South Asian security after Mumbai

As evidence emerges that the gunmen who caused the carnage in Mumbai were operatives of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, one question reverberates: Was the Pakistani government responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks?

This is the wrong question to ask. During the late 1980s and the 1990s, the Pakistani government created terror organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba as tools of asymmetric warfare against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir. In recent years, however, the jihadis, like the magic brooms in Goethe's tale, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," have taken on a life of their own; along with the government, the army and the intelligence services, such groups now comprise one of the main centers of gravity within Pakistan.

Several factors have enabled them to reach this point. The jihadis have been armed and trained by elements of the Pakistani military and security services, and are funded by a sophisticated international financial network. In addition, they enjoy street popularity, and remain a useful means of combatting India's presence in Kashmir. Consequently, the Pakistani government has balked at opportunities to shut them down.

As a result, the militants are now in a position to conduct their own policy. Like the Goethe's magic brooms, they often act against the interests of their creators, attacking security personnel, assassinating government officials and seizing territory within Pakistan, as well as launching attacks on India that could trigger a regional war. The question, then, is not whether the Pakistani government was responsible for the Mumbai attacks, but who will now play the role of sorcerer and rein in the jihadis.

In theory, either the Pakistani or the Indian government could do so. But Mumbai has shown that neither side is up to the task. The Pakistani government cannot prevent militants from using its soil to strike India. The Indians are completely unable to anticipate or repel such attacks. In addition, they lack the military capabilities needed to clear militant strongholds within Pakistani territory.

The situation requires a radical re-thinking of South Asia's security. Both sides must adopt policies that transcend their traditional comfort zones. The Pakistani government must forswear militancy, end support for the jihadis and accept international military and financial assistance in crushing them. The Pakistani government needs to recognize that the costs of supporting militancy outweigh its benefits, and that Mumbai may be the last chance to get control of the situation. If the government does not act against the militants now, then it may lose control of the state, or find itself drawn into a catastrophic conflict with India in the wake of another terrorist attack.

The Indians, for their part, must start to take their own security more seriously. In 1991, after suffering a major financial crisis, the Indian government came to terms with the failures of its socialist development model and adopted a free-market approach to economic growth. Similarly, India must use this crisis to wholly revamp its security infrastructure. If it fails to do so, the country's impressive economic expansion of recent years will be for naught. Simply put, international corporations will view the country as being too dangerous and refuse to do business there.

The road to real improvement in India will be long and complex, but the Indians can start by properly training and equipping their police and domestic security personnel, who were outgunned and outwitted for nearly three days in Mumbai by just a handful of terrorists. Simultaneously, New Delhi must address the legitimate concerns of its own Muslim community, including the long-aggrieved Kashmiri population, so that overseas terrorists do not find willing collaborators within India.

Finally, there is another player in this subcontinental drama: the United States. The United States, which has forged a strategic partnership with India, can quietly and privately nudge New Delhi to address the internal tensions in Kashmir. More important, however, the United States must use its leverage as Pakistan's largest source of bilateral assistance to press the Pakistanis to end their support for the jihadis. It cannot continue to provide Islamabad with billions of dollars to fight the war on terror while Pakistan-based militant groups conduct operations like the Mumbai attacks. If Pakistan is to continue to benefit from American largesse, it must demonstrate a tangible commitment to ending support for such organizations.

None of these steps will provide an overnight solution to the problems laid bare by the Mumbai attacks. But, in time, they can help South Asia to create its own modern-day sorcerer, and deal with the militant forces that Pakistan has unleashed over decades. If the region fails to do so, its story, unlike Goethe's, will not have a happy ending.

Sumit Ganguly is the director of research of the Center on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington, and an adjunct senior fellow of the Pacific Council on International Policy. S. Paul Kapur is associate professor at U.S. Naval Postgraduate School; the views he expresses in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. government.