Delhi Bomb Blast and India’s Options
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 Feb 2012
The bomb blast in New Delhi on 13 February 2012 has certainly raised India’s stakes in highly contested debate on international terrorism. Particularly when the Middle East is witnessing some of the tense moments in its current politics with Israel and Iran raising their ante against each other, the policy circles in New Delhi as well as opinion makers are worried enough that the rising power might emerge as a new battlefield between these two rivals, with whom India is interested to maintain balanced relations without putting into dismay either of the powers. The bomb blast in the posh locality of the capital, few metres away from the residence of Indian Prime Minister, has sent shock waves and also raised skepticism about India’s preparedness to fight the menace of terrorism, and also its preparedness to be drawn to conflicts in which it evinces minimal interest.
The bomb blast that took place in the Toyota Innova car of an Israeli embassy staff official in busy office hours in high security zone did come as a surprise though Indian official sought to downplay the incident. Indian Foreign Minister, S. M. Krishna went to the extent saying that “India has not failed, this kind of an isolated incident can happen in any democratic country of the world.” While the foreign minister downplayed the incident, the opposition parties took strong exception and criticized the government led by Manmohan Singh, and criticized for its lack of preparedness to provide security to foreign diplomats and their offices. The Israeli property and people were earlier targeted during the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai masterminded by Lashkar-e-Toiba. The Jewish Chabad House was damaged in the attack, which also killed some Israeli citizens.
While the earlier attack on the Chabad House did not draw India into the whirlpool of Israel-Iran conflict in Middle East, the recent attack might put India into a very vulnerable situation due to various reasons. India has resisted the attempts or pressures from the USA and Israel to reduce its ties with Iran, on which it is dependent for energy resources. Iran is the second largest oil importer to India after Saudi Arabia and it meets about India’s 12 per cent of energy requirements. India has also harped on its traditional and cultural relations with Iran despite its critical posture on Iran’s nuclear programme. However, Israel is interested to see India’s less dependence on Iran. Israel’s Ambassador to India, Alon Ushpiz in a recent interview to an Indian news agency emphasized that “Our ties are solid bilateral relations and existential in nature for both of us.” It may be possible that the recent attack on Israeli staff will strengthen the clout of Israel in putting further pressure on India to reduce ties with Iran, particularly to snap trade ties. Last year only, due to sanctions on Iran the annual oil trade of about $12 billion could not materialize in 2011, and Indian policy makers were searching for alternate methods to bypass the sanctions. India is likely to confront such pressures in future as well. Foreign Minister Krishna treaded cautiously when he said, “We won’t call it a war, India doesn’t want to get sucked into action between two countries”
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu did not mince any word in criticizing the Iran hand behind the blast in New Delhi, and the other incident on the same day in Tbilisi in which a bomb planted in Israeli embassy staff car was diffused. Netanyahu stated, “Israel will act methodically and with determination and steadfastness against international terrorism originating from Iran.” On the other hand, Iranian news agency ISNA has refuted the charge and emphasized that Iran has no hand behind the attack. Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast said “We condemn any terrorist attack,” and called for international cooperation to fight international terrorism. The Israel government has sent high alerts to its officials worldwide as there is fear of further attacks on Israeli staff. The attack in New Delhi, just one day after the fourth anniversary of the killing of Hezbollah’s military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, killed in Damascus in 2008, indicates the plausible hand of extremist groups to avenge the attack. The motor bike rider, who planted the bomb on the car, used the same tactic used to kill senior Iranian scientists in the past. The biker attached a magnetic device in the rear of the car in a traffic point, when the vehicles were waiting for green signal. As the CCTV cameras reveal, the device exploded few seconds after the biker planted the bomb and took over the car. The use of the same tactic whether in the case of this attack or in the case of attack on Iranian scientists bring into focus similarities between these strategies but with having different goals. However, in case of India, it was for the first time that such a tactic was used in terrorist attacks.
At home, the terror scenario for India too does not portend well. It is yet unclear whether the local extremist groups colluded in supporting this attack, but the common sense is that such an attack in Indian capital’s high security zone, near the house of the prime minister, could not have been possible without local collusion. India has its burden of terrorism and extremism, but this incident in New Delhi has certainly added a new dimension to India’s policy making. There are many religious extremist groups in India with strong links in neighbourhood, causing enough concerns for India to beef up its national security and provide a secure environment for its economic development. The recent news of Lashkar-e-Toiba chief, Hafeez al Saeed (known for masterminding Mumbai attack of 2008) forming a new umbrella group of 40 radical groups, with sole focus on India has caused a lot of worry for India. The recent attack in New Delhi will also add to this headache, and particularly when it will draw India into the wider orbit of conflict in Middle East, and put strain on its security preparedness to confront rising nexus between various shades of extremism in Indian soil.
Few years back, there was no entity such as Indian Mujahideen, India’s homegrown religious extremist and terrorist group. The group, having links with extremist groups in India’s neighbourhood, has recently gained centre stage by orchestrating bomb blasts in various parts of India. Any likely combination of the power of this group with other international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and its active involvement in terrorist attacks on foreign countries like Israel (which is yet to be established) will certainly push India against its wishes to the vortex of other international conflicts. Hence, the combination of its domestic policy matrix, its approach to extremism and radicalism, and its external policies and posturing will put India in a tough place in crafting decisions which may be difficult but necessary.
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, currently part of the research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India. He specializes on areas of conflict, peace and terrorism, and strategic dimensions of Central Eurasian politics.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Feb 2012.
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