Three serial blasts in 12 minutes tore through India’s commercial capital Mumbai last Wednesday evening, leaving 21 dead and over 140 injured.

Few — if any — other major metropolitan city can match Mumbai’s record as terrorists’ target of choice: in 1993, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2011.

Last wee the Times of India listed 21 incidents of “major blasts” in India between October 2005 and December 2010. Most of these are homegrown. But the biggest, the most high-profile and those targeting the major capitals have tended to have some overseas connection to Pakistan-based militants.

The most spectacular example of this of course was the series of coordinated attacks of Nov. 26, 2008, in which 166 people were killed. Five years ago, on July 11, 2006, seven bombs on Mumbai’s commuter trains killed more than 200 and injured another 700.

The resilience displayed by Mumbaikars in all the previous incidents will come to the fore again. As before, they will not depend on the state or national government for effective protection against terrorist attacks nor recovery assistance afterwards. But with each fresh incident, the cold anger at government’s incompetence, callousness and indifference grows.

The coordinated nature of the three attacks as well as the choice of Mumbai as the site of the attacks suggest initially that this too will have some foreign footprint. India’s intelligence agencies were speculating that the modus operandi points to the involvement of the banned Indian Mujahedeen that works closely with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist outfit.

The persistence of domestic and cross-border terrorism is an indictment of multiple dimensions of governance in India. Sadly, the Manmohan Singh government is proving to be among the weakest and most ineffectual in independent Indian history. As always, it seems to soak up the warm and fuzzy feelings of rhetorical pats on the back from foreign leaders about courage, resilience, patience and refusal to be provoked into any retaliatory measures against countries in the neighborhood from where the attacks are planned and controlled.

Anyone can counsel caution. The real challenge is to offer practical suggestions on what to do, not what to avoid doing.

The undying proof of India as a soft state earns the contempt of Islamists at a government that is all bark and no bite — except, frankly, even the barks are getting fewer and fainter; and the cynical resignation of citizens.

The secret to India’s economic success, it is claimed, is that the economy grows mainly during the night, when the government is asleep. But the government has to be very much in charge in providing the public goods of law, order and security. Can the Indian government drum up the necessary courage of conviction in addressing grievances that provide fertile recruiting ground among disaffected Indians; modernizing security services; and confronting Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism?

India’s Muslims have many justified grievances. Most notoriously in the recent past, the perpetrators of massacres of Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002 are yet to be arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced that stokes Muslim anger and thirst for vigilante revenge.

At the same time, perpetrators of terrorist outrage are rarely prosecuted through the creaky and leaking criminal justice system either. Detaining suspects indefinitely without trial adds to anger in one community without bringing closure to victims’ families and in turn inflames Hindu anger.

India’s police are not the best educated, trained, armed or disciplined. The quality of the police and security personnel, training, arming and conditions of service need to be upgraded substantially and urgently. And the best trained and best armed are siphoned off for VIP protection detail, leaving ordinary citizens to their own safety precautions.

On the bilateral front, terrorists have attacked India repeatedly with planning, training and financing based in Pakistan. In response, the balance between no action and some military response must shift. Pakistan’s military-intelligence jihadist complex has been lethally effective in outsourcing terrorism as an instrument of policy. India must find a formula that raises the costs to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s record of double dealing, deceit and denial has been based on a four degrees of separation among the government, army, intelligence and terrorists whose plausibility is rapidly fading; it is exploited as a convenient alibi to escape accountability.

No effective response keeps India bleeding at a cost-free policy for Pakistan. A military response would allow Pakistan’s army to break from fighting the Islamist militants that deepens the army’s unpopularity, assert dominance over the civilian government, regain the support of the people as the custodian of national sovereignty, and internationalize the bilateral dispute.

Any action carries the risk of destabilizing Pakistan still more. That is no longer an unacceptable risk. India would unquestionably be better off with a stable and prosperous neighbor. But for over a decade, even as Pakistan has teetered on the brink of collapse and disintegration and been reduced to a bit player, India has prospered and emerged as a big player in world affairs.

Ideally, Pakistan’s military must be brought under full civilian control and the two countries’ civilian governments can then cooperate in ridding the subcontinent of the scourge of terrorism.

But if the establishment of civilian supremacy over Pakistan’s military-intelligence services proves impossible, India should adopt the policy of taking the fight to neighboring territory from where attacks originate.

It should root out the human leadership and material infrastructure of terrorism through strikes and targeted killings of terrorists.

If India does not have such intelligence and military capacity today, it must invest all means necessary to acquire it.

Only so will India reverse the structure of incentives and penalties.

Ramesh Thakur is professor of international relations at Australian National University and adjunct professor at the Institute of Ethics, Governance and Law, Griffith University.

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