India under assault

Ajai Sahni
20 February 2007

The only way to halt the series of terrorist attacks on Indian targets is to understand where they are coming from and act accordingly, says Ajai Sahni.

Another "mindless" attack has been executed by terrorists on a civilian target, leaving sixty-eight dead on 19 February 2007 in the Delhi-Attari special train that links up with the Samjhauta (Understanding) Express, to Lahore - a crucial symbolic link between the subcontinent's divided people. The incident occurred within 100 kilometres of the train's departure from Delhi, at Deewana near Panipat in the north Indian state of Haryana.

Preliminary evidence suggests a sophisticated incendiary, and not explosive, device was placed inside as many as five suitcases - of which just two exploded. The remaining three, which failed to detonate, were recovered by investigators, giving the first significant leads in the case.

Any definitive identification of the perpetrators at the present stage of investigations is impossible, though on the morning of 20 February the police in Delhi released sketches of two suspects believed to have left the train shortly before the bombs exploded.

In political terms, the "needle of suspicion" swings once again towards the pack of Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist organisations that have engineered a long succession of attacks across the length and breadth of India, and which are an integral part of Pakistan's "Kashmir strategy".

As news of the latest terrorist excess broke, it was accompanied by the usual, equally mindless, questions in the media: what were the motives of the terrorists? Why now? Why this target? Was there a "security failure" or "intelligence failure"? Was the attack intended to shut down the Indo-Pak peace process - with Pakistan's minister of foreign affairs scheduled to visit New Delhi on 20 February? It seems almost as if this new atrocity appeared out of the void, the long and murderous history of Islamist terrorist violence in India altogether forgotten.

When the most recent Mumbai blasts occurred (July 2006), the pundits informed the world that the terrorists were targeting India's economic sinews; when the Indian Institute of Science was attacked in Bangalore (December 2005), India's technological and scientific capacities were thought to be the "new target"; when the temple at Varanasi (March 2006), and a mosque in Malegaon (September 2006), were hit, an abrupt "conspiracy" was seen to have been hatched to destroy India's "communal harmony". On each occasion, however, the terrorists have simply moved on to new targets of opportunity, their defining criteria of identification being their own operational capacities and networks, the damage they can inflict, and the sensation they can create.

Ajai Sahni is executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, and editor of the South Asia Intelligence Review

Also by Ajai Sahni in openDemocracy:

"Massacre in Mumbai: the Pakistan connection" (12 July 2006)

The pieces and the jigsaw

In his open address before a huge gathering at the al-Quds mosque at Lahore on 5 February 2007, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Amir (chief) of the Lashkar-e-Taiba - now renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa, after the predecessor organisation was "banned" by General Pervez Musharraf's regime - declared, no doubt with an element of hyperbole, that the "jihad in Kashmir will end when all the Hindus will be destroyed in India"; adding further, "jihad has been ordained by Allah. It is not an order of a general that can be started one day and stopped the other day."

Saeed and dozens of other terrorist leaders deliver such public sermons on a daily basis across Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir; these are published in newspapers, magazines and websites run by their organisations, which also run recruitment drives and training for the jihad on Pakistani soil under (at best) the benign indifference or with (at probable worst) the active support of, the Pakistani state.

Immediately after the Mumbai train-bombs that killed nearly 200 persons, India's prime minister Manmohan Singh proclaimed: "We are also certain that... terrorist modules are instigated, inspired and supported by elements across the border"; he went on to say that Pakistan needed to curb terrorism if the peace process between the two countries was to make progress.

Almost five months later, the Indian ministry of home affairs Status Paper on Internal Security Situation, presented to parliament on 30 November 2006 found that the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir "is yet to be dismantled" and "is being used by Pak based and Pak ISI [Inter Services Intelligence] sponsored outfits like JeM [Jaish-e-Mohammed], LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], Al Badr, HM [Hizb-ul-Mujahideen], etc."

In 2006, Pakistan-backed and Pakistan-based Islamist terrorism killed 1,116 persons in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K); another seventy-four have already died in 2007 (to 18 February). Islamist terrorist violence killed 270 persons in other (non-J&K) areas of India in 2006. Since 2004, at least eighty-two terrorist and intelligence modules backed by the ISI have been identified and disrupted in India (outside J&K and the northeast), resulting in hundreds of arrests and the seizure of vast quantities of arms, ammunition and explosives.

Notwithstanding this track record, the Indian establishment has clearly decided that it will continue the "peace process" with Pakistan.

And so it will be. General Musharraf's twin strategy of talks and terror will continue; India will persist in the Sisyphean task of trying to contain terrorism at its point of delivery. Until, eventually, someone finds the will and the means to demolish the fountainhead of terror in Pakistan.

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