Indo-Pak tensions grow after terrorist attack

NEW DELHI – On Sept. 24, terrorists attacked a well-known Hindu temple, Akshar Dham, in Gujarat, one of India’s most communally polarized states. Two “fidayeen” (suicide squads) opened fire and hurled hand grenades indiscriminately; 37 died, with another 100 severely injured.

Akshar Dham temple belongs to one of the wealthiest Hindu sects, the Swaminarayan, who enjoy a great reputation all over India because they preach universal brotherhood.

The terrorist outfit, Tehrek-e-Qisas-Gujarat, which means Movement for Revenge in Gujarat, is suspected to be backed by Pakistan.

Political analysts charge that these brutal killings are aimed at disrupting the final phase of voting in the Kashmir Assembly election. The first and second phases passed comparatively peacefully with 44 percent voter participation. The call for an election boycott did not keep voters away, especially women. International poll monitors expressed their happiness over the first two election phases.

After the temple attack, the Indo-Pak border once again became tense with thousands of soldiers from both sides moving toward the border areas. Far-right Hindu political organizations are pushing the prime minister to take extreme steps, including attacking Pakistan. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, a hard-core Hinduist, said a war with Pakistan is unavoidable.

Since February, Gujarat has been on the front page because of the Hindu far right and government-sponsored communal violence and massacres against the state’s Muslim minority.

The terrorist acts helped the Hindu rightwing gain momentum at a time when Gujarat is heading into an assembly election. The state’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, is likely to benefit. Modi, who has close ties to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a far-right Hindu organization, assisted in the bloody riots against the Muslim minority. Modi did not utilize the state’s police force to protect Muslims, resulting in thousands of deaths and millions still in refugee camps. Reports also state government help was given to organizing the pogroms.

Indian-Pakistani tensions are so high that the Indian Foreign Office spokeswoman dismissed Pakistan’s statements which distanced itself from the barbaric attack, calling it “one more episode in the serial called tall tales from Pakistan.”

After this tragedy anti-American sentiments increased because of the U.S. support for Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharaf. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee condemned the Bush administration for its double standards, to pacify some in his own party, but nobody believes that he will do anything against the will of President Bush.

Indian Left parties have condemned the attack and appealed to all sections to maintain communal harmony and asked the government to take confidence-building measures. They will observe Oct. 2, birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, as “communal harmony day” with actions all over the country.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org