After the Mumbai Attacks

Rajan Philips looks at the domestic and regional ramifications of the November 2008 killings and hostage-takings in India's main commercial city.

By Rajan Philips | 2009-01-01 12:00:00

The Lashkar-e-Taiba attacks in Mumbai on 26 November have been compared to al-Qaeda's devastation of Manhattan in 2001. Indian public opinion would like to extend the parallel by taking the fight to Pakistan, as the US did.

Indian public opinion is tired of the world media's constant reference to Kashmir as the ultimate cause of the attacks on Mumbai and others before. India wants the world to recognize that there is a whole network of terrorism in Pakistan targeting India and that India is justified in asking for its destruction.

This is strikingly similar to the Weapons of Mass Destruction argument that the Bush Administration used to invade Iraq, with one big difference: there were no WMD in Iraq, whereas Pakistan is replete with terrorist groups, some of whom have declared jihad against India. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the Head of the LeT, and Osama Bin Laden have tagged Hindu India onto the axis of infidels, along with the Crusaders, Zionists, and Western Christians. They challenge India's position over Kashmir and envisage restoring Islamic rule over India.

Yet it would be a bigger mistake for India to undertake a military response targeting terrorists in Pakistan than the American blunder of invading Iraq. While India and Pakistan's border skirmishes over Kashmir sometimes bordered on wars as in 1947 and 1965 (the 1971 war was primarily over the liberation of Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, from Pakistan), there was no jihad aspect. The jihad dimension in Pakistan is the result of the Afghan contagion, and in India it is creating the potential for a Hindu counter-jihad. A new war between the two countries will not be limited to the two armies at the border but will ignite violence throughout both societies. There is an even graver risk: the use of their nuclear warheads.

The Congress government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, unlike the Bush Administration in less provocative circumstances, has shown tremendous restraint in the face of public outcry for retaliatory action. This restraint has been vindicated, for now, by the election results from four Indian states, New Delhi, Rajasthan, Mizoram, and Madhya Pradesh. Even while the Mumbai attacks were on, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the flagship of Hindu nationalism, placed front page newspaper ads ridiculing the secular Congress's ineptitude against Islamic terror and asking people to "vote BJP" to rebuke it. The voters did not agree.

The Congress Alliance won in three of the four States, registering its third successive victory in the capital State of New Delhi to the huge disappointment of the BJP. BJP's only victory, in Madhya Pradesh, was a win for the incumbent BJP Chief Minister who showed competence in governance after disastrous performances by his Hindu nationalist predecessors, one of whom was a female Hindu fanatic. The results augur well for an even broader endorsement of the policy of restraint in the national elections due in May 2009. The BJP will have to reconsider its use of Hindu nationalism as its main campaign plank. The Congress can regroup itself nationally and prove that India could deal with Islamic terrorism without succumbing to Hindu nationalism.

The Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, has declared that the Congress government will respond with "resolve and determination" to the Mumbai attacks. But in dealing with Pakistan, India cannot afford to risk alienating the Pakistani people who are fed up with the virtual takeover of their country by mostly non-national jihad forces. Simultaneously, India should lead a regional solution to what has become the South Asian contagion of violence.


Jihad violence in South Asia emerged only after Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and its withdrawal in 1989. The vacuum was filled by the Taliban regime and thousands of young men from forty countries, all trained mujahideen to spread radical Islam. The Lashker-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure), the group responsible for the Mumbai attacks, was founded in 1990 with Saudi money and with tutelage by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

According to Hussain Haggani, Pakistan's US Ambassador, the group was created during General Zia-ul Haq's dictatorship as the instrument of Pakistan's "state sponsorship of jihad against India" in Kashmir. It was given a sprawling 200 acre premises near Lahore, plus seminaries, hospitals, mobile clinics, and markets throughout Pakistan. Its forays into Kashmir began in 1993, and its 750 estimated members, mostly foreign mercenaries, have been operating in Kashmir.

The emergence of Hindutva in India is less a response to Pakistan's state-sponsored jihad against India and more a reaction to India's state-sponsored secularism within India. Although an assertive Hindu ideology has existed for most of the 20th century, its political traction began only in the 1980s as reaction to perceived favored treatment of Muslim and Christian minorities by the Indian State, legislature, and the judiciary. Hindutva ideologues rail against the smug secular superciliousness of the Congress Party and the Indian Left, and identify the Indian subcontinent as the homeland of Hindus. They want India to be a Hindu nation rather than secular, and support an aggressive Hindu response to the Islamic jihad in Kashmir.

Hindutva storm troopers foment violence against Muslims and Christians. The violence against Indian Muslims is now more organized than mob riots of the past. A shocking new development is the attacks against Christians, about 600 of whom have been killed in the last eight years, in retaliation against Christian conversion of lower caste Hindus. Recently, ties have emerged between Hindutva groups and sections of the Indian military in organizing attacks against Muslims.

A South Asian Solution

The Hindutva phenomenon has an international network of organizations, but is mostly confined to India in its agenda. The BJP, the main political front of the movement, seeks power both at the centre and state levels based on a broad Hindu unity across webs of caste and regional differences. The BJP was in power nationally from 1998 to 2004, and while pursuing a fundamentalist agenda within India, it worked to improve relations with Pakistan.

This was a continuation of the shift in India's foreign policy during the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The Cold War period saw India and Pakistan respectively align with the Soviet Union and the US with a quiet containment of South Asian differences. After the 1971 dismemberment of Pakistan (into Bangladesh and present Pakistan) India emerged as the dominant regional power. Globalization and India's gravitation to a market economy brought it closer to the US in foreign policy, economic priorities, and nuclear policy.

India also began trying to accommodate the interests of its smaller neighbors within the South Asian Regional Cooperation (SARC). The Gujral Doctrine propounded by Inder Kumar Gujral, India's Foreign Minister and Prime Minster during the late 1990s, codified the new nuances of India's neighborly relations. Positive developments at the state level were supplemented by growing cordiality at the popular and civil society levels. Cross-border television contributed to this cordiality and so did the increasingly frequent cricket encounters between the two countries.

But these developments could be overrun by jihad attacks and Hindu fundamentalist calls for retaliation. Jihad attacks and military retaliations will feed each other endlessly. The question is how to prevent the two countries and the rest of South Asia getting trapped in this vicious circle. The answer lies in a coordinated approach, with bilateral, multilateral, and regional elements.

There are encouraging signals from Pakistan even though India may want Pakistan to do more and a lot sooner. Despite his official insistence on proof that the Lashkar group masterminded the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan's President has acknowledged (in a New York Times article) Pakistan's predicament in dealing with the terrorist fallouts from the Afghan imbroglio. He has asked India to show patience and understanding, and for India and others to help Pakistan overpower the forces of fanaticism, install democratic infrastructure, and rebuild its economy.

India would do well to take President Asif Ali Zardari at his word and hold him to it. Ordinary Pakistanis, civil society activists, and many political actors want Pakistan to get rid of the jihad groups and the terrorist network. The army itself is not monolithically hawkish. India should make its appreciation of these differences clear to the people of Pakistan and the only democratic institution they have - the Zardari government. India should leave to the US and its allies the task of pressurizing Pakistan to take on the jihad groups. The terrorist network in Pakistan cannot be dealt with in isolation from the goings on in Afghanistan. The Obama administration must embark on an international triangulation exercise involving Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

On the vexed question of Kashmir, Pakistan would be well advised to avoid the `K' word and give India the time and space to rethink its position and explore new possibilities for Kashmir. As Tariq Ali recently remarked, a feasible solution to the Kashmiri problem as well as the Tamil question in Sri Lanka could well be a South Asian arrangement that recognizes ethno-territorial autonomies within existing state boundaries.

The first of the five principles of the Gujral Doctrine calls on India not to ask for reciprocity in its relations with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, but to accommodate what it can in good faith and trust.

By and large, India has been acting in this manner with these countries both before and after the Gujral Doctrine. Now India should apply the same principle to Pakistan without seeming to be condescending.

Rajan Philips is a professional engineer who also write political commentaries.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2009

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2009, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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