Pune, India: A mix of Hindus, Muslims, and foreigners a target for a terrorist attack
Pune, India – with its cosmopolitan mix of Hindus, Muslims, entrepreneurs, and upscale hotels – is seen as a ripe target for another terrorist attack.
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Some in Pune's Muslim community express appreciation that the police have refused to rush through an investigation. They credit the quiet and cautious approach with preventing a knee-jerk antagonism against their community.Skip to next paragraph
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"If you pressure [investigators], they may come out with any false story because they have to save their skin," says P.A. Inamdar, president of Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society in Pune. He says the police sent warnings to schools about possible threats. "The Pune police have done a good job [and] all precautionary steps were taken 10 times."
Deshmukh says it's the well-educated population that deserves the credit, not slow investigators. "Pune is largely an educated city, so people know the difference" between Muslims and extremists.
If Pune loses its image for safety, it jeopardizes its ability to attract the world's top talent, especially students. The majority of the half million students in this "Oxford of the East" come from other states in India, and 14,000 from abroad. Automobile, information technology, and energy companies have come to this city, just a couple hours from Mumbai, to tap this pool of educated young people.
The German Bakery stood at the social center of Pune, located in the toniest neighborhood and flanked by the world-famous Osho meditation center, an upscale hotel and sushi bar, and a Jewish religious center. For decades, the bohemian cafe spilled onto the street, serving up masala omelets, veggie burgers, and organic treats.
"This was a melting-pot target. You had young Indians, expats, ashram people, and then tourists who came through," says DiPaolo, who knew one of the four foreigners who died.
For a few weeks after the attack, DiPaolo didn't sleep well. But he and his wife, Deirdre, say they won't be intimidated. None of the expats interviewed was aware of anyone from their ranks who headed home because of the attack.
Anti-Western sentiment grows
"Since this has happened, I've been asked for ID about daily," says DiPaolo. "Ironically, the anti-Western sentiment has grown. I think a lot of the Indians feel like we are a big part of the problem."
Authorities have begun to crack down on tourist visas since discovering that only a small fraction of the 7,000 nonstudent expats have work visas.
Last October, Indian officials learned that Mr. Headley – a Pakistani-American the US accuses of helping plot the Mumbai attacks – had spent time in Pune. Deshmukh notes that since 2003, half a dozen police actions have targeted Islamic militants from this city so close to Mumbai.
An initial flurry of security upgrades followed the Headley discovery, but then things mellowed. Now expats see an element of "security theater" in the large numbers of police – some behind sandbags – guarding the burned-out bakery site. Others mention divided viewpoints on new measures such as the end to curbside pickups of children at the international school.
One visitor at the Osho retreat, Stéphane Flamand, says the attack shook him, but only at first.
"It was quite scary. Now I decided to go into my fear, and now it's gone away," says Mr. Flamand, a Canadian who had lunch at the bakery the day of the attack. "The terrorists will go more on you if they feel your fear."•
A terror attack in Pune, India, and the cautious response to it, point up a dilemma: India must not threaten its minority Muslim population (or its nuclear-tipped neighbor, Pakistan), but it must make sure that economically important university students and foreigners feel safe.