India on Monday reacted to Osama bin Laden’s killing with a feeling of vindication and apprehension. In a brief statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed bin Laden’s death a “significant step forward’’ and hoped it will deal a decisive blow to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

"The international community and Pakistan in particular must work comprehensively to end the activities of all such groups who threaten civilised behaviour and kill innocent men, women and children,’’ Dr. Singh said.

The Prime Minister’s observation helped correct the hint of self-satisfaction in statements made in the morning by External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram. In separate reactions, they emphasised that bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandoes “deep inside Pakistani territory” and hoped this embarrassment would now compel Islamabad to effectively prosecute those involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Mr. Krishna went on to term the al Qaeda supremo’s death a “historic development” and “victorious milestone” in the global war against the forces of terrorism.

End of the Fourth Afghan War

But there was little exultation over bin Laden’s death among top officials in South Block who were working out its implications on Indian foreign policy. Terming the assault as bringing down the curtains on the "Fourth Afghan War", high level sources said, ``it was [a] great operation …proves what we thought…now we have to await the consequences.’’

By consequences, they meant whether this would be the watershed moment for U.S President Barack Obama to put plans for withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in high gear. They also hoped that Pakistan would be suitably chastised by the end of the biggest man hunt in recent world history right at the edges of their national capital and would now put a permanent stop to its practice of keeping militant networks alive to intermittently serve as an instrument of state policy.

Another top official pointed out that bin Laden’s death could be a watershed moment in the struggle against the variety of militant Islam that propagates a unified world-wide Muslim nation. "But the struggle hasn’t ended though this was a development the world was waiting for,’’ cautioned the official.

For the record, Mr. Krishna and Mr. Chidambaram drew attention to U.S. claims that bin Laden had been sheltered in a compound near Islamabad and made the point about continuance of safe sanctuaries in Pakistan which led militants to intermittently derail bilateral ties with India through deadly attacks targeting soft targets in bazaars, mass transportation utilities and hotels.

"The world must not let down its united effort to overcome terrorism and eliminate the safe havens and sanctuaries that have been provided to terrorists in our own neighbourhood,’’ observed Mr. Krishna.

He also noted that the operation to eliminate the al Qaeda took place ``deep inside Pakistan’’, meaning Islamabad would have a hard time explaining how a person being targeted by the world community for a decade was living in an area that, unlike the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is totally under the control of the Pakistan’s security and other administrative organs.

Mr. Chidambaram expanded on the location of bin Laden’s killing to highlight the Indian security apparatus’ “concern that terrorists belonging to different organisations find sanctuary in Pakistan’’ as also to urge civilian Government in Islamabad to deliver on Indian demands for prosecuting those accused for the Mumbai attacks.

"We once again call upon the Government of Pakistan to arrest the persons whose names have been handed over to the Interior Minister of Pakistan as well as provide voice samples of certain persons who are suspected to be among the controllers and handlers of the terrorists,’’ the Minister said in a statement. Pakistan has arrested seven for plotting the Mumbai terror attacks while 20 have been declared proclaimed offenders.