Even as the civilian death toll of the Mumbai attacks climbs, fallout from these terrorist actions threatens thawing relations between India and Pakistan.
The danger signals are already evident, as first reactions from the Indian government tended to blame "foreign" intervention, a code word for Pakistan. However, the prompt response from the Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi indicates a willingness to stem the ratcheting of tensions between the two rival states.
Pakistan will send the head of its Inter Services Intelligence, Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, to India to help in the investigation. Referring to Lashkar-e-Tayaba, the group whose tactics in the past resemble those employed in the Mumbai attacks, Qureshi told an Indian press conference "we have no patience for such organizations" in Pakistan.
Pakistani civil society has been generally quiet in attacking religious extremism. Neither the government nor the military can successfully proceed against terrorism without public support. Yet, there are signs of hope. President Asif Ali Zardari recently offered to open up borders with India for visa-free travel and to eschew a first nuclear strike. Earlier this week, the Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan met in Islamabad and agreed to begin cooperating against terrorism and to bring the Federal Bureau of Investigations of Pakistan and the Central Bureau of Investigation of India in close contact to that end.
But the Mumbai attacks and India's response to them could derail the peace process -- presumably what the militants would want -- particularly if India's leaders attempt to tie homegrown militants to Pakistan-based Islamist groups or the Pakistani state.
India is preparing for a general election in 2009, which may account for tough talk by India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Moreover, focusing on possible involvement of foreign groups in the Mumbai attacks may distract attention from the urgent need to resolve the underling issues of the Indian Muslim community that foster militancy among its youth.
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Four out of every 10 Muslims in India's cities -- and three out of 10 in the countryside -- are living below the poverty line, according to the government-sponsored Sachar Commission Report of November 2006. One third of villages in India with a majority Muslim population do not have any educational institutions at all. As a result, Indian Muslims have not been able to benefit from the development and explosive growth of India's economy in recent years.
Economic and political deprivation may have spawned the Indian Mujahideen movement and its offshoot, the Students Islamic Movement of India. Those groups, in turn, may have had links to the extremist Lashkar-e-Tayyaba of Pakistan and its affiliate the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami of Bangladesh (HUJI). The tactics of the Mumbai attacks resemble Lashkar-e-Tayyaba operations: a swarming attack with handheld weapons and grenades, often timed with significant Indo-Pakistan peace talks or friendly actions.
What to do?
Both the Indian and Pakistani governments need to stay firmly on the path of peace. The costs of inaction are too high for both. Pakistan is fighting a huge insurgency on its western border. It cannot afford another hot border facing India. It is also worth recalling that of the 60 suicide bombings in Pakistan in 2007, 47 per cent were directed against the military, 20 per cent against the police, and 13 per cent against the government and politicians. Over 420 hundred military personnel and 220 civilians were killed in these attacks, according to figures compiled by the Ministry of Interior. Militancy and the military do not mix anymore.
India needs to quell the rise of its many internal insurgencies that jeopardize its development. It needs to focus on bringing Indian Muslims into the mainstream. Civil society in both countries, especially the leadership of Islamic organizations, need to speak out against terror in the name of Islam. At the recent meeting of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, a leading Indian editor and poltiical analyst, M.J. Akbar, reminded those present of the Prophet Mohammed's injunction: "Islam has clearly laid down that killing one human being is like killing the entire humanity and saving one's life is like saving the entire humanity."
Muslims of the sub-continent need to mount a Jihad against terror and for peace between India and Pakistan. The alternative is likely to be more mayhem and chaos.