The recent string of commuter-train bomb blasts that killed nearly 200 people in Mumbai, India, and left more than 700 injured is yet another violent incident in a series of bombings around the world. Early thinking was that these blasts were the possible work of Muslim terrorist groups fighting to free Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim territory between Pakistan and India, from Indian control. But new fears have surfaced about the possibility that the attacks were the work of an international terrorist organization, much like the bombings in London a year ago.

To gain insight into the political and religious climate in South Asia, Beliefnet talked with Sumit Ganguly, a professor of Indian culture and civilization at Indiana University and an expert on the Kashmir struggle. Ganguly, the author of two books on the India-Pakistan conflict, said the Mumbai bomb blasts go way beyond Hindu-Muslim violence, which has plagued India for years.

Early reports from U.S. and Indian government officials said the bomb blasts had the looks of Lashkar-e-Toiba, a leading Pakistan-based militant group fighting in Kashmir. What do you think? Can this be the work of Kashmiri militants?

It’s certainly within the realm of possibility, particularly the kinds of things they’ve been saying on their websites lately--such as there is Hindu, Jewish, and Zionist crusader conspiracy, referring to Christians and the United States. Some of this kind of very unsavory language has been percolating on Jihadi websites as well.

Such terrorist groups come forward quite quickly to claim responsibility, and it’s been more than 24 hours since the bomb blasts.

Just because [Muslim terrorists groups fighting for Kashmir] have not come forward does not mean that they are not involved. And also bear in mind that there is something very sinister about these bombings. They were carefully orchestrated, just like the London bombings or the Madrid bombings. This is only circumstantial evidence, but that’s all we have to go on at the moment.

Some analysts have suggested that a powerful, possibly transnational group must have been behind the bombings. Does this have the markings of Al-Qaeda?

It does have the markings of something like Al-Qaeda. As time passes and more evidence is discovered, the Indian government is thinking more that this terrorist act has the markings of an international group.

What can be the motive of such bombings? After all, terrorist acts are not new to Indian soil, such as in 1993 when 13 bombs went off all over Mumbai.

Possible motives for an international terrorist group are the hostility toward India because of its growing closeness with the United States and with Israel. That, combined with local grievances in Kashmir, which the Lashkar-e-Toiba has been bringing about.

So this is more than the typical Hindu-Muslim violence you find at times in India.

This goes well beyond that. I personally find the Hindu-Muslim violence very abhorrent, and it can be easily contained. Take my home state of Bengal. The communist government there hasn’t been able to do a damn thing to improve the quality of life, but they’re good at one thing. They do not tolerate Hindu-Muslim violence.

India is a predominantly Hindu country with a large Muslim minority. And other brutal incidences in the past have fueled violence between the two faiths. Is this a viable fear after the train bombings in Mumbai?

I don’t think there is any specific risk thereof right now [of violent backlash toward the Muslim community in Mumbai] especially since we don’t know exactly who was behind these attacks. And even if Kashmiri Muslims were behind this attack, there is no reason why Muslims in Maharashtra [the state where Mumbai is located] should be implicated in this tragedy. These Muslims have nothing to do with Kashmir or with Kashmiri insurgent groups. I have no regard for the Kashmiri insurgent groups, particularly like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Until proven otherwise, Muslims in Maharashtra are innocent of any tragedy that took place.

Why is faith such a contentious thing in India? After years and years of living side by side, why does tension continue to flare up between Hindus and Muslims?

Faith is such a contentious issue in India largely because of the tragic history of partition, because of the history of Muslim conquest in India. And the history of that conquest is embellished and misused in historical text, misused in political discourse. It has to do with how those memories are resurrected. The unresolved question of Kashmir also plays into Hindu-Muslim animosity. And of course the unscrupulousness of politicians, the weakness of political institutions, all of these factors create a terrible witches’ brew.

The Kashmir conflict runs so deep. But in a nutshell, why have Pakistan and India been fighting for so long over this tiny region?

This is a terribly complicated question. It has much to do with self-images of each other, of what kind of countries they should be, of why ideologically Kashmir should belong to Pakistan since it is a Muslim state, of why India--a secular, constitutional state--should be able to hold on to Kashmir. It also has to do with the grievance that Pakistan has nursed since the 1971 civil war when India helped create Bangladesh. And it also it has to do with India’s fears that if Kashmir is allowed to secede, then other states in India might think it’s possible to secede.

Is the conflict in Kashmir something that an international terrorist group could use to their advantage?

Yes, of course. 

Is there more violence on India’s horizon? Will it come from Muslims or from more international groups?

I would not like to use the word Muslims, because the vast majority of Muslims are loyal citizens of India. They get on with their everyday lives the best they can. The Muslim community is complex, it’s varied. It’s not a monolith by any means. They are Sunni, they are Shi’a, and they are Ahmadia. I think it’s very important to bear this in mind. More violence, if it were to come, would come from particular corners of radical Muslims who constitute a miniscule minority in India, and from Pakistan-supported Kashmiri groups.

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