The Corner

Conspiracy Theories Thrive

BombayOf the many conspiracies about the bombings here doing the rounds in this part of the world, two are my favorites.

The first one is popular in Pakistan and among parts of the Muslim population here in India. It maintains that the Indian security services, perhaps with the help of the CIA and Mossad, arranged the attacks on Bombay. The killings at the hotels and the train station were partly designed to blacken the name of Islam (the theory goes), but mostly part of devilish plan to assassinate the top police officer investigating Hindu fundamentalist terrorism against Muslims. Now, Hemant Karkare, the head of the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad, was indeed killed in the attacks, along with two other top Bombay cops, when their vehicle was ambushed and carjacked by terrorists near the train station. However, even if there were a conspiracy to shut down Karkare’s investigation into an earlier Malegaon Hindu fundamentalist terrorist incident, it hardly required a massive attack on India’s elite or a massacre at a train station. No matter; one of Pakistan’s most popular TV programs has given its imprimatur to the idea that the Bombay terrorism was really a Hindu-Zionist plot.

The whole insane notion of a Hindu-Zionist plot prompts much-needed laughter here in India, and a revival of the old joke that the merger of Hinduism and Judaism is bound to fail, because even after 5,000 reincarnations, the Hindjews would never be able to please their mothers.

The other conspiracy theory, which circulates in India and is unfortunately rather more plausible, has elements of the Pakistani military directly organizing the Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist attacks so that India would mobilize its forces, therefore justifying a shift of Pakistan’s troops from the Afghan border to the Indian border. What makes this at least thinkable is that powerful elements of the Pakistani military and security establishment loathe fighting the Taliban and its allies — local and foreign — in the North-West Frontier Province and tribal areas. (It’s why they’ve tended to send less-than-elite units to the area — hence the high casualty rate and frequent surrenders to local militants and tribesmen.) Moreover, it’s always easy and politically useful in Pakistan to mobilize popular support against the Indian “threat” — never mind that it was Pakistan that started all three wars with its much larger neighbor.

If it seems unlikely that the Pakistani intelligence and security elite would authorize such an attack and risk serious military retaliation from India — if not all-out war — just to get out of fighting terrorists on the Afghan frontier, it’s worth remembering that a) in this part of the world, local issues and personal rivalries are much more important than the interests of the weak central state, and b) one reason people believe in conspiracy theories in Pakistan is because in a society like this — undemocratic, with uneasy balances of power — there really is a lot of conspiring.

On the other hand, Lashkar-e-Toiba may well be willing and able to act without prompting from the ISI. After all, it gets massive support from wealthy Saudi Islamists, and it has gained serious clout in Pakistan with its schools and social programs, which benefit thousands of poor people failed by the Pakistani state.  Moreover, because LeT has so often been used by Pakistani government elements to carry out proxy warfare against India, the authorities who control boats leaving Karachi may well have just assumed that the mission had official backing . . .

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