Washington, Aug. 27: India’s counter-terrorism diplomacy is at the crossroads as a result of the twin bombs which went off in Mumbai on Monday.
Every VIP visitor to Washington from New Delhi since September 11, 2001, has told the Americans with pride that the doctrine of Islamic terrorism has not struck root in India.
Indeed, they have rubbed it in with America’s leaders that while every major terrorist arrested anywhere in the world has some link with Pakistan, not a single Indian has been charged or even arrested on a terrorism charge in any part of the world.
With more than 50 dead in Mumbai from terrorist bombs, this will be an argument that the government will find hard to sustain.
The US state department’s annual reports on the “Patterns of Global Terrorism”, which many countries around the globe look at as a yardstick for assessing threats, does not mention any Indian organisation among its two lists of terrorist outfits, which are updated regularly here based on intelligence.
The latest such report, published in April this year, does not even make a reference to the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi). Part of the reason for this is the Indian insistence that its communities are not attracted to Islamic terrorism.
Unlike in Pakistan, according to New Delhi’s rationale, where state sponsorship of terror and official disinformation act as magnets for potential jihadis.
India and the US established a joint working group (JWG) on counter-terrorism in January 2000 and the group has been meeting regularly in each other’s capitals.
While the JWG has remarkably institutionalised cooperation between Washington and New Delhi on fighting terror, the Indian side at every JWG meeting has carefully insulated its own people from any suggestion that they are terrorists.
Instead, India has strained every nerve at these meetings to underline the threat of violence that it faces as a result of Pakistan’s policies of exporting terrorism.
A senior state department official told The Telegraph that the US is not influenced by suggestions from abroad or lobbying in designating foreign terrorist organisations, but relies on its own assessment. While this is true for the record, JWG meetings and inputs as a result of shared intelligence are factors in such designation.
As a result of the seven bombings in Mumbai since December 2 last year, India will find it hard to shy away any longer from the threat it faces from home-grown terrorism.
If Indian leaders and officials continue to skirt the issue of domestic terror, they will face a credibility problem when they talk about Pakistani-sponsored violence in India. Not only in Washington, but in Moscow, London, Paris or Berlin, where regular discussions are now held about counter-terrorism.
Intelligence assessments after Monday’s incidents, however, suggest that the government’s position is unlikely to change.
Intelligence agencies, in reports to the government, have pointed out that unlike bombs which wreaked havoc in Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia since September 11, there is no imprint of al Qaida in Mumbai’s blasts. They also underline that unlike in Bali and elsewhere, relatively unsophisticated devices were used on Monday. The death toll is high, they insist, because of the nature of crowds in Mumbai and the location of the bombing.
There is simmering resentment within India’s intelligence community that despite specific evidence of Pakistani complicity in recent terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, Mumbai and elsewhere, New Delhi’s response has been weak-kneed in order to save its nascent peace bid with Islamabad.