The Wrong Lessons
The terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November that killed 173 people and injured 308 others thrust India on to the global terror map, but we are at risk of drawing the wrong lessons.
Media coverage, both in India and the United States, has wallowed interminably on the city’s landmarks, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Leopold Café, popular haunts of the rich and famous, which were among 10 locations attacked. There has been little commentary on the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the train station, where the most casualties occurred. The dominant focus on elites and elite symbols of power distorts the nature of the attack, the ongoing terrorist threat to the country and the necessary response.
The Indian government spends twice as much to safeguard politicians ($734 million) than it does on the National Security Guard ($316 million) to protect the rest of the country from terrorists. The distorted media coverage is likely to skew even further the security priorities. For the past several years, India has been among the worst victims of terrorist violence, but it required the killings of a handful of foreigners for the world to take notice. In fact, Mumbai itself has experienced several terrorist attacks in recent years, including seven coordinated train bombings in 2006 that killed 209 people, more than died in the latest attacks.
The drumbeat of comparisons between the Mumbai attacks and 9/11 glosses over the gravity of the continuing terror threat in the country, which just this year also included bombings that killed 77 people in Assam, 63 in Jaipur, 29 in Ahmedabad and 21 in New Delhi, to name just a few.
There is no question that Pakistan coddles and even sponsors terrorists on its soil and the Pakistani link to the Mumbai attackers is now well established. It is also evident that Pakistan is unable, or unwilling, to shut down terrorist camps in its borders, pressuring India to take military action.
But that is easier said than done. Any strike to take out terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan could escalate into a wider war between two nuclear states. At the same time, fears of a broader war and the potential exacerbation of tensions with the Muslim population in India cannot preclude military retribution, as that only emboldens terrorists and Pakistan to strike with impunity. However, any action should be weighed strategically and not be knee-jerk and impulsive. What is required is coordinated international action, perhaps by NATO or the United States, to militarily take out these camps and terrorists inside Pakistan to minimize chances of a regional conflict.
Meanwhile, can we please put a halt to the sappy musings about swinging a beer at Café Leopold or picking at samosas at Taj’s Sea Lounge and focus instead on the lives and limbs of men, women and children that continue to be blown apart with growing frequency in bazaars and train stations throughout India.