As much as the events in Mumbai are a shock to the world, India is no stranger to such terrorism. The Global Terrorism Database estimates that since 1970, 4,108 acts of terrorism have occurred in India, leading to over 12,000 fatalities. Notably, in 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards who murdered her alleging Gandhi was persecuting India's Sikh minority.
In recent years there have been countless bombings and terror attacks throughout India. Just two years predating the latest Mumbai atrocities (in October 2006), seven bombs were placed aboard packed passenger trains and in Mumbai's railway terminal (one of the scenes of the latest attack) killing 186 and injuring more than 700.
As much as the India media is pointing an accusatory finger at Pakistan or other foreign terror groups, much of the terrorism inside India is home grown and religiously motivated such as the attacks in Delhi earlier in September by an Indian Muslim group known as the Indian Mujahideen (IM). And no one has ever heard of the group that claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attacks -- the Deecan Mujahedeen -- which could be a fictitious name or yet another terror outfit that is an offshoot of either a Kashmiri, Pakistani or India Muslim terrorist organization.
But given the the order of attack against western targets, it is increasingly likely that as investigators sift through the destruction in Mumbai for clues, mounting evidence will point an accusatory finger at one or more of the Kashmiri Muslim terror organizations -- either Lashkar-e-Taibi or Jaish-e-Muhammed, both of which have received support in the past from Pakistan's shadowy intelligence organization -- the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency or ISI.
But it is important to point out that there is no evidence from any credible source so far that the Pakistani government was involved in the attacks. Indeed, the Pakistani government is going to great lengths to separate itself from the events in Mumbai. But given the fact that the only captured terrorist is according to most reports a Pakistani national, this is going to be a herculean task, to say the least.
Nevertheless, the magnitude of the attacks and their sophistication suggest that perhaps no one individual group had the capability of pulling off such a sophisticated attack. All of which points to a potentially dangerous convergence of the subcontinent's Muslim militant groups that are not only targeting India, but also Pakistan as well in a sinister terror coalition that is determined to push the subcontinent's competitors into a nuclear showdown.
Just days before the Mumbai attacks, Al Qaeda's "Dr. Evil" Ayman al-Zaharwiri called for an escalation of attacks against the Pakistani government. And U.S. intelligence officials -- pointing to the recent terror attack in Islamabad against the Marriott Hotel -- are increasingly concerned that Al Qaeda may be attempting to forment as much turmoil as possible on the subcontinent to force India and Pakistan into a nuclear war -- a war that was barely avoided a few years ago.
That is not a hard thing to accomplish. Pakistan viscerally views India as a threat, and India believes that Pakistan is determined to foment dangerous unrest inside India. Pakistan believes India is attempting to increase its influence in Afghanistan as a means to "encircle" Pakistan, and India believes that Pakistan's ISI is responsible for supporting the Taliban. A vicious circle of anger and distrust that no amount of diplomacy has seemed able to unwind.
But just as festering regional conflicts become fuses for more dangerously wider wars (think of Palestine) the conflict over Kashmir traces its long fuse back to 1947, when neither India or Pakistan succeeded during their bloody war of partition to annex the disputed territory of Kashmir, which straddles both nations' northwestern frontiers. Kashmir is one of the flashpoints in India's and Pakistan's long and heated enmity. And the Kashmiri terror organizations may have finally found a new and more supportive partner than the ISI -- Al Qaeda and the a resurgent Taliban.
That is why the United States cannot afford to permit Al Qaeda or its regional terror allies have their way on the subcontinent. A stable, democratic Pakistan more or less at peace with India and Afghanistan is an essential object of U.S. national security.
Accordingly, as the Mumbai terrorist attacks provoke an escalating war of words between India and Pakistan, it will behoove the incoming Obama administration's foreign policy team to consider expanding its diplomatic reach to include a new initiative to resolve the Kashmir conflict.
Preemptive diplomacy -- akin to a creative policy of forward diplomatic engagement -- can complement our stated goal of winning the war against Al Qaeda, stabilizing Afghanistan, and preventing Pakistan from descending into chaos. Iran also has a stake in preventing the subcontinent from descending into chaos, and thus the events in Mumbai may accord the Obama administration a unique opportunity to explore whether Iran (which is no friend of the Taliban) may be willing to play a constructive role in helping to stabilize the subcontinent's regional powder kegs. Perhaps President-elect Obama may consider appointing a special presidential envoy to the subcontinent to begin strategically linking up these myriad yet interrelated challenges to underscore the strategic challenge and the strategic goals.
Let us not forget that underneath much of the recent turmoil on the Indian subcontinent lies the determined strategy of Osama Bin Laden, who after all hoped to provoke the U.S. into a war against the Arab world by his 9/11 attacks and cause muslims to rise up in revolt to overthrow America's Arab allies. The Mumbai attacks may have a similar goal: to cause India into a retaliatory war with Pakistan which could include an invasion of Kashmir that could topple Pakistan's democratically elected government and lead to a Muslim militant resurgence that will gain control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and reestablish Taliban control over Afghanistan. It is a nightmarish scenario dreamt up in the caves of Waziristan.