--- Manoj Saxena
French Security Forces outside the Bataclan theater after the 2015 Paris Attacks (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons).
There are both similarities and divergences between the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the 2015 Paris attacks. The similarities are obvious. In both cases a small group of mobile, hard-hitting terrorists targeted multiple locations in crowded spots across large cities, confusing the security forces and driving the civilian population to chaos. Terrorists in both cases succeeded in wreaking havoc and carrying out ideologically motivated violence on a mass scale.
The differences, too, are obvious. The Indian local police was more under-prepared compared to their French counterparts, and Indian special forces were mobilized gradually while the French response was quicker. The French security forces seemed to convincingly outweigh their Indian counterparts in terms of quality of weaponry, surveillance, and legal powers. Also, while complicity in the Mumbai attacks was denied by the Pakistani intelligence the ISIS has claimed full ownership of the Paris attacks.
However, both attacks have happened and while the world at large seems to have drawn lessons from the events of the Mumbai attacks it is their aftermath that also provides some valuable lessons which merit a mention in their own right. Some of the key lessons from the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks are given below.
1) Cooperation means more than talking to like-minded states
Following the 2008 Mumbai attacks the American authorities extensively shared information with their Indian counterparts. The American security forces also provided Indian intelligence direct access to co-conspirator David Headley and put a bounty of 10 million US Dollars on Hafiz Saeed — the alleged mastermind of the operations. However, it is the positive role of the Wahhabist Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in the capture of Zabiuddin Ansari — one of the chief handlers of the Mumbai attackers — that is of special importance in the context of international diplomacy.
Ansari was captured and deported to India by the KSA despite Pakistani intelligence objecting to the move made by a fellow Islamic country. The key lesson to be learnt here is that cooperation from most major powers, and not just like-minded liberal democracies, is optimally required in order to capture terror suspects and sustain counter terrorism measures in the long term.
2) Control the narrative or lose the war
Following the Mumbai attacks the first response of the Pakistani media and the authorities was that of outright denial. Conspiracy theories then took a life of their own and social media was used to propagate 'facts' ranging from Jewish conspiracies to Illuminati intervention. These conspiracy theories persisted in large segments of the Pakistani society even after Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and the Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik openly admitted the Pakistan connection and the Pakistani nationality of the attackers.
France may also have to deal with conspiracy theories and misinformation. The government will have to present a coherent and decisive narrative of the events in order to avoid confusion, which may lead to ISIS sympathizers among its own population resorting to violence.
It is worth mentioning that although believing in conspiracy theories and misinformation is not a crime in itself it may serve as ideological basis for future violence if the belief in such theories is strong enough. The country's actions from now on will also be subjected to biased scrutiny and deliberate misinterpretation by radical organizations, as was the case in the aftermath of Mumbai.
Therefore, a clear, coherent, and powerful presentation of facts at all times is of due importance to make misinformation irrelevant. And in today's age of social media journalism and YouTube channels this is easier said than done.
3) Destruction of terrorist organizations may take priority over the killing or capture of selected individuals
Compared to ISIS perpetrators of the Paris attacks the location, names, and addresses of the Mumbai attackers are well-known. Both Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi live comfortably in Pakistan and enjoy the support of the Pakistani government. However, as a result of robust international effort the Pakistani terror infrastructure has itself suffered massively in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.
The capture or killing of the terrorists in ISIS held territory will require the kind of intelligence that is difficult to come by even in the modern age. Even if perpetrators of the Paris attacks are selectively killed a timely and credible confirmation may prove difficult. Chances of their escape to another country where they live a life of anonymity also exist.
The emphasis, thus, has to be on destroying and disrupting the source of the problem, which is ISIS as an organization. The entire organization as a whole will have to be dismantled. Killing and capture of high-value targets is just one step in that direction.
4) There is no substitute for competent human intelligence
Following the Mumbai attacks the Indian establishment formed a short lived military intelligence unit under the control of General VK Singh of the army. This counter terrorism cell — named Technical Support Division (TSD) — was intended to carry out infiltration operations inside the Pakistan.
The TSD was eventually diluted amidst controversy but the Indian PM Narendra Modi appointed the retired General VK Singh to his cabinet less than a year after the incident. The former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval was also appointed as the National Security Advisor (NSA) by Modi. Doval is a well known expert in covert warfare and had formerly served as an Indian covert operative in Pakistan for over six years. Like Singh, Doval also favored the use of infiltration and human intelligence as a strategy of offensive-defense.
Closer to Syria, Russian intelligence has been acting on input from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and making steady progress against ISIS. The French and NATO forces will have to consider the possibility of carrying out infiltration operations of their own in the region. Success in a number of operations may directly depend upon the extent of human intelligence that Paris and its allied forces can manage to gather in ISIS-held territory.
There are, of course, many lessons to be learned from any terrorist attack and one article may never be sufficient to cover all these. It is recommended that those interested in learning more about the lessons of Mumbai also take a look at this excellent paper published by the RAND Corporation.