Given how the US reacted to the traumatic 9/11 attacks — wars against Afghanistan and Iraq that are still ongoing and adoption of a dangerous public doctrine of “preemptive” action that openly embraces preventive war — security scholars ought to be thinking seriously about India’s possible reaction to this week’s Mumbai commuter train bombings.

Indeed, this should be a central concern to security strategists as well. Why?

Though the Indian government has not accused Pakistan of direct involvement in this week’s commuter train bombings, officials like Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have drawn some connections — and offered fairly clear warnings:

“We are also certain that … terrorist modules are instigated, inspired and supported by elements across the border,” Mr Singh said….

“We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that terrorist elements in India are neutralised,”

Unnamed Indian security officials are telling the BBC that the latest “bombings bore the hallmarks of Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Kashmiri militant group operating from Pakistan.”

Pakistan says the allegations are unsubstantiated and rejects them, as does Lashkar-e-Toiba. The Students’ Islamic Movement (Simi), which is outlawed in India, also denies any involvement. President President Pervez Musharraf has condemned the attacks and offered Pakistani assistance with the investigation.

Would any of those denials matter if India decided that Pakistan wasn’t doing enough to crack down on radical militants? Worse, what if India decided that there was a clear link between Pakistan and the bombers?

When discussing nuclear proliferation and deterrence in my “International security” classes, I typically argue that India and Pakistan are the most likely participants in any near-term nuclear exchange between states. That view was fairly common among security scholars a few years ago, though ongoing peace talks have moved the two states further from the brink than they once were.

India and Pakistan have gone to war several times in the past half century or so and despite ongoing peace talks, the nuclear-armed neighbors really aren’t close to resolving the Kashmir issue. Periodically, leaders launch rhetorical salvos at the other side.

While the US and other affluent states should be offering India assistance in the post-terror cleanup and investigation, these states should also be doing all that they can to reduce the risk of war between India and Pakistan.

In the ongoing investigation, by the way, 100s of people have been detained for questioning and sketches of three (named) suspects wanted in connection with the bombing have been circulated to the media. Let’s hope that the suspects are apprehended quickly and that they have no connection to the government in Islamabad or to militants in the region.

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