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Don't treat Mumbai, Malegaon, Deewana blasts as isolated incidents
February 19, 2007
Sixty-six innocent civilians were killed following explosions in two coaches of the Samjhauta Express going from Old Delhi to Attari on the Indo-Pakistan border around midnight on February 18. The incident took place near the Deewana railway station, about 100 km from Delhi. This train was started in 1975 to facilitate travel by poor Muslims in the two countries to visit their relatives. The train from Delhi to Attari generally carries Indian Muslims going to visit their relatives in Pakistan and Pakistani Muslims (mainly Mohajirs) returning to Pakistan after visiting their relatives in India. It should not, therefore, be a cause for surprise if many of those killed are Muslims.
It has been reported that fire engulfed the two coaches after one or two explosions. Thus, fatalities would seem to have been caused as much by the explosions as by the fire. V N Mathur, general manager of Northern Railway, has been quoted as saying that two suitcases were recovered from the spot -- one on the rail track and one from the train. Both the suitcases contained improvised explosive devices. According to him, one of them also had incendiary material, either kerosene or petrol.
Presuming that these accounts of one or two explosions caused by IEDs are correct, the Deewana incident resembles the Mumbai blasts of July 2006 in three respects -- the terrorists attacked a soft target; it was an act of mass casualty terrorism; and they chose a train as their target.
There are also two major differences. In Mumbai, the terrorists attacked different suburban trains with a multiplicity of well-timed and well-orchestrated explosions. This required a high degree of sophistication. In the Deewana explosion, there is so far no evidence of such sophistication. When one attacks different suburban trains, one is sure of killing many people, but the killing is indiscriminate and not targeted. At Deewana, they have attacked one inter-city train, by which many Indian and Pakistani Muslims travel. It was a targeted attack, with the knowledge that many Muslims were likely to be killed.
From the point of view of targeting Muslims, the Deewana explosion resembles the Malegaon explosion of September 8, 2006, in which many Muslims were killed. However, at Malegaon there was no attack on trains or other means of transport. The IEDs were kept near a mosque. The level of sophistication at Malegaon was higher than the one at Deewana, but lower than what one had seen at Mumbai.
It is important for the experts to have a look at the modus operandi, targeting and motivation in all the explosions at Mumbai, Malegaon and Deewana. They should not be treated as separate incidents unconnected with each other.
The suburban trains of Mumbai and the targets of attack at Malegaon were not politically significant targets. The Samjhauta Express was. It is an important and the oldest component of the confidence-building architecture which has come up between India and Pakistan. Except between 2002 and 2005, when it had remained suspended following the attempted attack on Indian Parliament by Pakistani terrorists in December 2001, it had functioned fairly well, much to the convenience of poor Muslims in the two countries. It is not a train of the affluent elite. It has been the preferred mode of transport of poor people, who cannot afford to travel by air or road.
The timing of the Deewana attack is intriguing. It took place a day before the visit of the Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri to New Delhi for talks with his Indian counterpart.
One has to await further evidence before assessing who might have been responsible for the Deewana tragedy. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisation, and its Indian collaborator the Students' Islamic Movement of India were found responsible for the Mumbai explosions. SIMI was reportedly found responsible for the Malegaon explosions. One does not as yet have any idea as to who might have been responsible for the Deewana incident.
I am strongly against the Indo-Pakistan peace process as carried on by the present government. It is playing into the hands of Gen Pervez Musharraf and his horde of jihadi terrorists whom he and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence have been using to make India bleed. At the same time, I am against postponing the so-called peace process because that would be interpreted by the terrorists as a major success for them. By all means continue talking with Pakistan, but talk strongly and make it clear that till terrorism stops, there will be no progress on other issues. Discontinue the joint counter-terrorism mechanism fraud sought to be perpetrated by Musharraf on us. Discard the softness which has crept into our counter-terrorism policies and in our diplomacy. Strengthen the hands of the police, give them the required special powers and let them have a free hand in their investigations.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com)