By Sikander Hayat
Even as Indian officials on Thursday blamed Pakistan for terrorism and dismissed its crackdown on extremist groups as inadequate in the wake of last month’s attacks in Mumbai; they have no stomach for a war with Pakistan.
Rather, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told members of Parliament that it would take time for India to put its own house in order and that war was “no solution.”
His words signalled India’s delicate and somewhat circumscribed options. If it were to carry out even limited military strikes against Pakistan, Pakistan will strike back with all her might and limited war may not remain limited.
Also, it would be likely to lose the support of its allies, namely the United States, which fears that Pakistan would then divert troops from its western border with Afghanistan to its eastern one with India.
India’s options include suspending peace talks and to create a string security apparatus to counter any internal threats from its own indigenous militants because even if Mumbai attackers came from outside they had help from inside. Someone housed them, fed then, gave them logistical support and made sure that nobody knew about them before the attacks happened.
Many Muslims seem anxious, fearing that some of the anger unleashed by the attacks may be directed into the Hindu-Muslim violence that has often marred India’s modern history.
“It’s a pity we have to prove ourselves as Indians,” said Mohammed Siddique, a young accountant who was marching in the protest here on Sunday afternoon with his wife and mother. “But the fact is, we need to speak louder than others, to make clear that those people do not speak for our religion — and that we are not Pakistanis.”
There were also slogans defending against the charge often made by right-wing Hindus that Muslims constitute a fifth column, easily exploited by terrorists. “Communalist and Terrorist are Cousins,” one sign read. Some of the marchers held up a sign with lines drawn through the names of various terrorist or extremist groups, including, notably, the acronym S.I.M.I.
That stands for the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, a radical group, now banned, that has come under suspicion after recent attacks. One of the men arrested earlier this year in what appears to have been a similar plot against Mumbai landmarks used to belong to the group. Unlike the most recent attackers, some of them are believed to be Pakistani; six members of the earlier plot were Indian.
There is little doubt that Indian jihadists are acting in indigenous capacity. Such groups are rooted in the ideology of avenging essentially Indian grievances, like the 2002 mass killings of Muslims in the state of Gujarat that left 3000 dead.
“Indian Muslims have often suffered twice: first from the terror, and then from the accusations afterward,” said Javed Akhtar, a Muslim poet and lyricist.
India’s 140 million Muslims are generally much poorer and less educated than Hindus. Although some of the very rich and many Bollywood stars are Muslim, the faith is far less well represented in the professions and the middle class. Many have bitter memories of communal riots and violence, from the 2002 killings in Gujarat all the way back to the bloodletting since the Independence of India.
Indian government would do well to understand the plight of the Muslims by implementing the recommendations in the Sachar Report and making Muslims part of the Indian fabric.
Only then India will have a bright future for all its inhabitants.