In the bloodstained aftermath of the horror in Mumbai, India picks itself up and counts the cost in lives lost, in property destroyed and, most of all, in the scarred psyche of a ravaged nation. But there are other consequences, yet to be measured, that the world will soon be coming to terms with--ones whose impact could extend well beyond India's borders, with implications for the peace and security of the region and the world.
As evidence slowly mounts that the terrorists--at least most of them--came across the Arabian Sea from Pakistan to wreak mayhem on Mumbai, the geopolitical reverberations of the carnage are beginning to resonate. Pakistan was hacked off the stooped shoulders of India by the departing British in 1947 to be a homeland for the subcontinent's Muslims, and its relations with India have since been bedeviled by a festering dispute over the divided territory of Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state. Almost as many Muslims have remained in India as live in Pakistan, but Pakistan has had the worst of four wars between the neighbors. (See pictures of Mumbai sifting through the rubble.)
For two decades, a succession of Pakistani military leaders have made it a point to support, finance, equip and train Islamist militants to conduct terrorist operations in India. The logic is clear: it is more cost-effective to bleed India from within than to challenge it through more conventional military means. Kashmiri militancy against Indian rule has been fomented and supported by Pakistan, though India's own domestic problems--including the occasional eruption of Hindu-Muslim clashes, notably a 2002 pogrom against Muslims in the state of Gujarat--offered a crucial opportunity to recruit disaffected Indian Muslims to the cause of violence. The increasing frequency of terrorist attacks on Indian targets in recent years has, however, repeatedly been traced to Pakistan. One assault--on India's parliament in December 2001 by the Pakistan-based militant organization Jaish-e-Muhammad--nearly triggered a full-scale war. This year U.S. intelligence sources publicly revealed that July's suicide bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul was conducted at the behest of Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The newly elected civilian government in Islamabad, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, had shown every sign of wanting to move away from this narrative of hatred and hostility. But Pakistan is a deeply divided nation. As the Kabul bombing showed, the disconnect between the statements of the government and the actions of the ISI suggested that the government was too weak to control its own security apparatus. In India, the state has an army; in Pakistan, the army has a state. An attempt this summer to place the ISI under the Interior Ministry had to be rescinded when the army refused to accept the order. And when, in the wake of the Mumbai bombings, Zardari acceded to the request of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to send the head of the ISI to India to assist Indian authorities in their investigation, the Pakistani military again forced the civilian government into a humiliating climb down. (See pictures of Pakistan's vulnerable Northwest passage.)
The ISI is not exactly keen on cooperating with an investigation into the massacre. The Mumbai attacks bore many trademarks of the extremist groups based in Pakistan, notably the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which in the past has benefited from the patronage of the ISI. Whether the Pakistani military is orchestrating the violence or merely shielding its perpetrators, tensions with India are rising dangerously.
Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower, realizes that India's enemies in Pakistan are also his own: the very forces of Islamist extremism responsible for his wife's assassination were behind the September bombing of Islamabad's Marriott Hotel. The militancy once sponsored by the Pakistani military as a foreign policy tool now threatens to abort Pakistan's sputtering democracy. There has never been a stronger case for firm and united action by the governments of both India and Pakistan to cauterize the cancer in their midst.