Terrorism is not new to India. In the last two decades terrorist groups have wrecked havoc all across the country, conducting operations in major cities like Mumbai to relatively obscure areas like Manipur and Mizoram. Muslims, Hindus, Marxists, Sikhs, Tamils, among many others have all been perpetrators, just as Indians of all religious and ethnic backgrounds have been its victims. The latest attacks in Mumbai claimed the lives of over 180 people and injured nearly 320. Like other similar acts, they were intended to create paranoia and induce fear. Who were these terrorists and what did they want? At this point, there are more questions and few answers.
Indian officials are insisting that the terrorists came from Pakistan and were perhaps aided by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), a notorious terrorist organization operating in South Asia. LeT first came to prominence in 1993 when it used Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries to carry out attacks in the disputed area of Kashmir. LeT is officially declared a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, India, and Pakistan. Indian media and officials often insist that LeT is unofficially aided by ISI, the Pakistani CIA.
Former FBI agent and renowned profiler Clint Van Zandt once said, "Motive is the reason, the why, …. Motive is important because without an understanding of why people commit certain crimes in the way they do, we are left to begin at square one on every investigation." The alleged official Pakistani links to the Mumbai attacks seem unlikely. Pakistan’s military, intelligence and political establishment have no incentive to support commando style attacks in India. Pakistan is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. It is under heavy pressure from the U.S. to crack down on militants who are causing havoc across its Western borders in Afghanistan. Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism, best exemplified when a massive bomb attack in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad killed over 50 people earlier this year in September. Like Mumbai, the target in Islamabad was a famous hotel frequented by politicians, foreigners and elites.
Back here in the U.S. media pundits described the terrorists as "Islamic" even though there is nothing Islamic about terrorism. Some commentators suggested that the goal of the terrorists were to establish an "Islamic" state in India. The pertinent question to ask is to how will these terrorists establish an Islamic state in India where Muslims, according to Indian census, make up less than 14 percent of the population? How can anyone gain political power, far less legitimacy, by subjecting large populations to indiscriminate violence and terror?
Just because terrorists claim that their goal is to establish a "caliphate" from Indonesia to Morocco does not mean people of conscience should just repeat the terrorist narrative without pausing to check its plausibility. Unfortunately when such absurdities are repeated they begin to assume a larger than life narrative obfuscating the root causes of terrorism. Unfortunately thus terrorism continues to metastasize while in the words of John Mueller, professor of political science at Ohio State University, "Politicians will be inclined sanctimoniously to play to those fears . . . bureaucrats will stoke the same fears . . .And the press . . . will continue to make sure that what bleeds leads."
Another narrative at play is that the Mumbai terrorists were homegrown in India. While this is possible, it is not plausible that homegrown boys will have access to military grade AK-47s and have the requisite training to use them expertly keeping elite Indian commandos at bay for nearly 59 hours. At a time when Indian Muslims are being subjected to unprecedented police harassment, profiling and fake encounter killings by police, escaping the detection of Indian security and planning this brazen attack is hard to fathom.
In addition, on September 29 bomb blasts in Malegaon and Modasa killed five Muslims. According to Mumbai police the attacks were carried out by extremist Hindu militants with known links to India’s leading opposition party BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party). This troubling nexus between Hindu militants and a BJP, a party vying to be the next ruling majority in Indian parliament was first brought to light by Hemant Karkare, one of India’s best and brightest anti-terrorism police officer. Karkare was gunned down during the course of these latest Mumbai attacks. For Indian Muslims, Karkare was an oasis in the vast desert of India’s security establishment, which with its strong arm tactics has alienated much of India’s over 150 million Muslims. Why would Indian Muslims shift the wrath of the security apparatus back on them just when the public debate in India was beginning to see terrorism as not just a Muslim-problem but rather as scourge that has no religion?
The answer to these vexing questions will only come if and when India conducts an open investigation into these attacks. India owes this to its own citizens. Given the global nature of terrorism, the world has a vested interest in knowing the answers to these puzzling questions. Once results of a thorough and transparent investigation are made known, Indian authorities should spare no means to bring the perpetrators of such a heinous crime to justice.
Terrorism is obviously a threat, but does not necessitate a declaration of war to overcome this challenge. Since President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the threat of terrorism has gone up. India is now contemplating declaring its own "war on terror." Rather than exhibiting the same knee jerk reaction that led America down a disastrous path after 9-11, India needs to take heed that the blustery rhetoric that is now dominating Indian airwaves will only make the problem worse. It has already began to give rise to new jingoism with talks now of India sealing its border with Pakistan.
While democracies and free societies are especially vulnerable to terrorism they need not give up their freedoms (or their sense of fairness) to gain security. More of one does not necessarily mean less of the other. Terrorists cannot derail any democracy. However, democracies can be severely undermined if policymakers enact laws that are contrary to the fundamental guiding principles of any liberal democracy. In Ben Franklin’s words, "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."
The spectacle created by the Mumbai attacks gives the new Obama administration an opportunity to pursue a more holistic approach towards South Asia. Given the fact that both India and Pakistan have their fingers on the nuclear trigger and in light of the security failures in both Islamabad and Mumbai, America cannot leave this matter to be solved exclusively by Indian and Pakistani goodwill. President-elect Obama to his credit offered the idea of sending Bill Clinton to the region to serve as mediator.
Security is of mutual interest to both India and Pakistan. Cooperation between the two nations will be requisite in enacting balanced policies that will eventually lead to goodwill between the many faith-based communities who call that region their home. Outside of America, the Indian sub-continent is one the most religiously diverse regions in the world. In an increasingly globalized world, where some the biggest challenges require common solutions; such diversity can be a source of strength. But to achieve this, leaders of all faith groups will have to work hard to promote inter-faith understanding and politicians will have to eschew the divisive politics of religion baiting.
India’s greatest challenge lies in the social transformation where religious, ethnic, and class differences are transcended in order to realize the ideals stated in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution, "to secure to all its citizens, JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation."