Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Doug Tuttle, "Mumbai attacks demonstrate terrorist reliance on small arms," Center for Defense Information, January 15, 2009.

At 9 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2008, gunmen began a series of coordinated attacks in the city of Mumbai, India, that terrorized the city and captivated the world. Using only small arms and grenades, roughly two dozen operatives from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Kashmir- based militant group, attacked Mumbai, paralyzing the financial and cultural center of India for 62 hours. In the end, nearly 200 were killed and 350 wounded.

  Policy-makers, the media and the public remain focused on a potential nuclear disaster on the subcontinent, while small arms continue to proliferate in the fragile region.

While much of the international community has focused its attention on the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan, the attacks in Mumbai utilized a different weapon of mass destruction: small arms. Armed with AK-47s and Chinese Type 56 rifles, 9 mm pistols and grenades, the majority of the gunmen arrived by sea and immediately moved against the Colaba Police Station in order to disrupt the potential police response to the impending attacks. As the gunmen broke into smaller teams and moved through the city, they attacked soft (nonmilitary) targets such as the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Nariman House. In total, the gunmen struck 10 locations with coordinated military precision armed solely with low-tech small arms.

LeT chose small arms as the weapon of choice for their attacks for a number of reasons. First, small arms are easily accessible to LeT. LeT operates in the northern tribal areas of Pakistan, a region awash with weapons. During the Soviet-Afghan war, much of the military support for the Mujahedeen fighters was funneled through Pakistan. Suppliers relied on the “Afghan pipeline” to send millions of small arms, mostly Soviet origin weapons, into Afghanistan. This allowed those supporting the Mujahedeen, such as the United States, plausible deniability. However, this hands-off approach, and reliance on Pakistani middlemen, also gave suppliers very limited control over the final recipients of these weapons. An unknown quantity of weapons, but likely in the thousands, were diverted into the hands of Pakistani dealers and have today ended up in border arms bazaars. In addition to the enduring weapons from the Cold War, areas in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) have a long history of craft production of weapons. For example, gunsmiths in Darra Adam Kehl, located just south of Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP, are thought to produce between 500 and 1,000 firearms daily. Darra is also home to the largest illegal gun market in the world.
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