Investigators will doubtless establish the identity of those behind Saturday evening's bomb blast in Pune but the timing of the first major act of terrorism since 26/11 strongly indicates a likely motive: to ensure the forthcoming dialogue between India and Pakistan is sabotaged even before it has a chance to get off the ground.
The coincidence is striking, the bomb attack coming just a day after the two governments announced their Foreign Secretaries would meet in New Delhi on February 25.
The targeting of a café frequented by foreigners and the proximity of the blast site to Pune's Chabad House for Jews suggest the terrorists who are behind the latest attack want to remind ordinary Indians of the November 2008 strike on Mumbai. They want to remind India that neither their ability nor their determination to kill innocent civilians has been diminished by the security measures the country has taken. Most of all, they want to drive a still brittle body politic and civil society back into a confrontationist mode with Pakistan.
The ‘syndicate of terror’ whose footprints appear evident from both the choice of timing and target would like nothing better than a continuation of the diplomatic stalemate. The aim of the 26/11 attack was to provoke a military confrontation between India and Pakistan.
That didn't work because the Manmohan Singh government understood what the jihadi groups and their backers were trying to accomplish. What followed, then, was a year of 'no war, no peace' but with India offering talks late last month, the terrorist groups felt the initiative slipping out of their hand once again.
At a rally in Islamabad on February 5 to denounce the idea of an India-Pakistan dialogue, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa deputy chief, Abdur Rehman Makki, posted warning of Pune being a target. “Kashmir had become a cold issue. But by denying Pakistan water, India has ensured that every farmer in Punjab is lining up with his tractor and plough, ready to overrun India.” At one time, jihadis were interested only in the liberation of Kashmir, but the water issue had ensured that “Delhi, Pune and Kanpur” were all fair targets, The Hindu’s correspondent in Islamabad, Nirupama Subramaniam quoted him as saying.
Though the opposition will try and corner the government for trying to meet its goal of ending terrorism from across the border through both a focussed dialogue and renewed emphasis on homeland security, the Pune bomb blast has underlined the importance of staying the course. And one of the first issues India will have to raise with the Pakistani Foreign Secretary is the need for Makki to be arrested and interrogated for his 'prescient' statement about Pune. The fact that terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba don't want India and Pakistan to talk is a good reason to question the logic of not talking. Talks do not represent an easing of pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the LeT/JuD. Indeed, that they are likely to be a more effective instrument for pressing one's demands is precisely why terrorist organisations are so keen to ensure the proposed dialogue never takes off.