Why the Punjab Police Station Attack Was Waiting to Happen – India Real Time – WSJ

Six people were killed and at least seven injured in the Indian province of Punjab on Monday after gunmen dressed in military uniforms opened fire at a bus station and later turned their weapons on a police post.

According to Indian officials, security forces killed three of the attackers; three police officers also were killed in the violence in Gurdaspur district, which is close to the Pakistani border. The death toll could have been much higher; five bombs were reportedly found on train tracks nearby.

Many Indians and South Asia analysts, myself included, have feared for some time an eruption of the sort of violence that unfolded Monday. Reasons include:

* With most international troops out of Afghanistan, numerous militants that had been fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan could be looking for new targets—and might see ones in neighboring India.

* There was a resurgence in 2014 of anti-India militant leaders who had been quiet in recent years. These include Masood Azhar, head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed group, whose voice was heard in a recorded broadcast last year at an anti-India rally in Pakistan. Mr. Azhar had threatened to assassinate Narendra Modi if he became prime minister.

* The India-Pakistan relationship is at one of its lowest points in years. The Pakistani military controls its country’s relations with India, and army leaders are fundamentally opposed to the idea of peace with New Delhi. Mr. Modi’s conservative, Hindu nationalist government sees no reason to pursue full-fledged talks with Pakistan’s civilian government, which is more sympathetic to reconciliation but lacks the power to pursue it. This fraught environment offers useful pretexts for attacks.

It is not yet clear who staged Monday’s assault; some Indian officials have alleged the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani anti-India group responsible for the 2008 terror strikes on Mumbai. Lashkar-e-Taiba is known to have ties to the Pakistani security establishment. Notably, Islamabad has condemned the attack—a goodwill gesture made with the knowledge that, whoever staged the attack, someone in India would invariably accuse Pakistan.

Although Punjab province is close to the tense Kashmir region, terror attacks are unusual in Punjab. In decades past, it has been a hotbed of separatist—and at times violent—activity led by Indian Sikhs, though this movement—which many Indian commentators believe is supported by Pakistan’s intelligence service—has been quiet in recent years (grievances of the past, however, remain entrenched, I was told repeatedly while in Punjab last year). Some Indian commentators have questioned whether Monday’s attack marks a “revival” of the movement. Others wonder if Pakistani terrorists are simply opening new fronts beyond Kashmir.

If India concludes that the attack originated in Pakistan, the subcontinent could be in for some very turbulent times. Mr. Modi is not likely to be as restrained in the face of Pakistani provocations as his predecessor Manmohan Singh was.

Whoever was behind the attack, Monday’s death toll reminds us that amid talk of al Qaeda affiliates and Islamic State wreaking havoc across the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia’s subcontinent remains a dangerous–and nuclear-armed—place.

via Why the Punjab Police Station Attack Was Waiting to Happen – India Real Time – WSJ.

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