Diplomacy survives terrorist act, for now

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2011, 12:00am


Bombs in Mumbai this month aimed to derail talks this week between India and Pakistan - whose intelligence services almost certainly backed the devastating Mumbai attack in 2008. Despite historic hatreds on both sides, it didn't work.

'Designs to derail the dialogue once again' will not deter Pakistan, its Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said. Foreign ministers from both sides are set to meet today while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited India last week.

Three explosions hit India's largest city during evening rush hour on July 13, killing 23 people. These attacks were well co-ordinated, but fairly amateurish compared with the attacks in 2008 by heavily armed suicide attackers who hit Jewish and tourist centres, killing 166.

This looks more like the work of one of the many Kashmiri nationalist-Islamist groups responsible for scores of attacks throughout India, fighting with Pakistani backing to get India out of the disputed Muslim-majority province.

Relations between India and Pakistan have not normalised since the 2008 attack, despite the efforts towards rapprochement this year.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency is likely to be accused of helping the latest attacks, yet this does not mean an escalation of border skirmishes or even a major diplomatic row.

Although this month's bombs appeared to be aimed at the foreign ministers' conference in New Delhi, Pakistan rushed to condemn them and India declined to exploit the testimony in the US in May of the Pakistani-American businessman David Coleman Headley, who was involved in contact between the ISI and the Lashkar-e-Taiba attackers of 2008.

Pakistan wants to look conciliatory for the US after losing US$800 million in military aid this month because of harbouring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed there by US forces in May. But many regional politicians have much to gain from whipping up nationalist hysteria on both sides.

Regardless of diplomatic talks, Mumbai in particular and India in general will suffer many more Islamist terrorist attacks, as well as the frequent Maoist Naxalite strikes, with hundreds or even thousands of deaths a year as routine: India's national counter-terrorism capabilities since Mumbai 2008 have barely developed, despite heavy expenditure.

Only a real settlement between India and Pakistan would even begin to erode these decades-old organisations and their support: there will be no sudden breakthrough this month but the talks are an essential small step on that long road.

Fraser Bomford is the Afghanistan and Pakistan analyst in London for the international risk analysis and security firm AKE Ltd