India faces terrorists calmly

Two gunmen who attacked a Hindu temple in Gujarat were shot down Wednesday morning.

In May, when Islamic terrorists attacked a bus full of civilians near an Indian army base in Kashmir state, Indian leaders pledged to retaliate, and told the Army to be prepared to sacrifice their lives in an all-out attack.

But when two Islamic gunmen shot their way into a Hindu temple in Gujarat state late Tuesday afternoon, killing 32 worshipers before being killed by Indian commandos, the same Indian leadership was much more restrained.

While most officials blame Pakistan, none have called for military reaction, let alone war. Indian President Abdul Kalam, for example, appealed to different religious groups to remain peaceful. "We should unitedly defeat all the evil designs against our country," he said. "Our police and security forces are fully capable of defeating all forms of terrorist attempts against our country."

After months of beating the drums of war over what it sees as Pakistani-funded terrorist attacks, India has suddenly changed its tactics. Growing closeness with the West and increased isolation of its enemies – particularly Pakistani-based Islamic militant groups – have left India more confident in its fight against domestic and cross-border terrorism, analysts say.

The timing and location of the attack, which ended around dawn Wednesday, are wrapped up in the often bloody politics of Hindu-Muslim tensions in South Asia. The attack coincided with the second round of elections in turbulent Jammu and Kashmir state, which both India and Pakistan claim. Gujarat, a western state bordering Pakistan, is a hotbed of riots between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. With much less security than Kashmir, it was a relatively soft target.

The question now, observers say, is whether Indian officials can control religious tensions within Gujarat. "I don't think the government at the central or state level will let the situation get out of hand," says Bharat Karnad, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, an independent think tank in New Delhi. "They are reacting much more maturely, and it doesn't serve the purposes to heighten tensions any further."

Some Indian leaders have come to this maturity fairly recently. A few weeks ago, Gujarat's top state official, the fiery pro-Hindu chief minister Narendra Modi told voters, "[Pakistan's president, Pervez] Musharraf, doesn't know what Hindu terrorism is. When that happens, all of Pakistan will be wiped out." Some took that as an unsubtle reference to India's possession of nuclear weapons.

Tuesday's attack, which drew swift condemnation from the US and Britain, followed months of violence in Gujarat, and increasing reports from Indian intelligence agencies that Kashmiri militants were moving to the state to take advantage of growing religious strife there.

"We have been saying for months that terrorists are moving to Gujarat, because Pakistan would want to create problems there," says Ajay Sawhney, director of the Institute for Crisis Management, a think tank in Delhi.

Officials say that at around 5:00 Tuesday two clean-shaven men jumped out of a car at the gate of the Akshardham Temple and immediately began firing AK-47s into a crowd of nearly 100 worshippers in the main conference hall. The men then worked their way into the 20-acre temple complex, lobbing 20 to 25 hand-grenades.

Within a half hour, Indian police and paramilitary forces had surrounded the temple complex, and a team of antiterrorist commandoes, the National Security Guards, arrived from Delhi and organized their assault.

An unknown Islamic group, Tehrik-e Kasas, claimed responsibility for the attack with a two-page letter in Urdu, the language of Pakistan, placed on the bodies of the two militants. The letter blamed India's central government, and particularly the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, for previous riots in Gujarat. Most of the 1,000 victims of those riots were Muslims.

"The attack was at the order of the ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency], and it looks like an instance of cross-border terrorism," said Brigadier Raj Sitapathy, head of Indian security forces in Gandhinagar. "They had pamphlets in Urdu, and their weapons and hand grenades were of foreign design."

Analysts say that established Islamic terrorist groups in Pakistan shifting tactics after Pakistan officially embraced the US war on terrorism. Militant groups like Lashkar-e Tayyaba, Hizbul Mujahideen, and Harkatul Mujahideen may have gone underground, but they continue operations under new names.

Dr. Sawhney says Indian military intelligence intercepted radio signals in May from Pakistani-based leaders to a cell of Lashkar-e Tayyaba in Kashmir. The intercepts, he says, directed Lashkar militants to send a team to Gujarat and begin operations there. This, plus the complexity of the attack, suggests Tuesday's shooting was not mere a reaction to the Kashmir elections, but something planned for weeks if not months. "Even the ISI cannot generate this in just a week," he says.

Christian group attacked in Pakistan

KARACHI, PAKISTAN – Gunmen entered the offices of a Christian welfare organization in this southern port city on Wednesday, tied workers to their chairs, and shot each in the head, police officials said. At least seven people were killed – all Pakistani Christians – and another was critically injured. It was not clear who was behind the attack.

The shooting was the latest in a string of violent attacks against Christians and Westerners, who have been increasingly targeted since Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's decision to crack down on Islamic extremist groups and join the US war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon condemned the attack, saying those who carried it out were "enemies of Pakistan."

The killings occurred at the Institute for Peace and Justice, or Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf, a Pakistani Christian charity which has been in operation for 30 years, working with poor municipal and textile workers to press for basic worker rights, and organizing programs with local human rights groups.

- AP

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