Why the Mumbai attacks are not India’s 9/11

Various news stories in the US have used phrases like “India’s 9/11” in attempt to contextualize the Mumbai terror for American readers.

Aside from the fact that India unfortunately has endured many previous militant attacks–some of them originating from the same likely suspects, even if not on the coordinated, militarily precise, and mass-terrorizing scale as these latest–there is one overlooked sense in which this horrible incident has already been shown not to be India’s 9/11.

One can learn a lot about a political system from the way it responds to shocks. From India’s recent headlines:

The wave of public anger against recurring terror attacks across the country eroding its popular image, the Congress [Party of PM Manmohan Singh] on Sunday eased out Shivraj Patil, replacing him with P. Chidambaram in the home ministry.


National Security Adviser (NSA) MK Narayanan resigned on Sunday following the Mumbai terror attacks but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rejected his resignation

Sure, we all remember the resignations tendered by responsible officials of the US government after its failure to prevent, and its insufficient response to, a massive terrorist strike.


4 thoughts on “Why the Mumbai attacks are not India’s 9/11

  1. Seriously, MSS…

    “DC, September 10, 2001. The Bush Administration today ordered the arrest of 20 Egyptian and Saudi nationals, claiming that they had planned to hijack passenger jet liners and crash them into the Pentagon, the White House and the World Trade Centre. ‘The evidence looks pretty convincing to us,’ said a spokesperson for CAIR. ‘They were Middle Eastern Muslims, and they were taking flying lessons. Case closed.’ ‘We see no troubling pattern here of denial of civil liberties on basis of religion or nationality,’ the ACLU stated. And the New York Times editorial agreed: ‘If the government needs to monitor confidential communications and bank transactions to nip these murderous plots in the bud, so be it. The Constitution is not a suicide pact.’…”

    I can’t really imagine that flying – no pun intended.

  2. The problem with a convention that govt officials should resign if a terrorist attack happens on their watch, is that it creates a perverse incentive to take far-reaching preemptive steps to prevent one… and there’s not any convention that govt officials should resign if they unnecessarily erode civil liberties (a terrorist attack is much more dramatic).

    Put another way: there have been no successful terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11. Bush/ Cheney certainly made sure of that. Do we agree with the methods they used?

  3. Tom, that’s a very cogent point (and I will admit that it took me almost 24 hours after your first comment to realize that was your point!).

    Of course, the concept of responsibility is quite different in presidential and parliamentary systems. I am not sure how much of this difference I raised here comes down to that and how much to other factors.

    I do not think one has to agree with the Bush/Cheney policies, or to attribute the lack of follow-on attacks to them, to accept a notion that some responsible officials failed in their job prior to 9/11. I distinctly remember Condi Rice’s assertion that no one could have imagined hijacked planes as bombs. That was an outright lie, as such a plot had not only been imagined before, but foiled (in France). That’s just one example.

    If a foiled plot is really credible, I suspect the measures taken to foil it would be broadly acceptable. Where the credibility problem arises is when repressive measures are taken that look far too convenient and politically expedient after the fact, leaving some of us to question whether they really are “anti-terror” policies, rather than something else.

    I will admit that some of the failures in India might have stemmed from fears of provoking communal violence as a response to what some would have seen as non-credible anti-terror measures with some political purpose.

    OK, I am really out on a limb here with respect to my expertise. I do think Tom has raised a very important point here.

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