India is hardly a stranger to political terrorism and its human consequences. However, the attack that injured an Israeli and three Indians on Monday just a stone’s throw from the residence of the prime minister seems to represent a new phenomenon when it comes to such violence. This is not the sort of indiscriminate killing that is the mark of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and messianic militant groups of that ilk. This is the stuff of the Cold War: government fighting government through extrajudicial acts of violence. And, in this specific case, it does not even seem to be directed at India in the first place. That such types of shadow wars continue in the present day is not a surprise. Besides the widely reported conflict between Israel and Iran which is believed to be behind the present attack, a number of other countries are known to play these sort of lethal games.
India may not have enough influence to stop these sort of conflicts, but it can and should make clear to such governments that it does not countenance the use of its own soil for covert wars. The details of why and how a specific dirty war arises is irrelevant. This is more than a matter of hurt amour propre, Indian sovereignty has been affronted by this behaviour. It is also more than the fact that such attacks undermine the ability of New Delhi to claim that it can provide safety and security to the foreign representatives to which it plays host. There are broader, more hard-nosed principles and domestic concerns that India should be concerned about. First, if India is prepared to look the other way when another government carries out terrorist attacks on its soil, whosoever they may be targeted at, then any subsequent song-and-dance by New Delhi about acts of violence perpetrated by the country’s traditional terrorist enemies looks hypocritical.
India has long argued that the world should not discriminate between ‘our terrorists’ and ‘their terrorists’, that all such violence should be condemned and treated as criminal the world over. It can be argued New Delhi has not always been true to this conviction, but it cannot use a diplomatic forked tongue when the act takes place on its own soil.
Second, unfortunately, many such bilateral feuds merge not the more ferocious instincts of national security but also more primeval motivations like religion, ethnicity and historical prejudices. India is often said to be the world’s most heterogeneous nation and its population weaves together almost every known strand of religion, ethnicity and ideology in the world. So when such strands become violent, there is always a danger of them infecting something in the fabric of Indian society with a similar fanaticism. It is thus extremely important that India’s own nation-building exercise be as buffered from foreign rages as much as possible. The perpetrators of Monday’s terrorist action need to be determined. And, if as suspected, they are the extension of a bloody foreign hand, appropriate action should be taken on a number of levels.