Book Review of Bahukutumbi Raman’s “Mumbai 26/11: A day of infamy”
By Elias Davidsson, December 23, 2013
Naive attempt to understand 26/11
The author unquestionably attributes the events of 26/11 to the Pakistani organization LeT and also suggests ISI responsibility. The book does not dwell on details and does not contain references to sources. It contains affirmation upon affirmation that the author does not bother to substantiate.
The author does not attempt to hide his admiration for Israel and the United States and his hatred for Pakistan (He often refers to “The Pakistanis” as evil). This does not mean that what he presents as facts is false (or true), but indicates his partiality.
A few observations by Raman indicate that his book was not conceived as official propaganda, but was written by a person who believed what he wrote, but appears to lack the rigour of an investigator or that of a scholar.
(a) Taking a cue from Samuel Huntington’s thesis, he refers expressly to the “war of civilization between the Muslims and the infidels” that had allegedly begun in Indian territory. He suggests that this statement was issued in the name of the so-called Indian Mujahideen (IM) in November, 2007, “after three orchestrated explosions in three towns of Uttar Pradesh.”
(b) A revealing observation by the author is that 26/11 was “conceived, planned and executed by a mix of military and terrorist brains.” (p. 18) The key word here is “military”, for a military mind is trained to reflect upon the tactical or strategical utility of a particular operation. If those who planned 26/11 had a “military brain”, it must be presumed that they considered the costs/benefits of the operation. Which benefits? For Pakistan or even for the LeT, there was nothing to gain from 26/11.
(c) The author notes that the alleged attackers “were not worried over the dangers of their communications being intercepted.” (p. 22). Assuming that this had been the case, he does not explain why they would be so casual about such interception.
(d) The author tells readers about his participation in a conference at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, in 2005, where he relished listening to Dr. Bruce Hoffman, “who is considered the world’s leading authority on Al Qaeda” (p. 25). Someone who looks upon Dr. Hoffman as an authority on terrorism, has either not read his writings, lacks critical faculties or engages in deception. In a detailed study of Dr. Hoffman’s book on terrorism – unfortunately still only available in German – I demonstrate that his book does not fulfill even minimal criteria of academic standards and objectivity (see […] ). Dr. Hoffman is a charlatan.
(e) In a brief attempt to explain the motives of the alleged attackers, he wrote: “The grievances of the Indian Muslims were not the cause of the terrorist attack. Pakistan’s strategic objectives against India, such as forcing a change in the status quo in J&K and disrupting India’s economic progress and strategic relations with the West and Israel were the principal motive.” (p. 74-5) “Reprisal against the US-led coalition in Afghanistan for its war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban was another motive.” (p. 75)
(f) In order to lend weight to his theories, the author claims that “available reports indicated that the terrorists were looking for American, British and Israeli nationals – particularly visiting public servants among them with official or diplomatic passports.” (p. 82) This claim is based on the first part of an interview with Alex Chamberlen, who escaped from the Oberoi/Trident Hotel. Chamberlen mentioned that the gunmen asked who, among the hostages, were American and British nationals (he did not mention Israelis). What the author suppressed was the second part of Chamberlen’s testimony, namely that after a mobile phone of one of the hostages rang, the gunmen got distracted and thereafter forgot to follow-up their demand for Americans and British nationals. See transcript of the documentary film “Secrets of the Dead – Mumbai Massacre” for Alex Chamberlen’s comments […]
(g) The author contends that the “terrorists” did not have any utilitarian purpose with their attacks: “The terrorists did not appear to have been interested in taking the Jewish people [at Nariman] as hostages and using them to achieve any demand. They just wanted to torture and kill all those found in the premises.” (p. 84) Disregarding the author’s attempt to mind-read the alleged attackers, his facts are also incorrect. They indeed did not attempt to kill all those found in the premises, as eyewitnesses testified. And we do not actually know who killed the Jewish residents. Indian authorities have denied commandos the right to testify and the Israeli government denied investigators the right to conduct autopsies, invoking religious sensibilities.
(h) According to the author Tzipi Livni, then Israeli Foreign Minister, said: “There is no doubt, we know, that the targets the terrorists singled out were Jewish, Israeli targets and targets identified with the West, Americans and Britons. Our world is under attack, it doesn’t matter whether it happens in India or somewhere else. There are Islamic extremists who don’t accept our existence or Western values.” (p. 85-6) Are statements by politicians a proof for anything?
(i) Turning again to the objectives of the alleged attacks, the author writes: “It was evident the terrorist strike had three strategic objectives: firstly, to discredit the Indian political leadership and counter-terrorism apparatus. Secondly, to damage our tourist economy and to create nervousness in the minds of foreign investors about the security of life and property in India. Thirdly, to disrupt the strategic co-operation between India and Israel.” (p. 88) Turning these explanations on their head might be a better answer, for the events of 26/11 created a rally behind the flag in India, gave corporate India a boost, including in the security sector, and strengthened Israeli-Indian security cooperation.
(j) At one point the author acknowledges in passing that reconstructing the entire strike, as part of the investigation “did not receive the immediate attention it deserved. Without a satisfactory reconstruction [of the events], our ability to prevent a repetition of Mumbai – November 26 in other cities would be weak.” (p. 88). On p. 92, the author surprisingly mentions what few had done: “In one’s anxiety to get as much information as possible from the captured terrorist, one did not seem to have paid attention to the important aspect of debriefing all the foreign survivors in the two hotels attacked as to what exactly happened. All of them, after their release, immediately went back to their respective countries. We do not have their version of what happened inside the hotels.” (p. 92). This observation is well grounded, although the author did not attempt to find out why no attempt was to depose the majority of eyewitnesses, including people who told media that they actually observed the killings.
(k) The author devotes an entire chapter to “the need for a comprehensive enquiry” into 26/11. He writes: “One would have expected the Governments of India and Maharashtra to order a joint comprehensive and independent enquiry similar to the enquiries held in our own country in the past and similar to those held in other countries since 2000 to identify the sins of commission and omission and the weak points in our counter-terrorism management and to take follow-up action. Unfortunately, the Government of India focused largely on Pakistan’s involvement in the strike and avoided any independent enquiry into its own responsibility and that of the Government of Maharashtra, which enabled the ISI and the Let to succeed in such a spectacular manner.” (p. 154-5)
He adds: “The GOI was successful in avoiding a comprehensive enquiry because the BJP leadership and the other opposition parties, whose responsibility was to see that there was no cover-up, failed to exercise this responsibility. By their confused inaction, the BJP and other opposition parties played into the hands of the Government and unwittingly facilitated its cover-up exercise. Nobody asked searching questions about our own failures at New Delhi as well as in Mumbai.” (p. 155)
The author acknowledges the set-up of the two-member Pradhan Committee by the Government of Maharashtra, but laments that a “suitably edited version” of its final report was not released to the public. (p. 156) He insists that “the public of this country and its legislators have a right to know what went wrong and why. The national security management system is funded by the tax-payers’ money… The successful functioning of the national security management system depends not only on the quality of the various components of the system, but also on the co-operation which it is able to get from the public…If the public is kept in the dark, how can it have the required confidence in the system?” (p. 157-8)
He furnishes an interesting detail on the grounds for refusing an investigation, suggesting that both sides were posturing: “One was surprised to note that Chidambaram firmly rejected on June 5, 2009, the demand of LK Advani, the leader of the opposition, for such an enquiry. In an interview to some journalists, he gave the following reasons for his rejecting the demand: Firstly, the demand was belated as it came six months after the terrorist attack. Secondly, the Vajpayee Government did not hold an enquiry into the hijacking of an aircraft of the Indian Airlines by some terrorists to Kandahar in December 1999 and into the attempted attack on the Indian Parliament in December, 2001.” The author then chides these reasons. (p. 158)
The author mentions particularly the “lack of activism by the relatives of the victims of terrorist strikes” in India, and compared that lack of activism to the alleged activism of relatives of such victims in the UK and US. (p. 159). His sweeping allegation aside (Karkare’s widow and Kamte did engage in substantial efforts), he did not take into account that relatives, particularly vulnerable individuals, can be easily intimidated by police to refrain from asking probing questions.
Those interested in the nuts and bolts of 26/11 will find little of value in this book. On the positive side, the author voices a healthy suspicion about the reasons for the Indian government to resist a public investigation. It is to be hoped that the author will feel compelled to probe more deeply into the events themselves before speculating on the motives of the alleged perpetrators.