India has long held that its neighbor and arch rival is unable – or unwilling – to quash terrorism within its borders. That Mr. bin Laden had lived, before being shot dead by US commandos May 2, in an Army town only an hour’s drive from the capital, Islamabad, was the clearest vindication of that view yet.
"We take note with grave concern that part of the statement in which President Obama said that the fire fight in which Osama bin Laden was killed took place in Abbottabad 'deep inside Pakistan,' " India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in a statement. "This fact underlines our concern that terrorists belonging to different organizations find sanctuary in Pakistan."
Newspaper headline writers were less circumspect. “US kills bin Laden in – you knew it – Pakistan,” proclaimed the daily Asian Age. "Pak unmasked" was the breaking news line on a major Indian news channel; another pondered whether bin Laden had, in fact, died in a safe house belonging to Pakistan’s ISI spy agency.
And hawks weighed in. The head of India's Army, Gen. VK Singh, told journalists Wednesday that India had the capability to carry out a similar strike on Pakistan – prompting warnings from Pakistan that India should not do that.
Ordinary Indians, meanwhile, who tend to take little interest in news beyond their borders, were gripped by the events. News of bin Laden’s death attracted 42 million television viewers, according to Audience Measurement and Analytics, a rating agency.
“We feel very bad about Pakistan now," says Jabamalai Mary, a domestic servant in New Delhi. “We know that America has given them a lot money."
From the political establishment to ordinary people, this week’s events have only deepened the distrust felt by Indians towards Pakistan. The two nations have fought three wars since 1947 and the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir remains a sore point between them. A fragile peace process launched by the government of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was halted following the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, when 166 people were killed in a three-day rampage by gunmen trained by Pakistani militants.
India believes the terrorists acted in collusion with some elements of the ISI, though Islamabad denies involvement.
The Mumbai attacks "meant that suspicion of Pakistan was sunk really deep into the Indian psyche; it's not limited to the political establishment," says Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst in New Delhi.
Since then, New Delhi has repeatedly demanded that Islamabad hand over those accused in recent investigations and called for Pakistan to stop providing a safe haven for terrorists – although it has dropped that as a precondition for further peace talks.
Analysts say that bin Laden's killing is unlikely to make substantive difference to the fate of the peace process, which Prime Minister Singh hopes to make the cornerstone of his prime ministership.
In recent months, the nuclear-armed rivals have taken small steps toward getting that process back on track. In April, Singh chatted to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani during a cricket match played between their countries’ teams in the north Indian town of Mohali and there has been talk of talks later this summer.
In a brief statement released after bin Laden’s death was announced, Singh betrayed none of the schadenfreude evident elsewhere in India. "This is a decisive blow to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups," he said. “The international community and Pakistan, in particular, must work comprehensively to end the activities of all such groups who threaten civilized behavior and kill innocent men, women, and children."
Indian officials are likely to use this week’s big news to push the United States to step up pressure on Pakistan to fight terrorism.
They will be prompted especially by concerns that President Obama could use bin Laden’s death to hasten the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which could, in turn, give greater rein to extremist groups in the region.