The atrocities in Mumbai have shocked the world. The final death toll has reached 190. The damage to India’s confidence in its national security is shattered. Indo-Pakistani relations are deteriorating rapidly. These must remain the only casualties.
Now the dust has settled on the 60-hour-long siege, and the blood and rubble has gone, another far more pertinent danger than bullets and grenades is beginning to emerge. The threat of military action against Pakistan is being touted as a response by an under-fire government looking to appease its electorate in the face of a looming onslaught by the pro-Hindu nationalist opposition. This must be avoided at all costs.
Echoing back seven years to comments made by President George Bush following the terrorist attacks on New York, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has publicly stated that military strikes against terror camps in Pakistan have not been ruled out.
Mukherjee, a moderate and long-standing member of India’s Congress government, has said that India has the right to protect its territorial integrity and “take appropriate action when necessary”. Perhaps more chillingly, he added that the peace process with Pakistan will be “difficult to continue” in this atmosphere.
Those that have described the attacks on India’s second city as the country’s 9/11 are not wrong. This was an attack designed to both cripple a country and send a message to the wider world. The attackers were determined, well-trained, and alarmingly prepared. The similarities must stop here, however.
The aftermath of September 11th is a long list of lessons for anyone considering retaliatory strikes. Attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq have led to long and painful wars, an uprising of anti-American sentiment, and a swelling of global terrorism. India has spent a large part of the post-mortem of last week’s attacks in dialogue with US officials. We must all hope that the rhetoric has not focused on following the Bush Administration’s lead.
Mukherjee is a moderate politician. The Congress party, who have held office in India since 2004, have so far practiced a system of dialogue and discussion with Pakistan. His comments should shock observers into action. However, they represent something far more dangerous. National elections are looming, some state ones have only recently taking place, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the country’s fiercely pro-Hindu opposition, are going on the offensive.
“The Congress cannot protect you. They could not save innocent lives in Mumbai, how can they make your future secure here?” said Nirmal Singh, the party’s former State unit president this week.
“Let us not forget, 26/11 is not another terrorist incident. This is declaration of an open war by terrorists and their perpetrators against India. The Government should consider taking some measures against Pakistan… There is a need to avenge the repeated assault on our people and democracy… The BJP will support every honest initiative that the central government proposes to fight terror,” read a statement from BJP National President Shri Rajnath Singh.
The BJP, who reject a two-state solution in Kashmir and champion Hindu nationalism, will utilise these attacks and the growing sentiment against Pakistan to their advantage. Expect large amounts of anti-Pakistani rhetoric, and criticism of the Congress if no attacks on Pakistan are made. The government must ignore this, and hope the electorate see sense.
In 2002, after an attack on India’s parliament that was blamed on Pakistan, New Delhi moved 500,000 troops to the Line of Control in Kashmir. It was a face-off that took huge amounts of international pressure to cool, with both governments aggressively reminding each other of their nuclear capabilities. Pakistan is a far less stable country today.
The last time India exploded a nuclear device was in 1998, under a BJP government. The underground tests were celebrated in India. The BJP’s popularity soared and the country’s stock exchange leaped. After tests in 1974, India had reaffirmed its nuclear capabilities, and sent the strongest possible message to Pakistan. Their response was immediate. Fifteen days later Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif oversaw five underground nuclear tests. Trigger fingers may be itching again.
Six state elections are currently polling. Four began after the attacks. A general election must be called in the next six months. In a recent vote in Karnataka, in South India, the BJP have triumphed in the state elections. This is the first time that the party has been able to form a government in South India without a coalition. The Congress must do enough to convince voters that it can protect India, but a nationalistic strike on a nuclear-armed neighbour is not the way. If power switches to the BJP, that will be a step nearer.
America, and the rest of the international community, must assist. India deserves our compassion, and the perpetrators our condemnation, but strong pressure must quickly be placed on all countries in the region to take deep breaths. The US and Russia, who both have large amounts of influence, specifically in military matters, in India and Pakistan must work together to diffuse the situation. Neither would benefit from a war in the sub-continent, especially with already-volatile Afghanistan only next-door.
Pakistan is hideously unstable, both socially and politically. Border tensions with Afghanistan and US troops threaten to undermine the government, and many observers state that it simply has little control over vast swathes of the country. The Mumbai bombers may have come from Pakistan, but the chances are that the government had little or no idea of their existence.
Indo-Pakistani relations are a delicate balancing act. The ongoing issue of Jammu and Kashmir needs to be talked, not fought, over. The peace process now looks wafer-thin, and leaders need to come back to the table. The acts of obscene violence in Mumbai must not be allowed to precipitate further bloodshed.