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India's time of reckoning.

Writing for Commentary, Jonathan Foreman, deputy editor of Standpoint, argues that the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai have prompted Indians to "get serious and make real 'war on terror.'" Though India has experienced many jihadist attacks--witness Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi, and an earlier assault on Mumbai--the jihadists showed a new face last November and roused India as never before.

What's new? Heretofore, India's masses and its officials had supplied the targets for the terrorists. A nation of a billion people already accustomed to frequent casualties in train wrecks, bus mishaps, and crowd panics quickly accepted past religious violence directed at the masses. Since the 2001 bombing of India's parliament, India has provided elaborate protection for its officials--moderating Indian fears on that score. Last November's attacks on two five-star hotels, on the other hand, struck neither the masses nor officials but the "sanctuaries of the privileged and affluent" and the "well connected and well educated"--India's ruling class, which for the first time now feels insecure.

The Pakistini-based perpetrators of the recent attack on Mumbai, members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), demonstrated a solid understanding of Indian society and knew that a siege directed at the country's English-speaking elite would quickly grab and then hold the attention of the entire nation. They also recognized how the utter incompetence of Mumbai's corrupt police force and the inadequacies of India's special forces would assist their ability to hold hostages for several days and exercise the country's news media.

Under various names, LeT operates "openly" in Pakistan, where it has great political influence and likely has close ties to Pakistani intelligence. India also suspects that the Mumbai attacks had support from within Pakistan's armed forces and its government. Like related global jihadist groups, LeT aims to return Islamic rule to all of Central and South Asia, which makes it a threat to the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

To respond effectively, India must modernize the organizations that failed to detect, prevent, or efficiently respond to the Mumbai attacks. Purging the Intelligence Bureau of holdovers from the days of India's close relationship with the Soviet Union may cause it to pay closer attention to terrorists than to long-feared Western espionage. Ending police corruption and strengthening military special operations are also internal matters. With more Indians than ever in favor of close relations with the United States, the two nations might cooperate closely in an anti-terrorist alliance.

Threatening that possibility, Indians also increasingly favor attacking the jihadist training areas within Pakistan, a troubled U.S. ally in America's war on al Qaeda and the Taliban along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. An attack on Pakistan, even if only its militant training camps, might undermine India's relations with the United States or the latter's with Pakistan. In addition, there is the risk that Pakistan would "go nuclear" in response to an invasion of its territory--despite President Asif Zardari's pledge that he would never be the first use such weapons.

U.S. foreign policy in South Asia faces the delicate problem of keeping Pakistan focused on its struggle against its domestic terrorists without arousing Indian suspicions of a U.S.-Pakistan alliance that might threaten Indian interests. At the same time, closer American cooperation with India as it improves its armed forces and intelligence might cause Pakistan to become less responsive to U.S. pressure to destroy its domestic terrorist groups. India's "day of reckoning" and "awakening to the terrorist threat" may soon put pressure on the United States to choose between its temporary alliance of necessity with Pakistan and India, its natural regional ally. (for subscribers)

OR (for non-subscribers)

By Jonathan Foreman

Reviewed by James L. Abrahamson, contributing editor
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Author:Abrahamson, James L.
Publication:American Diplomacy
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Apr 28, 2009
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