The fallout from the terror attacks in Mumbai last week has already shaken India. Deep and sustained anger across the country — at its demonstrated vulnerability to terror and at the multiple institutional failures that allowed such loss of life — has prompted the resignations of the home minister in the national government and the chief minister and his deputy in the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital.<88>
As evidence mounts that the attacks were planned and directed from Pakistani territory, calls for decisive action have intensified. But what can India do?
The terrorists hit multiple targets in Mumbai, both literally and figuratively. They caused death and destruction to Indians with near-impunity, searing India’s psyche, showing up the limitations of its security apparatus and humiliating its government. They dented the worldwide image of India as an emerging economic giant. Instead the world was made to see an insecure and vulnerable India, a “soft state” bedeviled by enemies who can strike it at will.
That was not all. By singling out Americans, British and Israelis for their malign attention, the terrorists extended the global war against “Jews and crusaders” to new territory. The killers achieved a startling success for their cause, one that must have shaken anti-terrorist experts, who now realize how easy it would be for 10 men unafraid of death to hold any city in the world hostage.
The interrogation of the one surviving terrorist, and evidence from satellite telephone intercepts and other intelligence, has led to an emerging international consensus that the attacks were masterminded by the Wahhabi-inspired Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group once patronized, protected and trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as a useful instrument in their country’s proxy war against India in Kashmir. Though banned by former president Pervez Musharraf under duress, the Lashkar simply regrouped under a different name.
The Pakistani military finds militant outfits useful tools to bleed their adversaries in India and Afghanistan, and has shown little inclination to clamp down on them. In July, US intelligence sources publicly revealed that the suicide-bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul had been conducted at the behest of the ISI. This episode, along with two climb downs by Pakistan’s government after public attempts to curb the ISI had been spurned by the Army, confirmed that the civilian government in Islamabad is too weak to challenge the all-powerful military.
So if the US and India demand, as they will, that Pakistan disband the Lashkar and similar terrorist outfits that have enjoyed military patronage in the past, dismantle their training facilities, freeze their bank accounts and arrest their leaders, they will face a typically Pakistani conundrum — the military isn’t willing and the civilian government isn’t able.
India’s government, which has reacted to previous terrorist outrages with calm and restraint, has no choice this time but to respond decisively. Anything that smacks of temporizing and appeasement will further inflame the public a few months before national elections are scheduled.
But India’s government has few good options. An earlier assault on India’s parliament in December 2001 by the Pakistan-based militant organization Jaish-e-Muhammad nearly triggered a full-scale war between the two countries. In the end, India pulled back its deployment on the border.