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Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008 11:31 am

India must not follow the U.S. example

Reeling from the terrible shock of the attacks on India’s commercial capital last week, the authorities of the world’s largest democracy may find it logical to follow in the footsteps of a certain world-leading country that considers itself to be spearheading democracy around the world. But the United States has both domestically and in foreign policy, denied much of its own democratic tradition in its “global war on terror.” Now India must resist the temptation to do the same.

The authorities in New Delhi would be well advised to take the time necessary and assess the situation and its potential consequences thoroughly before taking any action they may later regret. As nearly everyone knows, a conflict between India and Pakistan — both countries armed with nuclear weapons — would bring nuclear mayhem to the sub-continent and beyond.

The urge for vengeance by an enraged public demanding action from their officials is understandable, and pushes New Delhi to feel it needs to act. But Delhi’s leadership must avoid a path leading to such a precipice in Indo-Pakistan relations.

The attacks on Mumbai by gunmen belonging to a radical Islamist organization, in which nearly 200 people were killed and several hundreds wounded, some severely, in the words of one Indian official, was described as “India’s September 11.”

The similarities between the two raids are numerous. Both the attacks on New York City in 2001, and the raids on Mumbai last week targeted financial hubs. By hitting large business centers, as they did, whoever is behind the Mumbai attacks wanted to do more than kill as many people as they could, before eventually being gunned down by security forces. The attackers were aiming to cause greater harm than the killing of some 200 people and the destruction of hotels and restaurants. (Or in the 9/11 case, the deaths of 3,000 people and several buildings.)

The real intent of those two raids was to cause disruption of the countries’ economies. In New York, the attacks had a direct effect on Wall Street and subsequently, on the country’s economic situation. Likewise, Mumbai’s stock market will be affected by last week’s attacks, as will India’s economy.

Barely 48 hours after the attacks, India began using strong-worded language, saying that Pakistan was behind the Mumbai attacks. According to Indian security services, the surviving terrorist in custody admitted to being Pakistani and having been trained in Pakistan. Indian authorities also found a cell phone of one of the terrorists showing several calls made to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

What of the consequences if India follows the US example? What if India is dragged into the vicious cycle of attacks and counterattacks — verbal, at first — but which could lead to hostile acts and to full scale war.

Besides the apparent danger that the two countries reach a point of no return, India risks falling into the same trap the United States found itself in after 9/11. The mistakes of the Bush administration were those of enacting undemocratic laws (the USA Patriot Act), and ordering law-breaking government practices (torture, detention, and rendition).

For India to go that route would be self-destructive in the extreme. Anti-Muslim sentiment in India can easily spin out of control. There is bound to be a growing desire in Delhi to retaliate, but this is a time for restraint. India, one of the rare democracies in that part of the world, risks alienating its 154 million Muslims.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington.

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