May 30, 2024


Last week’s attacks in Mumbai exposed numerous fault lines in India and between it and its neighbor, Pakistan. How the Indian government, and the international community, respond to the attack and its aftermath will determine whether the fault lines heal or are widened.

For three days, it appears 10 gunmen shot and killed dozens of people and set fire to a luxury hotel in India’s financial capital. An immediate question was how only 10 men could unleash such carnage. The answer lies, partially, in the fact that, despite warnings about the potential of terrorist attacks, Indian security forces are poorly equipped and communications between agencies lacking. City police, for example, often don’t have guns. Sharpshooters, dispatched to take out the gunmen, didn’t have high-powered telescopes to sight their targets. Some sat for days outside the Tah Mahal Palace & Tower, a luxury hotel, without firing a shot for fear of hitting a civilian rather than the gunmen.

Such shortcomings, which prompted the resignation Sunday of India’s Home Minister Shivraj Patil, will be easier to solve than the rift that threatens to worsen between India and Pakistan and the ideological divide that is likely behind the attacks that killed at least 170 people.

The one gunman who survived the attack and was arrested reportedly told police that he is a member of a Pakistani terrorist group. This is likely to fuel Indian anger and suspicion. It also provides an additional threat to the new Pakistani leadership, which took over from the military regime only months ago.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars in the six decades they have both been independent states. There have also been numerous smaller battles, largely over the border region of Kashmir. Pakistan has warned that if turns its attention toward India, it will detract from its efforts to combat the Taliban and al-Qaida along the western border with Afghanistan, efforts for which Pakistan has been criticized for being too lackluster.

But, as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said, even if the gunmen were members of militant group, the government in Islamabad is already fighting against such groups.

Which, brings the countries’ to the most difficult divide. The gunmen likely targeted Mumbai because it is a multicultural city where people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds freely mingle. It is also a symbol of India’s growing financial power and what some consider the excesses that come from that power.

“Why do they go after Mumbai,” Suketu Mehta, a native of the city and journalism professor at New York University, asked in a OpEd column in Sunday’s New York Times. “There’s something about this island-state that appalls religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness.”

In the Bombay of his youth, religious differences didn’t matter and the city, with its trademark Taj Mahal hotel frequently seen in Bollywood movies, was a symbol of what the average person in South Asia could achieve.

Those positives are now fueling militants who see them as blasphemous. The answer, Prof. Mehta writes, is to dream bigger and to make more money – to provide clean running water, toilets humane mass transit and a responsive government to help all, not just the wealthy.

It is a big dream, but one that shouldn’t be extinguished by the murders in Mumbai.

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