Aryn Baker writes in Time:
The roots of Muslim rage run deep in India, nourished by a long-held sense of injustice over what many Indian Muslims believe is institutionalized discrimination against the country’s largest minority group. The disparities between Muslims, which make up 13.4% of the population, and India’s Hindu population, which hovers around 80%, are striking. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking Muslim Indians have shorter life spans, worse health, lower literacy levels, and lower-paying jobs. Add to that toxic brew the lingering resentment over 2002’s anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat. The riots, instigated by Hindu nationalists, killed some 2000 people, most of them Muslim. To this day, few of the perpetrators have been convicted.
Kashmir, a Muslim-dominated state whose fate had been left undecided in the chaos that led up to partition, remains a suppurating wound in India’s Muslim psyche. As the cause of three wars between India and Pakistan — one of which nearly went nuclear in 1999 — Kashmir has become a symbol of profound injustice to Indian Muslims who believe that their government cares little for Kashmir’s claim of independence, which is based upon a 1948 U.N. resolution promising a plebiscite to determine the Kashmiri people’s future. That frustration has spilled into the rest of India in the form of several devastating terrorist attacks that have made Indian Muslims both perpetrators and victims.
Like much of the analysis of the Mumbai attacks I’ve read in the past couple of days, this ignores the role of outside influence on the radicalisation of Indian Muslims.
A sense of injustice doesn’t automatically lead to terrorism, and social grievances by themselves don’t breed militancy; otherwise we’d all be in trouble. Communal violence has rocked India almost every year since 1947, yet the country’s descent into terrorist bloodshed is relatively recent. The 2002 Gujarat riots are rightly emphasised in almost every news story as one of the causes of “Muslim rage”, but for the wrong reason. It’s not that the mayhem, although horrific, was historically bad; it’s because it occurred at a crucial juncture. Kashmir had been burning for more than a decade; al-Qaeda had scored its biggest victory with 9/11; and in Pakistan, ISI was riding roughshod over moderates while funding every jihadist outfit they deemed useful as a proxy.
Kashmir’s role in the radicalisation of Indian Muslims is significant, and there is no doubt that abuses by the Indian security forces added insult to injury. But the valley never would’ve been swallowed by a full-blown insurgency had it not been for ISI’s fundamentalist gunmen. I traveled the area frequently in the 80s and early 90s, and the transformation was as rapid as it was tragic. Muzaffarabad was a beehive of jihadist activity; on the Indian side, battles raged and the Indian forces, lacking a coherent COIN plan, resorted to treating every civilian as an enemy. In the end, Pakistan’s strategy of provocation was a resounding success. If the plebiscite had been held in 1989, I’d say most Kashmiris would’ve opted for staying with India; by 1991, most wanted independence; today, my guess is at least a notable section of the population would prefer accession to Pakistan.
India certainly isn’t immune to homegrown fanaticism, be it Hindu or Muslim. But to blame the country for what happened in Mumbai by pointing to the discrimination and resentment of its Muslims trivialises a problem that goes far beyond India’s borders. Without Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir, there would be no Indian Mujahedin, and SIMI would’ve remained a nuisance. No reasonable person blamed the U.S. for 9/11, even if one could see its policies in the Middle East as a root cause. We should extend the same courtesy to India.
(For an Indian perspective, see terrorism expert Wilson John’s conclusions.)