The Al-Qaida scapegoat
Blaming Al-Qaida is almost like blaming capitalism for all the world's ills - it is almost always true, and there is almost always nothing to be done about it.
After more than 170 people were killed in ten coordinated attacks in a city as large as Mumbai, the question immediately arises of who is behind these actions and what can be done. The natural inclination is to attribute such attacks to Al-Qaida, an easy and familiar target.
Blaming Al-Qaida is almost like blaming capitalism for all the world's ills - it is almost always true, and there is almost always nothing to be done about it. Then come the other usual suspects, including Pakistani Taliban-like groups, the product of the country's 4,000 religious schools; cells in Kashmir; and as-yet unknown cells that have sprung up among India's 150 million or so Muslims.
The general conclusion is that this is a matter of Islamic terrorism, part of the worldwide jihad, which leads to the self-evident conclusion that the only possible course of action is international cooperation, continuing the war in Afghanistan, pressuring Pakistan to step up its fight against extremist groups, and then tensely waiting for the next attack. In other words, nothing.
With all due respect to Al-Qaida, the terror attack in India has its own causes. Pakistan and India have been in conflict since 1947, when Pakistan separated from India and gained independence as the national home for millions of Muslims on the subcontinent. Three wars between the two countries perpetuated that conflict, whose focus lies in the Kashmir region - which each country claims as its own - and both countries are dealing with a large Kashmiri population demanding independence.
Still, the great fear provoked by the India-Pakistan conflict lies not the prospect of an actual terror attack, but that such attacks may quickly lead to nuclear threats, like when terrorists attacked the Indian parliament in 2002.
At issue, therefore, is a war between India and Pakistan, and not between Islam and Hinduism, or Islam and the West. It is a war over territory in which one side, Pakistan, is unable to control terror groups that spread into India and Afghanistan, and whose activities were once aided by Pakistani intelligence.
This is a country whose current government, created after the resignation of Pervez Musharraf, cannot convince the world it is fighting terrorism, and whose degree of control over its own army is unclear. This country possesses a nuclear arsenal and leans on radical Islamic movements to maintain its stability.
On the strategic threats map, therefore, Pakistan may be considered much more dangerous than Iran, but it is a U.S. ally in the war against Al-Qaida in Afghanistan. While this status has been eroding, the U.S. still does not want to pressure Islamabad too heavily, as its government came to power democratically after many years of a military regime. Democracy is the favored export of George W. Bush, who has adopted the theory that democracies do not fight each other.
Calling Pakistan a state sponsor of terror, like, say, Syria or Iran, is tantamount to admitting American policy has failed. At the same time, India, with its own nuclear arsenal, and like Pakistan and Israel, not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is irritating Washington with its intention to lay a natural gas pipe to Iran, effectively torpedoing U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Against this background, the most effective means of handling the conflict for both India and Pakistan, in a way that does not require too much U.S. involvement and will stop the descent into war, possibly even nuclear war, is by dealing with the terror organizations.
In this way, both sides can shirk responsibility and declare their unyielding determination to fight terror. This is why both sides find it so convenient to blame Al-Qaida for the attack. In any case, there is already a war against Al-Qaida, and blaming the group allows both U.S. allies to escape blame. Terrorism in Pakistan and India has a recognized solution, just like terror in our neighborhood. But for that, Indians and Pakistanis, much like the warring parties here, must adopt the expression "painful compromises." They are still not ready, here or there, to so.