Post-Mumbai, War on Terror Takes a New Direction

They are still counting and clearing the dead in Mumbai, and the final toll could exceed more than 300 dead and hundreds more injured. The coordinated terror attacks in Mumbai's financial center last Thursday and Friday will definitely shift the landscape in the war on terror. While there are still more unknowns than knowns at this point, there are several critical issues that deserve monitoring for the U.S. as the fallout from the terror attacks is sorted out.

Perhaps the largest developing issue is the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan. The group claiming responsibility for the attacks, the "Deccan Mujahideen," has never been heard from before, but many fingers are pointing at Pakistan. The coordinated attacks were well-planned and bear hallmark traits of the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist organizations, and they are on the top of most analysts' lists of suspects. Several reports have said that phones recovered from the dead terrorists show phone calls made to a high-ranking LeT commander and other reports indicate that an attack by LeT on Mumbai had been in the works for several months.

Predictably, Pakistani officials will vehemently deny any role whatsoever in response to accusations by India about their involvement. But even U.S. authorities are assessing Pakistan's possible culpability for the attacks. The question of Pakistan's involvement is critical because of its hair-trigger relations with India, and vice versa. The Mumbai attacks may prove to be the tipping point to full-scale war between the two nuclear powers reminiscent of the 2001-2002 confrontation between the two countries.

Another issue will be the fallout with respect to India's internal politics. The attacks could erode the support for the governing Congress Party and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has taken a passive stance on terror. The Parliament approved the tough Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) legislation in 2002, but it was repealed in 2004 with Singh's approval.

As noted by Somini Sengupta in Saturday's New York Times, the attacks will strengthen the hand of the Hindu extremist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BPJ). Elections will begin in five states this coming weekend and national elections will be held next year. The terror attacks may slow the booming Indian economy, which has buoyed Singh and the Congress Party, and make national security a top campaign priority, a BPJ strength. To compensate, Singh may be forced to take a more aggressive stand against terror.