India faces chronic low-grade terror threat, but Pakistan relationship is safe

By Shamila N. Chaudhary The Sept. 7 bombing of the Delhi High Court that killed 13 underscores the ever-present security threat from militants in India’s major cities. But while relatively small attacks are likely to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, they do not fundamentally change the security picture. The opposition Bharatiya ...

By , the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media.
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images

By Shamila N. Chaudhary

By Shamila N. Chaudhary

The Sept. 7 bombing of the Delhi High Court that killed 13 underscores the ever-present security threat from militants in India’s major cities. But while relatively small attacks are likely to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, they do not fundamentally change the security picture. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is, however, likely to ramp up its criticism of the Congress government. More importantly, the attacks will not cause a strategic shift in the Indian government’s relationship with Pakistan, despite the claims of responsibility from radical Islamist groups with connections to Pakistan.

It’s still unclear who is responsible for the attack. A member of the Pakistan and Bangladesh based Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) terror group purportedly sent an email claiming responsibility for the blast. But another email on Sept. 8 claimed responsibility for the Indian Mujahideen (IM), the main suspect in the July 13 bombings in Mumbai. HuJI’s email claimed the purpose of the attack was to coerce the Indian government into commuting the death sentence of Afzal Guru, convicted of conspiracy in the 2001 attack on India’s parliament building. Both groups have executed a number of similar attacks in India over the last several years. The Indian government has not identified the group responsible for the blast, but three Kashmiri men have been arrested.

Regardless of which group is culpable, the attack may boost limited domestic pressure on the Congress government, but will have little effect on India’s relationship with Pakistan. Immediately after the attack, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for cooperation, not accusations, in the face of the growing terror threat in India. This message may have been intended more for domestic audiences than targeted at Pakistan, given the political pressures the Congress party currently faces in light of a series of corruption scandals and the July Mumbai bombings. While national elections will not be held until 2014, the BJP is likely to once again make the government’s poor handling of terrorism a campaign issue despite calls for additional intelligence gathering.

The fragile nature of the ongoing dialogue with Pakistan also factors into Singh’s calculus. Singh perceives the dialogue as one of his legacy issues, but enjoys little political support in the Indian government outside a handful of senior officials and aides.

But any derailment of the dialogue with Pakistan limits India’s ability to influence Islamabad for more progress on the trials related to the 2008 Mumbai attacks. India is also likely to mute its response because of its desire to sustain its development and diplomatic presence in Afghanistan without threat from Pakistan-based groups. Pakistan will also manage its message closely, as its damaged relationship with the United States is still on the mend. Neither does the resurgence of hostile rhetoric with India serve the interests of the civilian and military leadership, which are both desperate to improve their domestic image after the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. 

Shamila N. Chaudhary is an analyst in Eurasia Group’s Asia practice.

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer

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