Congressional Research Service: “Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai, India, and Implications for U.S. Interests”


On the evening of November 26, 2008, a number of well-trained militants came ashore from the Arabian Sea on small boats and attacked numerous high-profile targets in Mumbai, India, with automatic weapons and explosives. By the time the episode ended some 62 hours later, about 16 people, along with nine terrorists, had been killed and hundreds more injured. Among the multiple sites attacked in the peninsular city known as India’s business and entertainment capital were two luxury hotels-the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi-Trident-along with the main railway terminal, a Jewish cultural center, a café frequented by foreigners, a cinema house, and two hospitals. Six American citizens were among the 26 foreigners reported dead. Indian officials have concluded that the attackers numbered only ten, one of whom was captured.

The investigation into the attacks is still in preliminary stages, but press reporting and statements from U.S. and Indian authorities strongly suggest that the attackers came to India from neighboring Pakistan and that the perpetrators likely were members and acting under the orchestration of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist group. The LeT is believed to have past links with Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. By some accounts, these links are ongoing, leading to suspicions, but no known evidence, of involvement in the attack by Pakistani state elements. The Islamabad government has strongly condemned the Mumbai terrorism and offered New Delhi its full cooperation with the ongoing investigation, but mutual acrimony clouds such an effort, and the attacks have brought into question the viability of a nearly five-year-old bilateral peace process between India and Pakistan.

Three wars-in 1947-48, 1965, and 1971-and a constant state of military preparedness on both sides of the border have marked six decades of bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan. Such bilateral discord between two nuclear-armed countries thus has major implications for regional security and for U.S. interests. The Administration of President-elect Barack Obama may seek to increase U.S. diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving conflict between these two countries. The Mumbai attacks have brought even more intense international attention to the increasingly deadly and destabilizing incidence of Islamist extremism in South Asia, and they may affect the course of U.S. policy toward Pakistan, especially. The episode also has major domestic implications for India, in both the political and security realms. Indian counterterrorism capabilities have come under intense scrutiny, and the United States may further expand bilateral cooperation with and assistance to India in this realm. For broader discussion, see CRS Report RL33529, India-U.S. Relations, and CRS Report RL33498, Pakistan-U.S. Relations. This report will not be updated.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Attack Overview 1

U.S. Response 2

Suspected/Accused Culprits 3

Lashkar-e-Taiba  3

Suspected Links With Pakistan’s State Apparatus  4

Indigenous Indian Suspects 5

Possible Motives  6

Background 6

Domestic Indian Terrorism 6

India-Pakistan Tensions 7

The Kashmir Issue 8

Implications for India-Pakistan Relations 8

New Delhi’s Response  8

Islamabad’s Response  10

Outlook for Bilateral Relations 11

Implications for India  13

Political Recriminations  13

Anti-Terrorism Law and Capacity Reform  14

Implications for Pakistan 15

U.S. Policy 16

U.S.-India Relations 17

U.S.-Pakistan Relations 18

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