Editorial -- For regional peace, India and Pakistan must cooperate on terrorism

Saturday, November 29, 2008

MANY THINGS about the savage terrorist attacks on hotels, restaurants and other "soft targets" in Mumbai are not fully known: the group or groups responsible; their links, if any, to Pakistan or other outside forces such as al-Qaeda. But morally, the relevant facts are perfectly clear. The assaults cost the lives of at least 145 people. The vast majority were civilians, Indian and foreign, including two visitors from Virginia and an American-born rabbi whose crime, to the terrorists, seems to have been helping Jews passing through Mumbai. Whatever its ostensible ideology, this was murder. And it is a stark reminder, if any were needed, that, even when governments are properly busy fending off a global financial crisis, they cannot neglect the threat of terrorism.

Before these awful raids, news from South Asia had been encouraging. The central problem remains pacifying Afghanistan, where U.S. and other NATO forces struggle to stamp out Taliban and al-Qaeda elements. Resurgent terrorist groups enjoy havens in Pakistan's tribal areas as well as alleged protection or support from elements of Pakistani military intelligence. For Pakistan's army, Afghanistan is a traditional sphere of influence that must be denied to India, whose ties with Kabul have grown since the United States ousted the Taliban from power.

Washington, however, wants the Pakistani army's cooperation in fighting terrorism. In recent weeks, U.S. officers in Afghanistan reported better results, crediting the Pakistanis with taking the offensive against the Taliban on Pakistani territory. Meanwhile, the newly elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari has reined in the domestic political activities of military intelligence and reached out to India. Mr. Zardari promised a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons and spoke of an eventual "nonnuclear treaty." A rapprochement with India would permit the Pakistani government to devote more military resources to the fight against terrorists.

Islamist extremists and their backers inside Pakistan do not want that; the attacks in Mumbai may well have been calculated to set off a new Indo-Pakistani crisis. India's foreign minister said as much, pointing a finger of blame at Pakistan and telling its foreign minister, who was visiting New Delhi at the time of the attacks, that there could be no "leap" in relations unless Islamabad cracked down on the people responsible for the attacks. Pakistan responded constructively, agreeing to an Indian request that its military intelligence chief go to India to share what Islamabad knows about the origins of the attacks. Mr. Zardari assured Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Pakistan "will cooperate with India in exposing and apprehending the culprits and masterminds behind" the attacks, adding, "We should not fall into the trap of the militants."

The United States, in what's left of the Bush administration's term and right from the start of the Obama administration's, must continue nudging these two rivals toward cooperation. As the bloodbath in Mumbai so vividly illustrates, terrorism is not only America's enemy, but Pakistan's and India's as well.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company