The murderous attacks in Akshardham Temple in Gujarat, the offices of a Christian NGO in Karachi, and during an Anantnag election campaign in Kashmir that rocked South Asia last week, left both men reeling at home and facing similar dilemmas: give in to extremists and further destabilize the region, or hold the line domestically and face political fallout. "They are each other's best friends, these Hindu fundamentalists and the Islamic fundamentalists," said New Delhi peace activist Sheba Chhachhi. "And now these attacks will help them both."
The incendiary focal point for most of these fanatics, once again, is Kashmir. As the second phase of elections in the state of Jammu and Kashmir got underway last week—touted as a step towards fair and representative self-rule in the long-troubled region—the Indian Prime Minister asserted that the process proved his commitment to Kashmiri sovereignty and, despite claims to the contrary from local residents, support for Indian stewardship. Meanwhile, Musharraf, forced by the U.S. to retreat from supporting an insurgency movement in Kashmir, discovered that the anger of Pakistan's domestic jihadis is a destructive force that won't be contained, only fatally redirected into murderous attacks on his home soil and possibly, suicide strikes in the Indian heartland. "The temple attack was a typical act of the fidayeen (suicide squad) terrorists," said a senior intelligence official in India, fingering Pakistan. "It has been a trend for banned groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammad to take credit through an unknown front organization."
That didn't stop hard-liners from howling for swift justice or Muslim families in Gandhinagar fleeing their homes, anticipating the worst as conservative Hindu leaders called for a mass strike. Vajpayee, however, has been ruing the events of the spring in speeches around the world. Statements from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders blamed Pakistan—not Muslims—to dilute religious overtones. To ensure the peace, this time the state deployed 3,000 soldiers to the area. The measured tones frustrated some coalition members—"Our Prime Minister only cares about international opinion," griped Kamleshji Maharaj of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Hindu chauvinist group blamed for instigating the earlier revenge killings. But they could also indicate an awareness of the consequences of failing to address the treatment of Muslims in India. Another political consideration: the cynical view that anti-Muslim rhetoric may be more useful in a few months as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi seeks re-election.
The same day one siege ended, however, another began in Pakistan. Two gunmen entered the Karachi offices of a Christian NGO, tied up the workers, and summarily executed seven of them before escaping. Since Musharraf sided with the West in the war on terror, militants who were once sent to fight in Kashmir have refocused their efforts at home. According to local authorities, at least one fatwa has been issued against Musharraf and pro-American interests in the country—TIME has learned the bombing at the U.S. consulate in Karachi in June was an answer to that call to arms. "What Musharraf is doing is on the instructions of the Americans," says Masoodur-Rehman Usmani, a central leader of another banned extremist group, Sipah-e-Saiba. "We have our own ideology of the true Islamic state. We will continue our mission come what may, whatever pressure tactics are used."
The attacks left both countries searching for a response. India has, in a sense, given the militants cover to claim their motive as redress for earlier mistreatment, without mentioning Kashmir. New Delhi insisted this was a terrorist canard—the latest investigations suggest the temple assailants, both Pakistani, had probably arrived by train from Jammu and Kashmir that same afternoon—but it still clouds the picture of the country's enemies and leaves the door open to additional attacks, and potential retaliation. Furthermore, it puts Vajpayee in an increasingly tight spot between the international community and the hard-core elements of his own party, which includes his newly promoted deputy, L.K. Advani.
Pakistan, of course, denied any involvement in the temple attack, but leaders in Islamabad may have welcomed the distraction from problematic upcoming parliamentary elections. The week's events reinforced the notion that India and Pakistan now have common enemies, among them the Pakistani-trained militants who are as offended by India's attempts to impose itself in Kashmir as they are by Islamabad's entreaties to the Western world. And yet both countries continue to blame each other at every possible opportunity, knee-jerk responses that would be tediously predictable if the potential implications weren't so terrifying. The worry is that instead of cracking down on domestic extremists who threaten true progress, what Aqil Shah, an Islamabad political analyst and author, calls a "relentless exchange of accusations" will occasion a return to "the heightened tension of a few months ago." And yet that's where these two leaders who now have so much in common seem to be headed.