Towards the close of 2009 which ended without a major terror attack, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in a speech to the intelligence community that “there is the danger of a terror-free year inducing complacency, signs of which can be seen everywhere.” Last weekend, when a terrorist bomb ripped through the popular Germany Bakery in Pune, Mr. Chidambaram’s warning was underlined in stark relief. Ever since last summer, India’s intelligence services had been warning of a renewed offensive by Pakistan-based jihadist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Police in several States, as well as neighbouring Bangladesh, had foiled multiple jihadist attack plans. In August, Indian communication intelligence detected plans to stage a car-bomb attack in Pune, while the interrogation of Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley made clear that the Lashkar had ambitious plans to stage large-scale attacks across India. Earlier this month, top Lashkar ideologue Abdur Rehman Makki had even held out explicit threats to target New Delhi, Kanpur, and Pune. But even though India’s police and intelligence services knew that Pune, apart from other cities, was facing a threat, they were unable to learn just when terrorists might strike and where.
If Saturday’s bombing does turn out to be the handiwork of Pakistan-based jihadist groups, Indian policymakers could soon find themselves confronting a difficult dilemma. Many in New Delhi’s policy community believe renewed operations by jihadist groups are the outcome of the desire of powerful elements in Pakistan’s military-dominated elite to maintain an adversarial relationship with India. This, the argument goes, is because tensions with India give Pakistan’s military an excuse to go slow in its ongoing offensive against Islamist groups at home -- a war many in Pakistan believe has been foisted on the country by the United States. Encouraging jihadists to target India allows Pakistan’s army to rebuild its long-standing relationship with the religious right, and to maintain its political primacy at home. If this turns out to be the case, it will bring India’s renewed efforts at dialogue with Pakistan under enormous pressure. Neither calling off the dialogue nor engaging in it will protect India from attack -- dialogue, after all, is only a process, not an outcome in itself. Pakistan’s half-measures against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, as well as its refusal to dismantle the military infrastructure of the groups, illustrate the need to acquire the means to deal with a Pakistani establishment that seems to think it has nothing to gain from acting against anti-India terrorists. It is a situation that calls for a mature response that is firm and result-oriented and not one stemming from passions of the moment.