Three sessions of talks were held between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan on 23-24 June; and exactly three major explosions rocked Mumbai, the financial capital of India, barely three weeks later, on 13 July.
Under the resumed dialogue process, the Foreign Secretaries Salman Bashir of Pakistan and Nirupama Rao of India met in Islamabad for bilateral talks on ‘peace’ and ‘security’, encompassing the cliché Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
And it was Dadar, Opera House and Zaveri Bazaar, all crowded areas,where Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) splintered to take into their obnoxious fold; according to conservative official reports (till 23:00 hrs on 13 July), 13 dead and around 80 injured.
Non-official media reports retorted with higher numbers of 20 - 21 dead and over hundred forced to lie in hospitals and nursing homes. This incident mirrors, to a lesser extent, the fifth anniversary of the dreaded July serial train blasts in the city.
Three general questions loom large at this critical juncture. One, do these blasts indicate the resurgence of non-state actor-led cross-border terrorism in India? Two, to what extent have the Indian security apparatus failed (or succeeded) in combating urban-centric terrorism? And third, would this act of terror impede the verbal transactions which have been initiated at the diplomatic levels between India and Pakistan?
As Nirupama Rao boldly asserted in Karan Thapar’s TV show 'Devil’s Advocate' that “nothing is set in stone”; at least as far as India-Pakistan rapprochement is concerned, the bilateral atmosphere seems to be devoid of adventurous ‘atmospherics’, at least in the foreseeable future. On one hand, Ms Rao confirms that “there has been a very glacial pace to the whole process as far as the 26/11 trials are concerned.”
On the other hand, she informed the Indian media and public at large of a couple of positive bytes about the Pakistani government. She said: “But let me tell you what kind of feedback we got from the Pakistanis at this round. And they spoke of the need to discuss all the serious and substantive issues between the two countries and that terrorism was at the forefront of this.”
Rao confessed to Thapar that there was hardly any visible progress in Pakistan regarding the 26/11 trials. But, the lack of progress, according to Rao, should not mean that dialogue was not an option with Pakistan. This is surely an ominous signal for the hardcore militant groups, both indigenous and transnational alike. However, everything depends on the diplomatic will of the policymakers based in both the nations and the evolving equations of the theocratic-military complex of Pakistan with its civilian counterpart.
However, one thing seems to be not uncertain; that is, the resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue process shall not be stalled. The expected meeting between the respective foreign ministers in New Delhi at the end of this month may be well on its course. In this regard, it is noteworthy to quote Ms Rao again: “I think the decision to reengage with Pakistan and to talk about the issues that divide us, that create a gulf between us, to reduce the trust deficit, as the two Prime Ministers said, I think is a very realistic approach to dealing with problems with Pakistan.”
The manner in which Mr Zardari has come to reprimand the blasts in Mumbai will ease matters between the two nations. After all, Islamabad itself is wary of terror and hence a bilateral joint framework to tackle the scourge is the sanest approach to bring peace in South Asia. Furthermore, the Indian ministry of Home Affairs is yet to establish any linkage between the blast and terror groups based across the Indus.
With the third question resolved, the answers to the first two are relatively straightforward. First, the July 13 Mumbai blasts are more of a desperate attempt on the part of the ultras to reassert their ‘lost’ grip over the terror network in India. After 26/11, India has witnessed about 31 months of peace, to be precise. A brief interregnum was a solo piece of violence at Pune in February, last year. Thus it will be far-fetched to assume that the July 13 incident implies a re-invigorated terror regime in India.
And such a hypothesis was echoed by India’s urbane Home Minister, Mr Chidambaram, when after the blasts, he stressed on the efficiency of ‘his’ police force as reflected in their capability of keeping India sufficiently terror free for a considerable amount of time.
With the Maoist insurgency spreading its tentacles deep in the countryside and with stones being pelted in Kashmir at the security machinery, it seems that the Indian security forces have done reasonably well to contain cross-border bred terror. Well, it could well be the case that involvement of global jihadi networks in Afghanistan and Iraq may well have depleted their intensity levels in India and that has incidentally raised the success levels of Indian forces.
Nevertheless, it would not be preposterous - in times to come - to assume further terror attacks in India, mainly in its major cities. It will be a gargantuan job for the security apparatus to make India absolutely terror-free. In fact, that might not be a realistic proposition. People’s anger at the government’s [in]action will continue, for natural reasons.
Indian citizens will envisage strong retaliatory measures at the terror outfits, may be, Geronimo-like operations inside the Pakistani heartland. However, that seems to be highly unlikely at the present moment. Dialogues, and not stones and IEDs will resolve the outstanding issues and with time shall instill more confidence in the masses.
Celebrated Indian strategist Brahma Chellaney writes in The Daily Beast (14 July): “Undercutting India’s strength by repeatedly targeting its economic capital is a geopolitical objective that only a ‘state sponsor of terrorism' can seek to pursue, not street gangs, underworld figures, or local fundamentalists.”
His analysis may not be wholly incorrect – which obviously depends on the facts after they are unraveled - but such ‘analytical’ statements can definitely inflame matters.
Rather, it is pertinent to quote analyst (Brig.) Gurmeet Kanwal in the Deccan Herald: “It is in India’s interest to engage Pakistan and provide its government all possible support that is practically feasible to help it fight the scourge of creeping Talibanisation”.