01/21/2009 09:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Was Pakistan Complicit in the Mumbai Attacks?

After the terrorist attacks on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, tensions between India and Pakistan were ratcheted up almost instantly. While the involvement of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is based at least partially in Pakistan, was established relatively early on, the involvement of the Pakistani government, its intelligence services, or agents associated with them has been a more controversial and enduring source of tension. The Pakistani government denies these allegations.

The Indian government recently released a dossier of evidence gathered about the Mumbai attacks, presumably in an effort to put pressure on the international community and on Pakistan to go after the perpetrators. The following is an analysis of this dossier. For the sake of analysis, I take the evidence at face value; it is possible that some information has been omitted, exaggerated, or otherwise altered to serve the motives behind its release. Furthermore, my analysis may be erroneous, even if the dossier is not.

That being said, let's dive in.

The Terrorists

There were ten involved in the attack, nine of whom were killed. The tenth was captured, and presumably is the source of a fair bit of the information presented in the dossier. All ten were Pakistani; 9 hailed from the Punjab province, while the other was from the North-West Frontier Province. For what it's worth, the British considered certain tribes from Punjab to be more "martial" than those residing elsewhere in the portion of British India that became Pakistan. Many of the Pakistani Army's recruits were historically and are today residents of this province. The proportion of Punjabis in the army is higher than their proportion of the population as a whole (two thirds of the army vs. half of the general populace). However, there is no evidence that military personnel were actually involved.

Their Training

The terrorists were taught "a basic knowledge of firearms, ammunition, grenades and explosives" including how to "handle and fire Kalashnikov rifles and 9mm pistols and also how to fabricate explosive devices. They were also imparted training in techniques to counter interrogation and tolerate pain. Besides, they were indoctrinated to become suicide attackers." It seems unlikely that providing this training would be beyond the capabilities of a group which has been active for at least 25 years.

Their Equipment

The terrorists seemed to have a standardized set of equipment - an AK-series automatic rifle, a pistol, several spare ammo clips, several grenades, and a GPS unit and/or a cell/satellite phone. Some terrorists also carried IEDs. All of this equipment is readily available either on the black market (the guns/ammunition/grenades/IEDs) or from retailers in Pakistan (phones/GPS). The latter devices were made by well-known and widely available producers (Magellan for the GPS; Nokia and Thuraya for the phones; all three brands have retail outlets in Pakistan).

Logistics and Support

Here the evidence is more mixed. The terrorists hijacked a fishing boat which transported them from an offshore location fairly close to the India-Pakistan border (if not further; this is the first checkpoint on the recovered GPS devices) to a point a mile or so off the coast of Mumbai. The terrorists also made a number of calls to locations in Pakistan, via a routing device with links to Austria. The costs associated with the latter were covered by a Western Union payment made in Italy. The only suspicious element of the call transcripts included in the dossier were references to a director of the attack who was referred to as "Major General." However, this could well be an artificial rank created by a terrorist organization, rather than concrete evidence of military involvement. One oddity is that the recovered GPS units were pre-programmed with a return route, which is inconsistent with the dossier's claim that the terrorists were indoctrinated as a suicide unit.

The dossier's narrative concludes with the following:

The evidence gathered so far unmistakably points to the territory of Pakistan as a source of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai... It is also abundantly clear that senior functionaries of the LeT were the controllers/handlers of the ten terrorists. The evidence unmistakably establishes that the ten terrorists were chosen, trained, despatched [sic], controlled and guided by the LeT which is the organisation responsible for the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.


The evidence contained in the dossier seems to strongly support the claim made at the end of the narrative. However, other claims made in the aftermath of its release are not supported by the information made publicly available. Several elements of the attack - the transfer of the terrorists from the fishing vessel to the city itself and the synchronization of the attack on the Taj Mahal, which included two pairs of terrorists, one of which was assigned to attack a different target beforehand - appear to require a fair amount of skill. However, the Taliban is one group that operates in the region with experience in coordinating attacks involving several hundred assailants, albeit with more localized targets. LeT is linked to the Taliban by, among others, the United Nations Security Council, whose Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee was responsible for sanctioning LeT and its senior leaders. It is not unlikely that these related groups would actively share information about planning, training, and tactics. Unless the classified documentation provides evidence of a direct link between the Pakistani government or intelligence services and this attack specifically, it would seem premature to conclude that the Pakistanis have played more than an enabling role by accepting the presence of this group in their territory. That being said, they are fully responsible for the actions of their nationals, and should do their utmost to dismantle the supporting organs of the groups involved.