Restraint needed after mayhem in Mumbai

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 November, 2008, 12:00am

The co-ordinated attacks in India's commercial capital, Mumbai, are to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. No cause or grievance can justify such an outrage against civilians. The perpetrators must be hunted down and swiftly brought to justice. Security has to be stepped up so that there can be no repeat.

A little-known Indian Muslim extremist group has claimed responsibility, but this has yet to be verified. The nation's vibrant media is aflame with discussion that the mastermind is linked to overseas terrorists, al-Qaeda foremost among them. A Pakistani connection has predictably been mentioned. So, too, has a Kashmiri one. Such speculation is to be expected given that Muslim militants have been blamed for a spate of bomb attacks that have killed 700 people across the largely-Hindu country in the past three years.

Whatever the suspicions, though, this attack is unlike those before - foreign visitors and the cosmopolitan elite were plainly targets this time. Authorities must not jump to conclusions; India's ethnic and religious diversity is finely balanced. Time and again, violence has been ignited in disparate communities at the merest hint of injustice.

That foreigners have this time been picked out and shot and kidnapped is a worrying development. Mumbai is the home of much of the country's wealth and is its most crowded city. It has long been a favoured objective of attackers. Bombs with timers have been most often used, to devastating effect at the stock exchange in 1993 and on commuter trains in 2006. On Wednesday night, though, luxury hotels, tourist haunts and a Jewish centre were stormed by gunmen.

Echoing the tactics of terrorists in volatile parts of the world, the attackers were not afraid to be killed or arrested. They were relatively young and armed with sophisticated weapons. That each target was attacked at the same time shows a well-planned operation. These are the hallmarks of terrorist cells. If, as is suspected, it is homegrown, a dangerous situation has evolved that must be dealt with effectively.

India's economic boom and growing importance is closely tied to the global community, especially the US and Europe. Its government is eager to improve relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan. New Delhi and Washington have moved closer through a landmark nuclear technology deal. The peaceful nature of elections under way in Kashmir has won the government credit. Nationwide polls will be held early next year. Any one of these issues could be cause for extremists to resort to a violent show of disapproval.

Violence against innocent people is an act of cowardice. Taking lives in the name of an ideology or conviction is not an excuse for such action. Those who resort to such means instead of reasoned discussion are a threat to democracy. Their goals will never be attained through murder and intimidation; all that will be achieved is fragmentation and division of society.

India is at an important juncture in its development. Poverty is being alleviated at record rates. The lives of ordinary citizens are improving as never before. Confidence that aims can be attained is high. Internationally, the nation is growing in stature through hard work and innovation.

Terrorists cannot be allowed to take away what has been achieved. No effort should be spared in bringing those behind the Mumbai attacks to justice. But ensuring stability is central to India's continued development. As urgent as the task may be, authorities must be careful to avoid a communal backlash, by showing - and calling for - restraint.