The tragic death toll — at least 200 (and 700 injured) — from a coordinated series of train bombings in Bombay, also known as Mumbai, keeps rising, and the implications keep getting more complicated. The most significant lesson — hardly new — is that terrorist networks are fairly inexpensive to set up and maintain and that terrorism is guaranteed to garner worldwide attention, which is one of the objectives terrorists seek.
The reaction of most ordinary Indians to the blasts was heartening. Although it is likely the bombings were done by an Islamist extremist group, in the aftermath most Mumbaians forgot for a moment that they were Hindu or Muslim and viewed themselves as people who were in this together. According to Reuters, “Muslims queued for hours to give blood to … Hindu neighbors, and … helped injured Hindus to hospitals and gave relatives cups of tea. ‘We’re used to crises here,’ said Makarand Bhopatkar, a 35-year-old corporate trainer. ‘The city survives.’”
The city will survive (the Indian stock market actually rose), but damage has been done. Mumbai has become the center of financial services in India, the symbol of a growing market economy that has been transforming the country. For terrorist groups, which until recently have mostly operated in smaller cities, to strike at the heart of what can be seen as India’s integration into the global economy suggests an understanding of forces that could eventually neutralize parochial and ideological violence-prone groups.
All reports so far are preliminary, but the early betting is that the bombings were carried out by one of insurgent/terrorist groups operating in Kashmir. Perhaps the most beautiful area of the subcontinent, Kashmir was divided between mostly Muslim Pakistan and mostly Hindu India in 1947. Bitterness has fed insurgency ever since. Some groups seek independence for Kashmir from both India and Pakistan and some seek to have the majority-Muslim Indian Kashmiri provinces annexed to Pakistan.
Complicating the picture is the rise of al-Qaida and the international Islamist terrorist “network.” Muslim separatists in Kashmir have been active since before al-Qaida was formed, but al-Qaida has established contact and offered assistance. As a stateless terrorist group, al-Qaida is more difficult to track down, and it can operate by example and inspiration rather than through direct orders within a traditional hierarchy. Thus terrorism that might have its roots in 50-year-old grievances can take on new life.
It’s also a concern that both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. While they have been making conciliatory noises lately, the potential for conflict could be stirred up by terrorist or guerrilla activities.
“It’s high time to let the past be and decide that the Line of Control, imperfect as it might be, is the border,” Muazzam Gill, a foreign-affairs analyst for UPI, said. “Kashmir has been festering for decades, even as India is moving toward a more hopeful economic future. Pakistan and India need to meet directly and resolve the issue.”
The United States, which has cultivated both Pakistan and India for different reasons, might provide a neutral zone in which such discussions could take place. But the two countries involved need to decide to settle their differences and then cooperate against terrorists. The United States can’t force an agreement and should not try to do so.