But above all, people have repeatedly asked -- and people I love and respect, so I mean no criticism in making a trope of the question -- "How far is Pune from Mumbai?" It's about 90 miles, a three-to-four-hour drive, I say. I say "four hour drive," making it clear that an inflatable dinghy probably wouldn't quite cut it. But that question -- how far will you be from the site of these attacks -- doesn't fit the problem. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I've been reading the excellent recent translation of War and Peace, but the "how far" hasn't been the right question for a long time. I mean, it mattered how far Smolensk was from Moscow. Such things mattered to so many people for so long that the question probably comes to us from some Jungian depth. But a small group of trained attackers exploiting security holes one could find practically anywhere in the world is not an invading army. Mumbai is not itself a hot zone of ethnic or religious conflict; it's pretty much the opposite of that. It's just a great big city on the edge of a great big country.
So, over the past few days, what I have been saying is that what matters, what we're watching closely as we pack our things, is how India decides to address what happened: clearly, the attackers and their sponsors dislike the growing cooperation and commitment to dialogue between India and Pakistan. Will this attack derail that? Worse still, will it manage to provoke India into a state vs. state response against Pakistan? Can the Congress Party avoid taking "a tough stance" in the face of BJP criticism with elections approaching? Can India prove that it knows -- unlike the Bush administration -- that this is the twenty first century? These are the questions I'm preoccupied with now.
So I was pleased when a friend this morning passed along a link to the Juan Cole piece in Outlook India, as he, as usual, gets quickly to the heart of the matter:
The Bush administration took its eye off al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and instead put most of its resources into confronting Iraq. But Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Eventually this American fickleness allowed both al-Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup.Now I'm worried by the obvious: Juan Cole and many others made these same points after 9/11. Will India hear them?
Likewise, India should not allow itself to be distracted by implausible conspiracy theories about high Pakistani officials wanting to destroy the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai. (Does that even make any sense?) Focusing on a conventional state threat alone will leave the country unprepared to meet further asymmetrical, guerrilla-style attacks.