EDITORIAL: Terrorism in Mumbai and its fallout

Even as India was facing the unfolding saga of Hindu terrorism whose tentacles 
seem to go into its armed forces, the country has been struck by another 
terrorist attack in Mumbai. The Wednesday mayhem will change the political 
paradigm in India and therefore also in South Asia. Heavily armed terrorists 
calling themselves the Deccan Mujahideen, a group unknown thus far, stormed 
luxury hotels, a popular tourist attraction and a crowded train station in at 
least seven attacks in India's financial capital, killing over 100 people by 
latest count including the Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad chief. Analysts have 
cautioned against jumping to any conclusion but say the group might have some 
linkage with Al Qaeda or its ideology - even though until now investigators 
have not found an Al Qaeda spoor in the many terrorist attacks in India since 

It is significant that the terrorists have targeted British and American 
visitors too and were holding foreigners hostage, including some European 
parliamentarians. Reports indicate 9 foreigners are among those killed. The 
grievance on the basis of which the Indian Muslim terrorists usually own up 
their acts has thus expanded to include a global agenda. The Deccan Mujahideen 
- whoever they are - while talking about atrocities in Kashmir have also thrown 
in references to places other than India where the Muslims are said to be 
suffering at the hands of America and Britain. The hidden reference is to 
Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the past, the reference was clearly inferred. Everything went back to the 
Muslim carnage in Gujarat in 2002 in which 1,100 men, women and children were 
killed and over 150,000 ousted from homes. At the local level, every time an 
act of terrorism was committed in India, Pakistan was somehow named. Ongoing 
investigations into some terrorist attacks that were alternately blamed on 
Indian Muslims and Pakistan have shown that they were actually carried out by a 
Hindu terrorist network. But facts aside, this is how the collective psyche of 
fear works. One credible event is remembered and then myths are attached to it. 
The same sort of thing happens on the Pakistani side. Taken together, this 
trend forms the brick-wall against which all efforts at normalising Indo-Pak 
relations come to a halt.

Luckily, when the Mumbai mayhem occurred, the two countries were engaged in a 
dialogue at two levels. The foreign ministers were meeting in New Delhi and the 
interior secretaries were meeting in Islamabad, trying to resolve disputes and 
raising the level of cooperation against terrorism. Pakistan was among the 
first countries that sent messages of solidarity to New Delhi after the Mumbai 
outrage by the Deccan Mujahideen. The message from Islamabad is entirely 
credible but will it be convincing too? There is no doubt that Pakistan is 
under attack from the same kind of "mujahideen". The latest message emanating 
from South Waziristan is that the Taliban will now be targeting President 
Zardari "and his political allies". The reason for this threat is America whose 
supplies through Pakistan will be disrupted, according to a deputy of Baitullah 

The need is to work out cooperative strategies because all states are under 
threat from the scourge of terrorism. Unfortunately this is made nearly 
impossible by domestic political oppositions and their desire for point 
scoring. In India, the Mumbai attacks will give the rightwing parties the stick 
to beat the government with. The BJP was already getting jittery over 
investigations that were spreading into the underground labyrinth of the 
Parivar's terrorism. It will now get the opportunity to accuse the UPA 
government of being soft on terrorism (read: Muslims). Somewhere along the line 
it may also throw in the reference to Pakistan. The speech by Indian prime 
minister Manmohan Singh and his assertion that New Delhi will "take up 
strongly" the use of neighbours' territory to launch attacks on India could be 
a reference to Pakistan or Bangladesh or both. At the minimum it seems to be an 
attempt by Dr Singh to pre-empt criticism from the Hindu rightwing.

At home, reactions are rendering the credibility of the PPP government 
doubtful. In fact, Prime Minister Gilani is under attack from the opposition in 
parliament which says that President Zardari has more powers than the prime 
minister and that the system under the PPP government is an extension of the 
Musharraf presidential regime. However, what is eschewed are constitutional and 
conceptual nuances. Pakistan has seen two extremes, all-powerful prime 
ministers that render presidents useless and all-powerful presidents that make 
prime ministers look like puppets. The debate should have focused on how to 
work out the correct balance but, predictably, has been informed by petty 
politicking rather than any intellectual effort. The animus is fired further by 
allegations and counter-allegations about promises made and broken.

These internal imbalances are not good for Pakistan and India. Pakistan is in 
dire economic straits and needs assistance from its friends abroad; Indian 
markets are already down 56 percent on back of the global downturn. Both 
countries need to cooperate in the new environment of terrorism; neither is 
ideally placed to do so. 

Kirim email ke