Mumbai attacks pose test for India
A top minister resigned Sunday as officials vowed to improve antiterror forces.
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Evidence suggests that the militants who swept through India's financial capital Wednesday, then fought off Indian commandos in two of Mumbai's poshest hotels until Saturday morning, received training from Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, an anti-India militant group in Pakistan.
If Indian-Pakistani tensions escalate, it could unravel improving ties between the nuclear-armed nations and imperil Pakistan's progress in fighting militants on its Afghan border – a US priority.
Yet the Mumbai attack has also focused Indians on the failures of its own government. It was the sixth major terrorist attack since May. For a nation eager to be seen as one of the world's next superpowers, it marks a test of leadership – at home and in the region.
With national elections coming next spring, Indian politicians must resist the temptation to politicize the issue, says Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism analyst at the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore.
"India's leaders must understand that this is a national challenge and it must not be driven by electoral or political compulsions," he says.
India sits at a nexus of terrorist attacks – amid a ring of violent states and home to a Muslim minority that feels increasingly alienated from the country's economic ascent. Between 2004 and 2007, only Iraq saw more terrorism-related deaths than India, according to the US National Counterterrorism Center in Washington.
Indeed, the threats to India are so varied and mutating that it was not clear who was responsible for the attacks even two days after they began. The largest bombings of recent months have been carried out predominantly by Indian Muslims who called themselves the Indian Mujahideen.
But evidence has led Indian officials and terrorism analysts to point the finger for this attack – which killed at least 174 and wounded 239 – at Lashkar-i-Tayyaba.
The use of heavily armed fighters – as opposed to suicide bombers – is a hallmark of Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, which seeks to liberate the disputed state of Kashmir from India. The one surviving militant in Indian custody also said the attackers were trained in Lashkar-i-Tayyaba camps in Pakistan, according to reports.
This has rekindled an oft-repeated cycle of allegations and threats between India and Pakistan. In 2001, India's allegations that Lashkar-i-Tayyaba was behind an attack in the Indian Parliament brought the two nations to the brink of war. Already, Pakistan has said it is willing to send 100,000 troops to the Indian border if India takes an antagonistic line.
New 'maturity' in India-Pakistan ties
"There is now a level of maturity in the Indian and Pakistani governments to handle this," he says, suggesting that a repeat of the 2001 military buildup along the border is unlikely.