The unhealed wound of Kashmir
By H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe, December 2, 2008
IF THE twin towers of the World Trade Center seemed to symbolize New York, how much more does the storied Taj Mahal hotel, with its overwrought architecture and mock Mughal flourishes, symbolize the great, rambling city of Bombay, which the Indians now call Mumbai.
When it was built in 1903 - the dream of Jamsetji Tata, who named it after India's most enduring monument - it was the first building in Bombay to be lit by electric lights. Today the Tata Group is among India's greatest industrial conglomerates with a worldwide reach, including Boston's former Ritz.
The triumphal arch between the hotel and the bay, The Gateway to India, was built to commemorate the 1911 landing of the king - Emperor George V - at the height of the British Empire, and through it marched the last British soldiers to leave India, the Somerset Light Infantry, in 1948 when the imperial sun was setting and India was newly free.
The maharajas in the Taj lobby were replaced by industrial moguls and high-end foreigners, and the hotel became the place where well-off Indians had their weddings and their grand occasions, just as much a symbol of the new India shouldering its way onto the world stage as of the colonial past.
The terrorists knew that, of course, as they slipped by the Gateway to attack the Taj. Terrorists are great ones for symbolism, and to strike Mumbai was the equivalent of striking New York with Hollywood thrown in.
India points the finger toward Pakistan, and it's becoming clear that the unhealed wound of Kashmir is spreading its gangrenous grievance yet again. The mostly Muslim region was assigned to India when the subcontinent was being partitioned, and the Muslim population remains unreconciled to Indian rule.
The terrorists seemed so familiar with their targets, including a hard-to-find Jewish center. One wonders if they had local help. How sad for India if local Muslims were involved. Although a minority, Muslims in India represent either the world's second- or third-biggest Muslim population, after Indonesia and Pakistan, which was created as a Muslim homeland. Communal violence has always been the lethal gene in the Indian body politic, and Mumbai's Muslims were hunted down and massacred by angry Hindus as recently as 1993.
One terrorist screamed "Remember Babri Masjid!" a mosque destroyed by Hindu nationalists in 1992. Another cried "Remember Godhra!" the scene of anti-Muslim riots in Gugarat six years ago.
Local elections have begun in India, leading up to a general election next year, and the Hindu nationalist opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, longs to paint the ruling Congress Party as soft on terrorism and national security.
The big question is to what degree will Pakistan be blamed? A similar attack on the Indian parliament seven years ago brought the two counties to the brink of war. Pakistan wants no trouble with India while a consuming fire of Islamic militancy blazes in its own country. But elements of Pakistan's military and security forces have been known to give succor and support to militants just in order to bedevil India over Kashmir. The terrorists clearly hoped to worsen Indo-Pakistan relations.
India and Pakistan have fought several wars, most of them over Kashmir, and Pakistan feels threatened by India's growing influence in Afghanistan. India, in turn, fears becoming a war zone itself with constant bombings and terrorist outrages, some of them traceable to Pakistan.
The British partition of India 60 years ago, which cost so many lives and so much anguish, was designed to resolve the problems between Hindus and Muslims. It did not. The grievances growing out of that partition live on to poison both successor states to the British Raj.
This is a nightmare for the incoming Obama administration, which, like its predecessor, wants peace between the two nuclear neighbors and Pakistan's attention focused on its own growing Islamic insurgency.
The danger is that an attack this spectacular can trigger a counterproductive overreaction that will only create more terrorists, to which the actions of the Bush administration after 9/11 so sadly attest. Hopefully, India will prove the wiser.
But most certainly, the Taj will rise again.
H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.
1. India Names Mumbai Mastermind - Wall Street Journal
2. US 'warned India before Mumbai attacks' - Guardian
3. Pakistan, India assert right to self-defense - Los Angeles Times
4. Pranab rules out military action - The Hindu
5. From the ashes rises the Phoenix - Aamir Khan