Islamist terrorism in South Asia, the epicenter of global terrorism, thrives on lasting India-Pakistan enmity. Pakistan would have no interest in using jihad as an instrument of its defense policy in a conflict-free South Asia. One of the important objectives of the Pakistani and, arguably, Indian Muslim jihadis has been to sustain and even amplify tension between the two nuclear archrivals, possibly leading them to war so the jihadis can thrive in the resulting chaos.
In early February, India unexpectedly announced its intention to resume talks with Pakistan that were suspended in the wake of the November, 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. It was a foregone conclusion that the jihadis would try to subvert the talks. While the two countries were discussing the format of the discussions, terrorists struck the German Bakery in the city of Pune in India’s Maharashtra State on February 13, killing 11 people and injuring 60. The dead included an Iranian and an Italian. Apart from targeting Westerners attending the nearby Osho Ashram, the German Bakery was probably chosen for its proximity to the Chabad House, a Jewish religious centre. The Chabad House in Mumbai was a primary target of the Mumbai attackers in 2008. In this most recent attack, terrorists used a combination of RDX, ammonium nitrate and petroleum hydrocarbon oil in the explosive. The Indian Mujahideen (IM), who have close ties with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), are suspected of having used the same combination in explosions in Ahmedabad and Surat in July 2008 (Frontline [New Delhi], Feb 27 – March 12).
On February 23, just two days before the top diplomats of the two countries met in New Delhi, terrorists struck once again in the District of Sopore in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Four militants held a pitched battle with the Indian troops which lasted for over two days and killed at least three Indian security forces personnel, including an army captain (Indian Express, February 25). The battle seemed to have been aimed at embarrassing Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, who was to fly to New Delhi the next day. If nothing else, the terrorists succeeded in making Pakistan stiffen its position on Kashmir.
Three days after the two foreign secretaries held their talks, the United Jihad Council (UJC), a conglomerate of over a dozen Kashmiri jihadi groups, referred to them as "an Indian ploy to defuse international pressure," pressure which UJC chairman Yusuf Shah said had brought India to the negotiating table. Shah also opposed the idea of talks and declared, “No progress whatsoever could be made in the talks between the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India…so it could be stated that talks have been unsuccessful… The core issues, including the Kashmir imbroglio, were not discussed by the foreign secretaries of the two countries (The News [Islamabad], March 1, 2010).”
However, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, amir of Jamatud Dawah and the alleged planner of the Mumbai attacks, minced no words and asked Islamabad to go to war with India because “India wants war… If India is not prepared to hold talks [on Kashmir], Pakistan will have to fight a war at all costs…” (Economic Times [New Delhi], March 1). Just one day after India had agreed to resume talks, Saeed said that India would never free Kashmir without a war. Addressing a huge public rally of his Kalashnikov-toting followers in Lahore on February 5, Saeed said that India would suffer the same fate in Kashmir as the Soviets and Americans had experienced in Afghanistan (Economic Times, March 1).
Pakistani jihadis have tried to scuttle the peace process between India and Pakistan by carrying out high-profile terrorist acts both in Kashmir and in the Indian heartland every time the two countries tried to take a new peace initiative.
This trend has been underway since 1999, when the infiltration of Pakistani troops into the Indian side of the Kashmir Line of Control (LoC) initiated the Kargil War to thwart the short-lived 1999 Lahore Declaration, perhaps the most important peace initiative ever taken by the two nuclear archrivals (see Rediff.com, February 21, 1999). Although this has been one of the recurrent patterns in India-Pakistan relations since the two countries started what is known as the composite dialogue, the jihadis did not succeed before the November 2008 Mumbai attacks derailed this initiative. This is the first time since 1999 that a civilian government in Pakistan is trying to push for peace. Though the two countries may continue the dialogue in the coming years, terrorist attacks in India and Indian-controlled Kashmir may not let them progress very far before negotiations are once again derailed, as happened in November 2008.