Several armed militants stormed the Parliament building in New Delhi on Dec. 13, triggering a firefight with security forces that left at least a dozen dead, including the attackers. Although no group has claimed responsibility, Indian officials are likening the incident to an October attack on the Parliament in Srinagar, which was blamed on Pakistani-backed Kashmiri militants. The incident in New Delhi has triggered a strong political response. India is likely to take its anti-terrorism fight deeper into Kashmir, raising tensions with Pakistan.
At 11:40 a.m. local time on Dec. 13, a group of five or six militants attacked the Indian Parliament building in New Delhi. According to local reports, they rode into the compound in an official vehicle — armed with explosives, hand grenades and AK-47 assault rifles — and an ensuing firefight with security forces left at least 12 dead, including the attackers. No group has claimed responsibility, but Indian officials are comparing the incident to an October strike on the Jammu and Kashmir Parliament building in Srinagar, which left 38 dead. That attack allegedly was carried out by Kashmiri militants, linked by New Delhi to Pakistani intelligence, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. In response to the events of Dec. 13, the Indian government will take its anti-terrorism battle deeper into the disputed Kashmir region, targeting suspected terrorist bases and training grounds — a move that will heighten tensions with neighboring Pakistan. Ultimately, the Parliament shootings could be the prelude to something much bigger that will threaten the stability of South Asia as well as U.S.-Pakistani relations. India has long argued that Kashmiri militants are part of a broader network of terrorists and has urged the United States to support its stance regarding Kashmir. The attack on Parliament will bolster New Delhi's position and its resolve to launch pre-emptive strikes at suspected militants in Kashmir. Washington is likely to offer cautious support for New Delhi's actions although doing so could further weaken Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Although it was vital for the United States to have Pakistani support in order to launch effective strikes into Afghanistan, that support remains a highly contentious issue in Islamabad. Besides facing concerns raised by religious figures tied to the Taliban, Musharraf has more recently felt pressure from within the ranks of the military — who are concerned Pakistan did not gain much in return for supporting the U.S. attack on a former ally. In the aftermath of the Parliament shootings, Washington's relations with Pakistan will likely experience further strain. India repeatedly has reminded Washington and the rest of the world that Pakistan was a strong supporter of the Taliban — and by default, a supporter of terrorism. In New Delhi's opinion, Islamabad is a state sponsor of terrorism, supporting Kashmiri militants just as the Taliban supported al Qaeda. As a result, Washington must take a cautious approach to its relations with Pakistan, offering economic assistance but little in the way of military support. Just as the Sept. 11 attacks rallied U.S. political factions toward a common goal, the attack on India's Parliament will likely lead to more cooperation among Indian political factions — at least in terms of a military response. Already there are calls from within the government to take the offensive and strike at militant camps in Kashmir. Further, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes has bluntly warned that if Pakistan is in any way involved in the attack, India will respond swiftly. The Indian military's primary target will be Kashmir, where tensions were already high. Pakistan's Musharraf has used the Kashmir struggle to shift domestic attention away from Afghanistan. New Delhi has likewise stepped up deployments in the area, drawing on the West's support for anti-terrorism actions that emerged after Sept. 11. On Dec. 12 there were reports of heavy shelling in several places along the border and a series of explosions, which allegedly were carried out by Kashmiri militants trying to destroy Indian security fencing, according to Indian media. As India intensifies operations in Kashmir, Islamabad will respond with stronger support for the militants, which it labels independence fighters. Although this could relieve some domestic pressure for Musharraf, it will further strain Pakistan's ties with the United States, which has been attempting to step up strategic cooperation with India. With winter setting in, the chances of a wider conflict remain low. If the issues are not resolved, however, spring may be marked by renewed border clashes involving Indian and Pakistani troops, threatening South Asia's tenuous stability.