by Michael Hawley | Terror in India raises complicated international issues.
The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai elicited horror and empathy, both around the world and here at Tufts. Candlelight vigils, rallies, prayers and letters of condolence all demonstrate solidarity with the residents of India’s financial capital. But, beyond their emotional impact, the attacks have opened a veritable Pandora’s Box of new problems and old grievances. India appears to be waking up from its state of deep denial about the menace of terrorism. The carnage’s ill-concealed Pakistani origin has also rekindled the glowing embers of one of the world’s most volatile rivalries. Moreover, this incident has proven a reminder to the United States that it may soon have to choose between a deteriorating Pakistan and a resurgent India.
Though the well-organized attack came as a terrifying shock to Mumbai residents, perhaps even more troubling to Indians may be the disastrous conduct of their government before and during the crisis. The Indian government reportedly intercepted a phone call on November 18, indicating that an attack on Mumbai was imminent. A month before the attack, US intelligence informed the Indian government that a sea-born attack from Pakistan would strike Mumbai landmarks, including the Taj Mahal Hotel. But despite such detailed information, no warnings were passed on to local authorities or counter-terrorism teams, and as a result, the attacks caught Mumbai completely off guard. That such a tragedy could still take place, despite such thorough forewarning, is quite disconcerting.
Beyond the specific actions of the government in this instance, the general security policies of India also proved themselves woefully inadequate during the crisis. Although since 2004, roughly 7,000 have been killed in terrorist attacks (mostly by Islamists), the Indian government hardly changed its standard operating procedure. India’s anti-terrorism forces are almost laughably pathetic. Mumbai’s anti-terrorist squad has a total of 35 members, only 15 of whom are on duty at any given time—this to defend a population of over 13.5 million. Due to India’s severe restrictions on firearms, not only were the residents and the security guards at the besieged hotels completely unarmed, but even the majority of Mumbai’s regular police are equipped only with nightsticks. There are even some reports that as news of the attacks began to spread, some police officers cowered in their stations, rather than take on heavily armed terrorists with wooden sticks. As a result of all this, it took hours for security forces even to secure a perimeter around the hotels, and commando forces did not arrive at the Chabad House until 40 hours after the terrorists entered. Therefore, the terrorists had virtually complete freedom of movement for most of the crisis, unhindered by police cordons and roadblocks.
The total inability of the Indian government to deal with a mere tens terrorist has reverberated through to the highest levels. Those ministers most responsible for national and domestic security have already resigned, and the Indian people, fed up with government inaction, may sweep the ruling party out of office. Perhaps then, India may begin to take the necessary steps to ensure its own domestic security. Externally, India is faced with a new challenge. Since it almost went to war with Pakistan in 2002, India has been working to reduce tensions with its neighbor to the north. This attack, however, clearly traceable to Lashkar e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group, will test whether or not the two nations have made any real progress. Lashkar, a group focused on reclaiming the contested region of Kashmir, has been responsible for many attacks on India in the past, and has shadowy connections to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. Moreover, the weapons used in the Mumbai attacks have been traced back to a factory in Pakistan under contract to the Pakistani government. That Pakistan’s initial reluctance to hand over suspects until India provided “concrete proof” of their involvement does not bode well. While the Pakistani government seems unable to control its western border, whose tribal regions are believed to hide Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, it also seems unwilling to crack down on militants operating out of its eastern border to attack India. Unless the Pakistani government undergoes a change of heart soon, its relationship with India will quickly deteriorate.
Finally, this attack puts yet more pressure on the US to clarify its policy with respect to the Subcontinent. Though Pakistan was a much-touted ally in the early stages of the War on Terror, it has increasingly proved unreliable in its loyalty and unsavory in its practices. The allegiance of many officers in its intelligence services are in question, and it has not been particularly helpful to the US efforts to root out the Taliban and Al Qaeda from the tribal regions. India, on the other hand, is a more stable democracy, whose economic relationship with the US and potential as a geopolitical counterweigh to a rising China makes it an inviting ally. Both before and after the attacks, the US has been quite generous in sharing intelligence with India. The US State Department already considers India a “top-priority ally,” an indication perhaps of the direction our foreign policy may be moving.
Whatever this final outcome of the attacks in Mumbai, it seems clear that significant changes in the dynamics of the region will occur. India seems to be emerging as a vital US ally while Pakistan begins to fade as an acceptable friend. But, with two nuclear powers eyeing each other angrily, the situation can change in a moment, and the future remains uncertain.
Mr. Hawley is a sophomore who has not yet declared a major.