x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Terror attack in India should not derail new talks

The bombing of a bakery on Saturday night is being called the "first major attack" inside India since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.

The bombing of a bakery on Saturday night, which killed nine people and wounded dozens, is being called the "first major attack" inside India since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. It's a glaring error - 17 policemen were killed in an ambush by Maoist rebels last October, to name just one of many incidents in the interim. But the assumption is that the bombing in the western city of Pune was the first since Mumbai perpetrated by militants with alleged links to Pakistan.

New Delhi has commendably cautioned against jumping to conclusions. The evidence, at this point, is extremely shaky: a nearby ashram and Jewish centre were reconnoitred by David Headley, a suspected member of the Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist organisation who is now in US custody. Nonetheless, leaders of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have already denounced upcoming peace talks with Pakistan because of the blast.

Both India and Pakistan have had a lamentable history of sponsoring militant actions against the other. Just as noteworthy is the strain of paranoia and wild conspiracy theories that taint the debate. This provides a fertile field for extremists on both sides. The direct victims of terrorism are an inexcusable tragedy, but its purpose is to play on people's fears and fan the flames of enmity. A cowardly attack on a bakery frequented by tourists drives home another point: it is almost impossible for security forces to prevent every murderous attempt on a "soft" target. A full investigation should pursue every avenue, but a knee-jerk political response lets terrorists dictate foreign policy.

The investigation may lead to Lashkar-i-Taiba. The evidence is now fairly conclusive that militants with links to Pakistan carried out the Mumbai attacks. The BJP, however, is dead wrong that this is a reason to break off talks with Islamabad. The two South Asian rivals share fundamental security concerns that only co-operation, even in a partial form as in the past, can hope to address. Pakistan has repeatedly petitioned India for a return to talks, which are now scheduled for February 25. The disputed status of Kashmir - the ostensible motive behind Lashkar-i-Taiba's terrorism - is only one issue to address. The Mumbai attacks disrupted a rare period of detente between the two neighbours with rapprochement on economic and social ties as well as security.

Both India and Pakistan face serious domestic security threats, from Maoists rebels and Taliban factions respectively. A durable peace in South Asia would arguably contribute as much to world security as peace in the Middle East. Terrorists, no matter how vicious their acts, cannot be allowed to set the agenda.