It has been nearly seven years since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were perpetrated by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and elements of Pakistan’s military establishment. As memories of the attacks recede in time, Indian policy-makers and the public have often wondered when the next big dramatic attack will happen.
The attack in Gurdaspur district on Monday that killed nine people, including a superintendent of police, and injured at least eight others, may not match 26/11 in its ferocity and scale, but it has serious security and foreign policy implications.
The details of the incident and its provenance are not yet clear. The terrorists reportedly sprayed bullets at a bus, targeted a health centre and a building that housed families of police personnel before entering a police station. Conflicting accounts from security agencies have circulated in the media: Some claiming that the terrorists infiltrated from Pakistan via the international border and others doubting that they had.
Speculation will be rife in the coming days, and some analysts will likely conclude that this was the ISI’s way of scuttling progress in the dialogue and the forthcoming meeting between the two national security advisers. That the attack happened a day after Kargil Vijay Diwas, which was commemorated fervently, and as the 1993 Mumbai blasts accused Yakub Memon’s fate hangs in the balance, prompt questions about the extent of the conspiracy.
Getting to the bottom of this should be foundational for crafting our response. If the terrorists had indeed infiltrated from Pakistan, then that would be as a serious escalation, betraying an intent to stoke instability in Punjab alongside the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. Whether this is the case or if this attack is linked to disaffection in Kashmir, the Modi government’s policy must be guided by a rounded assessment of the motivation of different actors.
Hasty policy decisions prodded by febrile anchors and social media enthusiasts are not in India’s interest or those of the Modi government, which is projecting an image of a stable India. Key constituents in India must also allow the government the space to formulate a thought-through response.
The decision by some news channels to refrain from airing live footage — coinciding with a government order — is welcome and constructive, while others attributing the attack to some militant groups without a shred of evidence is not. This is also not a time for public recriminations. Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal remarked that it is the responsibility of the ministry of home affairs to seal the border. Debates within coalition alliances are healthy, point-scoring during a crisis is not.
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