Despite India's decision to move the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament to South Africa out of security fears, another major terror attack in the country is "inevitable," according to a leading US think tank.
Noting that fears of an overstretched security apparatus facing both the tournament and national elections prompted the move, which has already become politicised," Stratfor, a strategic think tank, said: "Despite the decisions, the Islamist militant threat to India remains."
Stratfor said it had "received indications early on from Indian security sources that the IPL tournament was a prime target for another large-scale Islamist militant operation following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks."
The Indian intelligence apparatus is thought to have warned the central government of a flood of specific threats against both Indian and foreign cricket players, it said. Warnings of specific threats against the players came from the governments of the states hosting matches, including Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka."
"Given that these two states respectively are home to the information technology hubs of Hyderabad and Bangalore - both of which have a heavy foreign presence - and are where multinational corporations doing business in India are concentrated, these states are at a particularly high risk of attack," Stratfor warned.
The decision to sacrifice the IPL tournament "which did not come easily for New Delhi, has already become politicised," it noted. But "It also does not signal an end to the jihadist threat to India."
The March 3 attack in Lahore, Pakistan, against the Sri Lankan cricket team was a stark warning that the array of Islamist militants in the region have an agenda to internationalise their cause through bold and attention-grabbing attacks, the think tank said.
Though no group claimed the Lahore attack, there is ample reason to suspect Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), it said noting: "Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) created and nurtured the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group to pressure India, but LeT has gradually loosened itself from Islamabad's grip."
"The Lahore attack bore a number of similarities to the November 2008 Mumbai attack. And given LeT's primary focus on India, the IPL tournament would have made another prime target," the think tank said.
Indian security apparatus is already bracing itself for another major attack, Stratfor said. Shifting the IPL tournament to South Africa gives the Indians more forces to secure the country for the national elections, but this does not necessarily mean that the threat level during this time period has subsided.
The elections still provide Pakistani-based and indigenous Indian militants a good occasion to target politicians, government buildings, and voting booths - to say nothing of the usual soft targets like crowded marketplaces, movie theatres, hotels or religious sites, the think tank said.
India already has an array of militant threats to deal with, ranging from Naxalites to north-eastern separatists to Kashmiri Islamists, Stratfor said.
"Given the jihadist insurgency also intensifying along India's western frontier and Pakistan seemingly losing control of its militant proxies, another major Islamist attack in India is inevitable," it said.
"Regardless of whether the upcoming elections go off without a hitch, this is a reality Indian policymakers and security agencies will face for the foreseeable future," the think tank said.