens who watched events on TV. The central fault was the scarcity of trained NSG officers and men, and the failure to apply standard emergency management protocols.
The RAND study, by relying overly on government sources, has failed to point to what ordinary Indian citizens already know – the NSG is being utterly wasted protecting our politicians. India has no proper equivalent of the US “Secret Service”, and even if we did, we would probably waste that by spreading it too thinly among politicians. As it happens if almost any politician in India today did happen to be unfortunately assassinated, the main mourners would be family-members and not the general Indian public. Despite politicians constituting rather “low-value targets” for terrorists, India’s scarce anti-terrorist and police resources have been misallocated to protecting them.
Finally, the RAND study makes the lazy-man’s methodological error of supposing outfits like the LeT think and behave in a manner explicable by American political science textbooks, or ought to do so. What Western analysts may need to do instead is learn from the old Arabist and Orientalist traditions of how to think and see the world from Eastern points of view. But that may require greater self-knowledge than the modern world tends to permit.
My December 6 2008 analysis here titled “A Quick Comparison Between the September 11 2001 NYC-Washington attacks and the November 26-28 2008 Mumbai Massacres (An Application of the Case-by-Case Philosophical Technique of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough)” is republished below. I have corrected “Rome Airport” with “Lod Airport” on the basis of reading the RAND report, though may not have received the courtesy of aknowledement for the reminder of the Japanese Red Army attack.
“In my book Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, 1989) and in my August 24 2004 public lecture in England “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, both available elsewhere here, I described the “case-by-case” philosophical technique recommended by Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough. (Bambrough had also shown a common root in the work of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.) Herewith an application of the technique to a contemporary problem that shows the “family resemblance” between two modern terrorist attacks, the September 11 2001 attack on New York and Washington and the Mumbai massacres last week.
Similarity: In both, a gang of motivated youthful terrorists acted as a team against multiple targets; their willingness to accept suicide while indulging in mass-murder may have, bizarrely enough, brought a sense of adventure and meaning to otherwise empty lives.
Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, Mohammad Atta seemed to have been a single predominant leader while each of the others also had complex active roles requiring decisions, like piloting and navigating hijacked jumbo-jets. In the Mumbai massacres, the training and leadership apparently came from outside the team before and even during the operation – almost as if the team were acting like brainwashed robots under long-distance control.
Similarity: Both attacks required a long prior period of training and planning.
Difference: The 9/11 attacks did not require commando-training imparted by military-style trainers; the Mumbai massacres did.
Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, the actual weapons used initially were primitive, like box-cutters; in the Mumbai massacres, assault rifles and grenades were used along with sophisticated telecommunications equipment.
Difference: In 9/11, the initial targets, the hijacked aircraft, were themselves made into weapons against the ultimate targets, namely the buildings, in a way not seen before. In the Mumbai massacres, mass-shooting of terrorized civilians was hardly something original; besides theatres of war, the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Japanese Red Army used these in the 1970s as terrorist techniques (e.g. at Rome Airport Lod Airport; Postscript January 26 2009: I make this correction after reading and commenting on the RAND study which unfortunately did not have the courtesy of acknowledging my December 6 2008 analysis) plus there were, more recently, the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres.
Similarity: In both cases, Hollywood and other movie scripts could have inspired the initial ideas of techniques to be used.
Similarity: In both cases, the weapons used were appropriate to the anticipated state of defence: nothing more than box-cutters could be expected to get by normal airport security; assault rifles etc could come in by the unguarded sea and attack soft targets in Mumbai. (Incidentally, even this elementary example of strategic thinking in a practical situation may be beyond the analytical capacity contained in the tons of waste paper produced at American and other modern university Economics departments under the rubric of “game theory”.)
Similarity: In both cases, a high-level of widespread fear was induced for several days or more within a targeted nation-state by a small number of people.
Similarity: No ransom-like demands were made by the terrorists in either case.
Similarity: Had the single terrorist not been captured alive in the Mumbai massacres, there would have been little trace left by the attackers.
Difference: The 9/11 attackers knew definitely they were on suicide-missions; the Mumbai attackers may not have done and may have imagined an escape route.”