CHENNAI, India — Terror and Mumbai have become as inseparable as Siamese twins, at least since 1993, when 250 people died in bomb attacks carried out as a revenge for the demolition of the ancient Babri Mosque by Hindu fanatics.
In 2006, more than 180 people died when bombs planted in seven suburban railway stations and several trains went off.
Between 1993 and 2006, there were many explosions, but the carnage Nov. 26 was executed with unusual precision. Nearly 200 people — including some top and able police officers — lost their lives and several hundred were wounded.
Two aspects are extremely worrying. The Mumbai atrocity will have serious implications for not just India but also the entire world in the fight against terror.
Despite the fact that the Pakistani media has begun a virulent campaign against what it terms the Indian media’s premature conclusion that Pakistan had a hand in the Mumbai bloodshed, it is quite clear now that this is the case.
The lone Muslim gunman taken alive in Mumbai, Ajmal Qasab, 21, has confessed that he and other members of his group were trained by the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan. The plot was hatched in Karachi, and 10 to 12 people took the sea route via Porbunder — where the apostle of peace and nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi, was born — to Mumbai, India’s financial capital.
What could have been the motive for this attack? According to one theory, the mayhem was intended to drive a wedge between the two nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan, which have been trying of late to work out a solution for peaceful coexistence. Pakistan’s new civilian president, Asif Zardari, has displeased his army and the Inter Services Intelligence — of which Lashkar is a subsidiary — by courting New Delhi. He angered his own mullahs and jihadis by terming Kashmiri militants terrorists.
Zardari appears to be losing, at least for the time being. The ISI’s political arm was disbanded some days ago, and the organization’s chief canceled his trip to India, despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s request that he assist with the Mumbai investigation. Instead, a junior functionary of the ISI was sent, and this was decided after a midnight meeting between Zardari and Pakistan’s army chief, Pervez Kiyani, a former ISI top man himself. This shows how weak Pakistan’s civilian government is.
So, round one went to Lashkar, which now hopes that the rest of its plan will fall into place. Islamabad told Washington Nov. 29 that it will move 100,000 of its soldiers from its Afghan border if India makes any provocative moves. Such a shift would grossly undermine the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan against al-Qaida and the Taliban, the kingpins of global terror.
It is quite plausible that the Mumbai explosions were aimed precisely at reducing Pakistani pressure on the Afghan border by diverting Islamabad’s attention toward New Delhi. Once Pakistan returns to a “hostile posture” vis-a-vis India, it leaves the field clear for al-Qaida and the Taliban to pursue their agenda.
A second aspect of the Mumbai disaster is the renewed hatred it has evoked in India. The existing rift between the country’s majority Hindus and the minority Muslims is only deepening. Kashmir, a state claimed by both neighbors, is a festering wound. Last year 800 people were killed there. And tension in Kashmir has been high following a recent election that those fighting for independence wanted boycotted.
Elsewhere, Indian Muslims are not as well off as the Hindus or Christians. The Muslims fare poorly in education, jobs and income, and have been subjected to slaughter. In 2002, 2,000 Muslims reportedly died in a state-orchestrated action in Gujarat; the actual number is said to have been closer to 10,000. The guilty are yet to be punished. Those killings followed allegations that a Muslim mob had been responsible for the deaths of Hindu activists traveling by train. The Mumbai incident could well lead to another tit-for-tat reaction.
A far bigger threat looms if the the Mumbai blasts were aimed at turning things around for al-Qaida, which has been losing ground in Indonesia — certainly since the 2002 Bali explosions — and in Iraq, where the killings of Muslims by Muslim extremists led to the “Sunni Awakening.” The murder of fellow Muslims has been al-Qaida’s biggest blunder.
Yet, in countries like India, where Muslims feel alienated, al-Qaida can grow by feeding on Islamic sentiments. This has worked in Britain; if it does so in India, the implications are frightening.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a journalist who writes for several newspapers across the world.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.