Mumbai’s Casualties

Mumbai’s Casualties

The grisly commuter train bombings in Mumbai on July 11 both endangered the India/Pakistan peace process and underscored its fragility.



The Indian city of Mumbai is still rocking from serial metro bombings that, on July 11, left 182 people dead and 900 injured. The slaughter is on a par with the 2004 Madrid train attacks. It is considerably worse than the London bombings, whose first anniversary was observed July 7. Nor were the dead and the lame the only casualties.

On July 15 India told Pakistan that a meeting scheduled for later in the month between their foreign secretaries had been shelved. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said those who carried out the Mumbai bombings were “instigated, inspired and supported by elements across the border without which they could not act with such devastating effect.” Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf denied the charge, while offering his country’s “help” in any Indian investigation into the bombers. He also said it would be a “sign of defeat” if “such terrorist acts [were] to undermine the historic opportunity of a lasting peace between Pakistan and India.” Other officials in Islamabad said India was exploiting the carnage of Mumbai to evade “the issue” at the core of the conflict with Pakistan.

The spat represents the most serious breach in the Indian-Pakistani peace process since it began in 2004. But it also underscores the mutual dissatisfaction that has always bound it. When Singh talks of “elements across the border,” he means jihadi groups harbored in Pakistan, sponsored, allegedly, by its Inter-Service Intelligence force (ISI). And when Pakistani officials refer to “the issue,” they mean the divided territory of Kashmir–cause of two of the three Indo-Pakistani wars and the epicenter, for the past sixteen years, of a nationalist-Islamist insurgency against Indian rule that has cost at least 40,000 lives. Both accusations sting because both, in part, are true.

In the past two years, India has promoted increased trade, maintained a cease-fire and enabled some people-to-people contact between the two halves of Kashmir. But it has done little to relax a military regime characterized, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report, by “arbitrary detention, torture and custodial killings,” particularly against the Muslim majority that resides in the Kashmir Valley. Similarly, in 2004 Pakistan vowed to shut down all jihadist military camps on its side of Kashmir. It hasn’t done so. Following Pakistan’s earthquake last year, it was largely Islamist groups, like Jamaat-ul-Dawa, that shoveled out the survivors. The JUD is a front organization for Lashkar-i-Taiba (LIT), a jihadist group that has long fought in Indian Kashmir. The JUD is on Pakistan’s terrorist watch list. India wants it banned, and so does the United States.

There are several reasons why that won’t happen, say Pakistani analysts. The first is that India has yet to produce hard evidence connecting the JUD-LIT to Mumbai. Second, as its earthquake relief work attests, the JUD-LIT is far more than a military arm. It runs hospitals and hundreds of schools that provide free education for thousands throughout Pakistan. Finally, with general elections looming in 2007, no Pakistani politician–let alone Musharraf, whose only real constituency is the army–is going to risk alienating powerful Islamist parties like the JUD without some Indian give on Kashmir.

But the main reason is that radical Islam now has an Indian base. In 2001 the government banned the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), “for stirring religious unrest over the United States’ ‘war on terror'” and for SIMI’s alleged Al Qaeda sympathies. Dozens of its supporters have been arrested since the Mumbai blasts. The Indian police say SIMI is a subcontractor for LIT. But several Indian observers are less sure. They say radical Islamist groups like SIMI have drawn their support from local sectarian outrages like the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed by Hindu mobs. They think Mumbai may have been revenge, though no government official would dare make the link. It is so much easier to blame Pakistan, says Indian analyst Swapan Dasgupta, writing in the Asia Wall Street Journal. “India has been in a state of denial over evidence that the emerging threat is not from those acting at the behest of controllers in Islamabad but from home-grown militants. The suggestion that Islamist terrorism has developed strong roots in India is one the government in New Delhi does not relish.”

On the day before India froze its cautious rapprochement with Pakistan, Allama Hasan Turabi, a Shiite cleric, was killed by a suicide bomber in Karachi, almost certainly dispatched by a Sunni jihadi outfit. His death was certainly another reminder that sectarianism is a bane to Islamabad and New Delhi alike. Severing ties seems an odd way to fight it.

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