The Unfinished Crisis: US Crisis Management after the 2008 Mumbai Attacks (2012)

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This case study is the first detailed account of US crisis management after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, one that will no doubt be amplified by future first-person accounts and the release of additional details. We conclude that this crisis is both unresolved and unfinished, as our title suggests, and that further attacks in India by militants trained in Pakistan are likely. Although the circumstances, targets, and venues of any future attacks may differ significantly, our analysis and conclusions might help inform US planning for and management of resultant crises between the two countries.

We hope that this case study, like our earlier assessment of the 2001-2002 “Twin Peaks” crisis-so named because it featured two periods of high tension sparked by militant attacks, separated by an interval of relative calm-will be especially useful to South Asia specialists, to readers interested in US foreign policy-making, and to those with a particular interest in conflict prevention. This case study is intended to complement earlier accounts and assessments of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

In this study, we focus especially on approaches and mechanisms adopted by American officials after the 2008 attacks, as they tried both to address terrorism-related issues and to steer India and Pakistan away from confrontation. Some of these mechanisms were honed in earlier crises between India and Pakistan, notably the reliance on top-level diplomacy and on the choreography of high-level official US visits to Islamabad and New Delhi with other key capitals. After the 2008 Mumbai crisis, however, information sharing and law enforcement cooperation assumed new importance, and the Bush administration undertook an unprecedented attempt to broker direct counterterrorism cooperation between New Delhi and Islamabad.