On Sunday afternoon, the shops near Connaught Place in central Delhi, normally a riot of food vendors, newspaper sellers, throngs of shoppers, and touts screaming out the hottest deals, seem eerily quiet. Two weeks after the bombings at railway stations in Mumbai, the Delhi police are taking no chances. Teams of cops smacking truncheons into their hands patrol the streets and check bags. Seemingly hastily erected metal detectors guard the entrance to the underground bazaar, where electronics shop owners sit on their hands and chew paan, looking worried that tightened security might affect their business.
Mumbai remains on everyone's mind. All around me, Indians are discussing the bombings, and how India should respond to the blasts, which killed more than two hundred people. Businessmen in sleek suits bury their heads in the Sunday editions of major Indian newspapers, most of which feature endless editorials offering counterterrorism advice to India's politicians, as well as matrimonial ads. Families standing outside a coffee shop argue about why Mumbai has been attacked so many times--in 1993, terrorists blew up the city's stock exchange. On India's endless Sunday talk shows, the Delhi punditocracy debate whether Delhi has been soft.
Some writers in the West have praised the Indian government for not taking the fight to Pakistan, which India believes is linked to the Mumbai bombers; they have contrasted India's response with Israel's tough tactics against Hizbollah. As Sebastian Mallaby wrote in The Washington Post, "Israel's iron-fist approach is partly a poor bet"; by comparison, Mallaby noted, "India's response? No reprisals, no bombings." Yet Indians themselves do not seem so thrilled by their government's actions. At heart, many wish for the same response as Israel.
People in Delhi cannot help but consider the India-Israel comparison--and for many, Israel looks good. Just as Israel has called out Hezbollah for its brutal rocket attacks and then denounced Iranian and Syrian support for the Shia militia, India's prime minister has declared that groups in Pakistan--including, potentially, Pakistan's intelligence service--supported the Mumbai bombers.
Yet the Indian government has not backed away from its dialogue with Pakistan over the future of disputed Kashmir and other issues. Just one week after the Mumbai bombings, Indian and Pakistani officials met at a border checkpoint to discuss critical security issues. Though Delhi has postponed high-level talks between the two nations' foreign secretaries, it pointedly has not canceled the talks. What's more, The Hindu, a leading Indian newspaper, reported that Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran denied "any desire to have Pakistan labelled as a guilty party in any terrorism-related statement that [was] issued at the G-8 summit."
On India's vibrant opinion pages and blogosphere, writers are blasting Delhi. One Indian blogger, in a piece called "Lessons from Israel," wrote, "The unanimity, determination and the promptness involved in their arriving at the decision to root out Hizbollah ... deserves accolades!! [It is the] sharpest of contrasts to the callousness of Indian polity [sic]." The post attracted pages of responses, including many comparing Indian politicians unfavorably to Israelis. Similarly, editorialists in The Pioneer, one of India's newspapers, argued that Delhi should heed Israel and bomb Pakistan to show that it cannot escape blame for its surrogates' actions.
Meanwhile, according to Asia Times, India's major opposition party, the BJP, has pressured the government to embrace a strategy in which, like Israel, it would chase terrorists back into Pakistan and, presumably, punish them there. Even some Indian moderates have joined in. C. Raja Mohan, a leading analyst and intellectual, told Asia Times that if Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf "is not willing or is unable to deliver an end to cross-border terrorism, the [Indian] government can only conclude that it is no longer possible to do business with him."
But just as they want a tougher response, many Indians also realize that their own military balance makes it impossible. Unlike Lebanon or Syria, which can hurt Israel but remain weaker militarily than Israel, Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, and could decimate Indian cities. "We are talking about two countries with nuclear capabilities," one Indian military strategist told The Times of India. Pakistan also has proven willing to take the nuclear option to the brink. In 1999, Clinton administration officials later told The Washington Post, the two countries came perilously close to all-out war after skirmishing over Kashmir--war that could easily have spiraled into a nuclear exchange. Indian commentators realize this. As one writer in The Hindu noted, under previous governments, India did use limited strikes against Pakistan, yet failed to stop terrorist attacks in India.
Other factors make a comparison with Israel difficult. India and Pakistan do enjoy some semblance of a genuine dialogue, one in which both sides have made significant concessions. For all his other faults, Musharraf has shelved long-standing Pakistani demands for a referendum in Kashmir on whether the territory should become part of India or part of Pakistan. He also has at least tried to cut down on Pakistani militant groups sending terrorists into India. These are bold moves, given that Musharraf has used popular pride over Pakistan's claims to Kashmir to rally the public around him, even as he strips away political freedoms. And the Indian government is responding, keeping its powder dry for now. But that doesn't mean average Indians will be happy about it.
Joshua Kurlantzick is a special correspondent for The New Republic.
This article originally appeared in The New Republic Online, and is available here.
The Carnegie South Asia Program informs policy debates relating to the region’s security, economy, and political development. From the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s internal dynamics to U.S. engagement with India, the Program’s renowned team of experts offer in-depth analysis derived from their unique access to the people and places defining South Asia’s most critical challenges.
The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, sociopolitical, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key crosscutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics.
Enter your email address to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!
You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.