A GROUP not larger than a rifle squad, armed only with small arms, paralyzed a city of 18 million for three days, killing nearly 200 people and injuring 293 more.
The Islamist terrorists who attacked Mumbai (Bombay) succeeded to the extent they did chiefly because Indian security forces were poorly armed and trained, and strict gun control laws left ordinary citizens unable to defend themselves.
But it is still a testament to what can be accomplished by a handful of well-trained fanatics who are willing to die in order to kill.
What was accomplished by this orgy of mass murder? The raid clearly was a tactical success, and a lot more people now have heard of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group to which the one captured terrorist said he and his fellows belong. The publicity generated likely will lead to a substantial boost in contributions to Islamist causes.
Whether what Islamist Web sites are calling "the invasion of Bombay" becomes a strategic success depends chiefly upon what a weak and embarrassed government in New Delhi and a weaker government in Islamabad do next.
Lashkar, whose professed goal is to wrest from India the portion of the disputed province of Kashmir it controls, is based in Pakistan. All 10 terrorists apparently were Pakistanis. They were trained at a camp in Pakistan, reportedly by former officers in the Pakistani army. So the Indian government - and more importantly, the Indian people - do not take at face value the Pakistani government's denials that it was involved in the attack. This is especially so because Lashkar is largely the creation of Pakistan's InterService Intelligence Agency.
The irony is that Pakistan's pathetic elected government probably was completely unaware that an attack on Mumbai was being planned. The government has little control over much of the country, and less over the ISI, long a law unto itself.
The terrorists were trained by the ISI to attack Indian targets in Kashmir, but they were hijacked for the Mumbai operation by a more militant faction of Lashkar and al-Qaeda, said the Pakistan bureau chief for the Asia Times.
Lashkar commander Zaikur Rahman and the major commanding ISI's forward section in Karachi, the port from which the terrorists launched, were "completely disconnected from the top brass" and redirected the attack to Mumbai, wrote Syed Saleem Shahzad.
The Indian government, pressured by an angry populace, understandably is demanding that Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, arrest those who planned and financed the attack. But Mr. Zardari probably lacks the power and certainly lacks the desire to do so.
If Pakistan's government doesn't act, India's military and intelligence services may retaliate. And this could provoke a military confrontation.
Why would Islamists generally, and al-Qaeda in particular, want that?
First, tensions with India would put an end to the Pakistani military's half-hearted efforts against the Taliban in the regions bordering Afghanistan as it would have to reinforce the border with India.
Second, conflict could further destabilize already dysfunctional Pakistan, permitting the Islamists to make further gains at the expense of the mostly secular Punjabi elite represented by Mr. Zardari.
Third, conflict could disrupt U.S./NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, most of which go through Pakistan or its airspace.
Fourth, Islamists dream that Muslims will one day once again rule the entire Indian subcontinent, as they did for eight and a half centuries before being ousted by the British. Since there are 960 million Hindus in India and only 160 million Muslims, this seems impractical. But India also has four ongoing guerrilla insurgencies and is stable only in comparison to Pakistan. It is not inconceivable that enough stress could cause India to break up, and that the Islamists could pick up several of the pieces.
Islamist Web sites are describing the "invasion of Bombay " as a "clear victory. " They have good reasons for thinking so.
This is a problem that won't go away when George W. Bush's term ends Jan. 20, and it can't be resolved by face-to-face negotiations without preconditions.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1476