By Ruben Campos (for Safe Democracy)

In Ruben Campos‘ opinion the execution and symbolism of the multiple bombings of Mumbai‘s rail network epitomizes the work of Al Qaeda. India‘s recent alliance with the United States as well as its age-old conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir has made the country a prime target for international Islamic terrorism. How the attacks will influence India‘s peace process with Pakistan, what the government response should be, and how the citizens of Mumbai have given the world a lesson on courage and unity: Campos carefully addresses all of these issues.

Ruben Campos is an expert on Central and South East Asia and a professor of international relations in the postgraduate programs of many different Spanish universities. He works as the assistant to the director of the Club of Madrid, an international organization dedicated to the promotion of democracy. He is currently preparing his doctoral thesis on nationalist movements in India, and is editing a collection of Mahatma Gandhi’s political writing.

ON JULY 11th BETWEEN SIX O┬┤CLOCK AND SIX THIRTY in the afternoon, seven massive explosions rocked the suburban rail system of Mumbai (Hindi for Bombay), India. With a death toll of over 200 and 700 wounded, this most recent terrorist attack is reminiscent of bombings that have occurred in recent years. The list of cities is long: London, New York, Bali, Amman, Beslan, Istanbul, Casablanca, Madrid (whose March 11th bombings mirror those in India), and now Bombay have all felt the horrible effects of international terrorism.

Also on the 11th of July, a series of terrorist attacks directed against tourist spots in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, caused the deaths of eight people and wounded over thirty. The ties between both attacks are strong.

Since September 11th, Al Qaeda has centered its attacks on tourist sites (Bali, Casablanca and Istanbul) and on transportation networks (Madrid and London). The double attacks on Mumbai and Srinagar fit in perfectly with this strategy. Yet because of the complex political situation in India, where diverse social conflicts complicate politics, the Indian government has not yet made any accusations regarding the attacks. President Manmohan Singh wants to be very certain before he makes any charges that could possibly upset his country’s stability.

There are many different terrorist organizations working within India. Attacks in the past have been carried out by Sikhs, Tamils of the Hindu faith connected with the conflict in neighboring Sri Lanka, Maoist guerrilla fighters like the Naxalites, and independent partisan groups of different regions in India.

All of these groups are possible suspects in the Bombay bombings. Yet, intelligence sources and Mumbai’s police force are pointing the finger at a different group not on the above list: Al Qaeda.

After decades of Cold War misunderstandings between the United States and India, the two have finally decided to forge a strong relationship. President Bush’s visit to India in April consolidated a bilateral agreement on nuclear cooperation, and brought the two countries closer together. But it also made India a prime target for Al Qaeda in their holy war against the powers of the west.

India’s continued conflict with the largely Muslim Pakistan over Kashmir also makes India what Al-Zawahiri and other Al Qaeda leaders have identified as a main objective.

In a message attributed to Osama bin Laden himself, broadcast at the end of April, the terrorist leader accused Americans, Jews, and Hindus of uniting to form a holy crusade against Islam. The execution and symbolism of the attack (with the repetition of the number 11: July 11th, September 11th, March 11th) also leads investigators to believe Al Qaeda guilty of the atrocity.

India’s Secretary of the Interior V.K Duggal assured in a press conference that India would act with extreme severity against all forces that attempt to hinder its peace process with Pakistan. The process, Duggal affirmed, although troubled by the bombings, should move forward with renewed commitment to compromise. Yet, the bombings have complicated internal politics in India by strengthening the opposition party Bharatija Janata (Indian Nationalists). The nationalists blame the government for its failure to safeguard the nation, and may attempt to impede the peace talks.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has responded unanimously in favor of continuing the peace process. President Pervez Musharraf was one of the first world leaders to condemn the attacks. But the peace agreement is still being bogged down by Indian criticism of Pakistan’s inefficient attempts to fight terrorist groups that travel unchecked across the shared border.

It has become clear that for the peace process to work urgent steps must be taken by the Pakistanis to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in their country. Pakistan must act decisively against groups and individuals who encourage political violence in order to prove that they are indeed serious about peace.

At the same time, India must take its own steps to demonstrate its will to negotiate out a definitive solution in Kashmir. The mainly Muslim region has been disputed between the two countries since its constitution in 1947. Three military offensives have been fought as well as decades of latent conflict in order to gain control of the land.

The citizens of Mumbai, whose population reaches over 12 million, are teaching the world an admirable lesson in civic courage.

Hundreds of people have offered their help in rescue and aid work and even more have taken to the streets to show their solidarity with the victims and their families. Since the attacks, the city has been relatively calm with no violent clashes between the numerous social and religious groups that are generally at odds.

Mumbai’s reaction should be seen as an example for the world to follow when dealing with terrorist threats. The most important thing now is that the government upholds the values and principles of democracy in its response to the attacks. International agreements and documents like the resolution by the General Assembly of the United Nations to ensure the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the fight against terrorism must be respected.

But it appears that despite the attacks, upholding democracy is exactly what India intends to do. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated in his speech following the bombings, Mumbai is a symbol of what India must be: inclusive, democratic, and open to all people.

Let us hope that he holds true to his word.

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