December 3, 2008 / 12:42 PM / 11 years ago

ANALYSIS-India to answer Mumbai attacks with talk not troops


By Simon Denyer

NEW DELHI, Dec 3 (Reuters) - India will not respond to attacks in Mumbai by sending troops to the border with Pakistan, but will instead mobilise global pressure for its neighbour to act decisively against Islamist militants, analysts say.

The military strategy was tried in 2001 and 2002 after an attack on India’s parliament, but achieved little.

The crucial difference this time is that India is dealing with a civilian, democratically elected government in Islamabad — a reasonably friendly government which does not have full control over a much more hostile, hawkish military establishment.

Military confrontation, however tempting as Indian elections loom ever closer, would only empower the hawks across the border.

"It is simply not on the table," Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of the Hindu newspaper said.

"If India were to take any of the military measures some armchair analysts want, that would almost certainly play into the hands of the military establishment in Pakistan."

It would also have played into the hands of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, by forcing Pakistan to withdraw troops from its tribal areas and western border.

It has even been suggested this was one possible motive behind the attacks. If so, that is not a trap India will fall into, analysts say.

Instead, the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to New Delhi on Wednesday marks the first step in a more diplomatic and finessed response to the attacks.

It is likely to be a slow process, but the only real option.

"Pakistan needs to act with resolve and urgency and cooperate fully and transparently," Rice said on Wednesday. "That message has been delivered and will be delivered to Pakistan."

TRIED AND FAILED

India says it already has compelling and detailed evidence that the attacks in Mumbai were planned on Pakistani soil and carried out by Pakistani gunmen — for once, one of the gunmen was actually captured and gave a detailed confession.

He said he was given months of commando-style training by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-based Islamist militant group which was effectively established, analysts say, by the Pakistani military’s spy agency, the ISI, to fight Indian rule in Kashmir.

Lashkar was also blamed for an attack on India’s parliament in late 2001, an attack which brought the nuclear-armed neighbours close to war, with hundreds of thousands of troops eyeing each other nervously across the frontline.

But there is no point in India brandishing a gun unless it is prepared to use it.

The sabre-rattling in 2002 yielded few results — in the end the government moved the troops back — and India is not seriously considering starting a fourth war with its neighbour.

"The military option has never been an option, because the military can’t guarantee you an outcome," said Manoj Joshi, comment editor of the Mail Today. "We have been there, done it, and it doesn’t work."

Indian security experts believe the attacks were staged in an attempt to undermine a burgeoning friendship between the civilian governments of the neighbouring states, an attempt which could have had support from parts of the Pakistani military.

Confrontation would have also strengthened the hands of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group which the Pakistani military sees as a useful tool to infiltrate India in the event of war.

Instead, India has little choice but to try isolate hawks within Pakistani military and work with the civilian government, which has promised to cooperate with the attack investigation.

BALANCING ACT

But New Delhi has to play a delicate balancing act. Elections are due by May and the government is already under fire for failing to prevent this and a series of preceding bomb attacks on its cities. The opposition says it is "soft on terror".

That balancing act is already proving tough, and the government is in danger of overreaching itself, demanding more from Islamabad than it is likely to get.

Immediately after the attacks, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanded the head of the ISI visit India to share information. Pakistan snubbed him by promising to send a lower-ranking official — an embarrassment, proclaimed the media.

Again, New Delhi upped the stakes by demanding 20 of its most wanted men be sent back to India from their alleged hideouts in Pakistan.

The list is believed to include Dawood Ibrahim, a top Indian crime boss wanted for bomb attacks in Mumbai in 1993 that killed 250 people, and Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistan is very unlikely to comply with that request. It has always insisted Pakistanis would be tried at home, if any evidence was given of their guilt, but that none had been given.

Yet Delhi’s aim is to harness global outrage at the Mumbai attacks. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama must now realise, analysts say, that reining in Pakistani militant groups must be a top priority — whether they are attacking India or Afghanistan.

"If you want a solution to Afghanistan, you have to lean on Pakistan to shut down all jihadist operations," Varadarajan said. "You have to tackle the root cause, which is the attitude of the Pakistani military. That is the silver bullet." (Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Bill Tarrant)



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