Is the Indo-Pakistan ‘blast war’ on again?

Five bombs went off within an hour in various parts of New Delhi on Saturday, killing more than 20 and recalling earlier such explosions in Bangalore in Karnataka and Ahmedabad in Gujarat. A local terrorist group calling itself “Indian mujahideen” has claimed responsibility. This is not the first such bombing in New Delhi: In October 2005, sixty-six people were killed when three blasts ripped through the markets. In February last year two bombs exploded aboard a train heading for Pakistan, killing 66 passengers, most of them Pakistanis.

In the coming days comment will flood the Indian media and will doubtless retrace the past pattern of casting suspicion on the Indian Muslims and reflecting on the ongoing contest with Pakistan in Afghanistan. The latest blasts, although clearly a continuation of what has been happening in Assam, Varanasi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, will be seen in the context of a tit-for-tat game with Pakistan, with Pakistan accusing India of funding the terrorists in Balochistan and the Tribal Areas. But the “Indian Mujahideen” are not making things easy for Pakistan either. Their email after the blasts contains details that will probably be misinterpreted in the coming days.

The email message contains the address “Al Arabi”, pointing to a link with the Arabs of Al Qaeda who are today headquartered somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Although the “Indian Mujahideen” are seen by some as a hardline splinter group of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), or a bunch of SIMI activists who have managed to evade arrest and have become more radicalised, important quarters in India will soon point fingers at Pakistan. The “Indian Mujahideen” email also contains a reference which some Indian newspapers find “mysterious”. The email claims that the latest blasts were plotted “to salute the memory of two of its inspirational martyrs, Sayyed Ahmed and Shah Ismail”. The reference is to Sayyed Ahmad Shaheed of Rai Bareilly and his disciple Shah Ismail, a scion of the family of the great Muslim thinker, Shah Waliullah of Delhi. Sayyed Ahmad Shaheed and Shah Ismail waged a jihad against the Sikh empire in 1830 and were both martyred in Balakot in the Hazara division of the NWFP. These two great martyrs are today the inspiration behind the jihad pursued by the Pashtun warriors of Pakistan “against the Americans”. In the past, the training camps of the jihadi organisations were located near the tombs of Sayyed Ahmad Shaheed and Shah Ismail.

The grounds for the radicalisation of the Indian Muslims have been provided by violently radical Hindus in the past. The massacre of Muslims in the state of Gujarat by a BJP government was condemned by the entire world; and all true Indians have abominated the chief minister, Narendra Modi, who still rules the state after having communalised it. But bad India-Pakistan relations — mainly because of the situation in Afghanistan — will deflect attention from local causes and the rising ghettoisation of the Muslim Indians.

An observation made on the timing of the Delhi blasts by an Indian newspaper may also be misinterpreted: “Only 10 days before Australia are scheduled to land in India for their four-Test tour, just hours after a Pakistan team arrived in the national capital to play their Nissar Trophy match against Ranji champions Delhi, serial blasts have ripped through the city, throwing things into uncertainty”. Is it Pakistan which is trying to throw India into the same turmoil it is suffering at the hands of Al Qaeda? Yet the truth is that a terrorist caught in Ahmedabad had already revealed under interrogation that Delhi would soon be targeted.

Two developments in the region threaten another trough in the current Indo-Pak equation. India has blamed a blast at its embassy in Kabul on Pakistan and Pakistan has blamed a blast at its consulate in Herat on India. Additionally, Pakistan has accused India of fomenting mischief in Balochistan and the Tribal Areas, saying that some of the terrorist attacks in the latter region too were funded by India. Under the circumstances, it is unfortunate that some jihadi organisations in Pakistan held rallies in Karachi and Lahore last week, threatening India with another bout of jihad in Kashmir and denouncing the Bajaur Operation being carried out by the Pakistan army.

It is tragic that India and Pakistan are moving towards conflict even when they know they are being tricked into it by elements within them who don’t want peace to prevail. Recent “enactments” of terrorism on both sides have put the peace process on hold and there is no politician big enough to rise above the smoke of these blasts to complete the job of normalising relations. In fact, as days pass, the two nuclear-armed states may look less and less able to pursue the road they know is right.


Daily Times Editorial, 15/9/2008

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