Mumbai in flames
By Salama A Salama
After the attacks in Mumbai, one cannot fault India for thinking that it is being targeted by enemies who wish to undermine its progress and stop it from claiming its rightful position on the world stage. Along with China, India is a candidate for the exclusive club of major world powers. And India has something that its rival, Pakistan, doesn't have: democracy.
Indian officials were quick to accuse Pakistan of masterminding the attacks. The two countries have a long history of animosity, mostly because of the dispute over Kashmir. India and Pakistan went to war three times since they split 60 years ago. But nearly 140 million Muslims still live in India and they often clash with Hindus and Sikhs. The recent wave of communal atrocities took place in 1993, after a group of Hindu nationalists burned down the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in Utter Pradesh.
Despite recent attempts at normalisation and several rounds of talks aiming to resolve the Kashmir problem, tensions persist between India and Pakistan. Actually, when the recent terror attack took place in Mumbai, the Pakistani foreign minister was on an official visit to India. He hastened to deny any Pakistani connection with the attacks, noting that Pakistan too is a victim of terrorism. The Pakistani foreign minister recalled the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto to support his argument.
It is generally believed that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai came from Pakistan. A previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the attack on several luxury hotels and a Jewish centre. The nature of the attacks suggests that the terrorists were out to get Americans, Europeans and Israelis. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni offered to send an Israeli team to investigate the attacks. India turned down the offer, but agreed to let a US intelligence team take part in investigations.
Pakistan may be said to be the primary suspect, but it hardly has anything to gain from the attacks. The sophistication of the attacks suggests that the group responsible has been planning them for months and may have stashed considerable amounts of arms and ammunition prior to the coordinated assault. It appears, so far, that a fanatical group opposed to reconciliatory settlement with India over Kashmir carried out the attacks. In the days following, the Indian interior minister stepped down, taking the blame for failure to anticipate the tragedy.
Western analysts say that the perpetrators used some of the tactics normally associated with Al-Qaeda and suggested in a paper published on the Internet in March 2004 by Abdel-Aziz Al-Moqren, leader of Al-Qaeda fighters in Saudi Arabia. In this paper, Al-Moqren urges militants to start out by killing Jews, then take hostages and film their execution and post it on the Internet, and then kill Christians, followed by Muslim apostates.
The grimness of the attacks lends itself to such interpretations. Consequently, the focus is turned once more on so-called Islamic terror. And the media is again warning of Al-Qaeda and its ability to convince other groups, such as the Deccan Mujahideen, to conduct acts of mayhem across the world.
Should political violence spread in India, right-wing parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, may clinch victory in the next elections in May. No one knows if the Mumbai attacks are enough to trigger another war between India and Pakistan. Should this happen, India would be derailed from its quest for global ascendance. And Pakistan would be in even worse shape than it is now.