A terrorist attack on an Indian military installation Saturday, Jan. 2, may have inaugurated a long anticipated but new front in the war against Islamic terrorism.
Two of a groupof four or five terrorist were killed in an attack on the Pathankot Indian Air Force base, a critical installation on the India-Pakistan border, near the troubled Himalaya state of Kashmir. It was the second big terror attack Punjab, a border state, in less than a year. It came only a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, counterintuitively from a Hindu revivalist background, stopped off in Lahore, to confer with Pakistani Prime Minister Awaz Sharif, the first face-to-face of the two heads of government in 12 years.
While India’s 172 million Moslems represent only 14.2% of the country’s population, they have important historical roots, and in fact, it was they who inagurated agitation for independence from British colonial rule.Their numbers approach neighboring Pakistan’s 192 million, India’s twin cut out for a Moslem state on independence in 1947. Furthermore, with a higher birth rate than their Hindu and Christian compatriots, the Moslem population of India is expected to become the largest in the world by 2050, exceeding 18% [310 million] while the ratio tpoHindus will drop by almost 10%.
Indian Moslems are extremely diverse, on the one hand representing a disproportionate number of the country’s poorest, and on the other endowed with several regional elites. They are noteworthy for becoming adept at information technology. Many of the subcontinent’s immigrant technicians in Silicon Valley and throughout the U.S. industry are Indian Moslems [or Pakistanis].
Radical Islam historically has erupted in the community, notably when it supported in the immediate postwar period a Communist insurrection in the former Indian princely state of Hyderabad in the Indian central plateau [Deccan]. The state with a Hindu majority had been ruled by a Moslem prince.
There has been considerable apprehension in official circles and elsewhere that the current wave of Moslem terrorism would spread to the Indian Moslem population. The issue is enmeshed, of course, in the continuing feud with Pakistan with which India has fought four declared wars and continual clashes. Pakistani authorities, charge that the longtime Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru violated the terms of the division of the country by refusing to relinquish control of Kashmir, the Himalayan state between the two new countries.
In November 2008, the Lashkar-e-Taiba based in Pakistan, carried out a series of 12 coordinated attacks lasting four days across Mumbai [Bombay]. New Delhi charged there had been Pakistan government collusion. But as the international Moslem terrorist movement has spread, Indian leadership appears ready to recognize that such events have local roots.
Modi was enroute back to New Delhi after a visit to Afghanistan where the two countries vie for influence, India as a hedge against Pakistan, and Pakistan for “depth” in its always strategic concern for India. Modi’s unscheduled visit was seen as Indian acknowledgement that Islamic terrorism is a threat beyond any Pakistani government manipulation, a danger to both regimes. Observers on all sides expressed hope that the meeting signaled a new collaboration of the two governments against the terrorists.
But the rising tide of “lone wolf” terrorism in India will pose a new problem now for the U.S. [and the Israelis] who have been rapidly expanding their military cooperation. Strategy must also take into account the growing effort by Beijing to expand its influence in Islamabad where it has long been seen as a counter to India’s superior size and strength. Pakistan’s collaboration, for example, with China to build a new port on the Pakistani-Iranian border at the entrance to the Persia Gulf has been of concern to American naval strategists. If, as now seems to be the case, indigenous Moslem terrorist outbreaks are to become “routine:”in India, Washington strategists have new problems on their agenda.