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02 December 2008 Blog Home : December 2008 : Permalink

Mumbai and Fiction

The Yorkshire Ranter points out (H/t Charlie Stross) that the recent Mumbai terrorist events seem to have based at least some of their strategy on Frederick Forsythe's novel, The Dogs of War. This could well be true as the sea bourne approach is indeed reminiscent of the one in that book, but I'm only partially convinced. Their objectives were so different from the coup plotted in that book that apart from the landing there isn't much cross over with the story.

However they may have used another novel by another novelist in their planning. And if they didn't it would still behove governments to study it and figure out the counters. This book is The Weapon by SF author Michael Z Williamson (or Williamsom sometimes :) )

The Weapon, which I reviewed when it came out in 2005, is probably the best book about terrorist methodology that I have read and it explains not only what is likely to work but also how to counter. Unfortunately what the book suggests as the best counter to most terrorism is a cultural one - arm the population and trust them to shoot when needed. This is so contrary to the Nanny-statism espoused by most intellectuals that it almost certainly won't be adopted by the Indians or any other would-be modern democracy except for the red-state parts of the USA.

The Weapon looks at how to wreak havoc and terror in a modern urban environment. In the climax of the book, the hero and his band cause immense havoc on the Earth of their future in ways that are quite similar to those that the Mumbai terrorists followed. Also, like the Mumbai terrorists, the hero and his band infiltrate their target months in advance and thus are able to perform on site reconnaissance to reduce the chance of error. However, I'm guessing that the Mumbai terrorists did not read this book because if they had they would have caused considerably more damage - though perhaps the Mumbai lot were just a little unlucky. Had their airport bomb gone off as it should have then that could well have allowed the terrorists more time to cause havoc elsewhere before the security forces could react properly.

To get back to counter-terrorism. The Mumbai attack demonstrated that armed police are not necessarily the solution. As this photographer reported, the armed police have to also have the willingness to shoot and many apparently did not.

But what angered Mr D'Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. "There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything," he said. "At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back."

It is reasonable to blame the police but one should not concentrate the blame on them. Various people have pointed out that the Indian media and politicians had recently whipped up a storm of protest when police shot someone who turned out not to be armed and it wouldn't surprise me if some of the police who could have shot didn't for fear of being accused of shooting an innocent. There is also the fact that poorly trained people mostly won't shoot to kill. I suspect many of the Mumbai police have not been trained to kill (and this is for the most part a good thing) so it should not be too surprising that they didn't open fire when they were not directly threatened. A population with a significant percentage armed is likely to be more deadly than an armed police force simply because the armed percentage are likely to be those willing to shoot.

Finally the Weapon has a lesson for the aftermath of such an event. Once you learn who the insitigators are they need to be killed promptly and with limited "collateral damage". If it turns out that Lashkar-e- Tayyeba (or however it is spelt) were responsible for the attack then Pakistan must either permit the Indians to attack their bases or do so themselves. If they don't then the rest of the world will be entirely justified in considering Pakistan a terrotist safe haven and banning contact with it as a result.