Global and local terrorism

The spectacular terrorist attack on Mumbai underlines how international terrorism has become one with its roots. The terrorist commandos selected citizens of the United States, Britain and Israel as hostages in order to give their act an international dimension. But the obvious target – the destabilization of relations between India and Pakistan – is rooted in local issues. It is too early to know who was behind the attacks on India’s economic heart, but all indications point to involvement by Kashmiri separatists. It remains to be seen whether behind them lurks al-Qaida or the powerful Pakistani military intelligence, the ISI – which nurtured Kashmiri separatists and Afghanistan’s Taliban. A few days ago, Pakistan’s newly elected president, Asif Ali Zardari, dissolved the ISI’s political wing. At the weekend he declared that India was not a danger to Pakistan and called for the border to open for trade. All this must have infuriated the military. Yesterday, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, suggested that Pakistan was behind the attacks, drawing Islamabad’s angry denial. The two countries have gone to war three times since 1947 – twice over Kashmir. The problem’s international dimension is great as both countries possess nuclear arms. It is unlikely that there will be a nuclear war over the Mumbai attacks but if Pakistan is implicated, this will lead to its isolation and further destabilization, with dangerous consequences for the whole region. This will benefit al-Qaida, Pakistan’s Islamist extremists, Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan’s military intelligence services. Whoever is behind the attacks, though, this is when we will see whether India and Pakistan have the politicians who will be able to step back from the abyss and control a local problem with terrifying international implications.