In November 2008, a terrorist assault team recruited and trained by the Islamist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) terror organization attacked Mumbai, India, and murdered 166 people. The attack -- which featured the random slaying of hotel guests, street vendors, and businesspeople by hand-grenade- and assault-rifle-armed killers -- was a political and media gamble by the Pakistan-based terrorists, a violent act whose aftereffects continue to play out in the courtroom, on the battlefield and in the strategic calculus of the War on Terror.
In an Indian court this week, the lone surviving terrorist, 21-year-old Pakistani Ajmal Qasab, pled guilty to murder. Video cameras caught Qasab in the act, which was part of LET's plan. Indian intelligence and police agencies intercepted cell-phone calls LET commanders made to the terrorists during the attack. The calls reminded the killers that they were performing before global media, and the LET Mumbai assault script demanded the terrorists die fighting as "martyrs."
LET's terror-attack architects wanted to send that message that six decades after the India-Pakistan partition, Islamists were still fighting for Kashmir and that jihadis were pressing the fight on the Hindu front.
That message, however, was also desperate bait. Detailed media coverage of Mumbai's bloody carnage was supposed to inflame Indian public passions and ignite a new India-Pakistan War.
Events on another battlefield critical to international Islamic jihadists drove the gambit.
In fall 2008, the Pakistan Army began a series of offensives against Islamist organizations (most notably the Taliban) in Northwest Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border. Ordinarily, another Pakistan Army offensive in the Northwest might not worry the Taliban, al-Qaida and LET (and their leadership cadres do connect), but beginning in midsummer 2008, the pace and success rate of U.S. Predator drone strikes against al-Qaida targets in Pakistan began to increase. Someone in Pakistan was providing better intelligence to the United States. Likewise, Pakistani military operations against the Taliban seemed more enthusiastic.
The jihadis' strategic solution: ignite a major war on the subcontinent -- one possibly involving an exchange of nuclear weapons, an act sowing international chaos -- or at least force a major movement of Pakistani forces to the east to face India's post-Mumbai military build-up and threat of invasion.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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