Mumbai Attack Strains India-Pakistan Relations

India and Pakistan are trading charges as tensions rise after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution talks to Andrea Seabrook about what this means for those countries — and for the United States.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

To India now, where the reverberations from the Mumbai terrorist attacks are still being felt. Funerals were held across the city today for many of the 170 plus victims, and India's security chief resigned amid a storm of criticism. The government says only one of the gunmen in the attack survived. He's behind bars. He's also Pakistani, and Indian officials now say all the attackers were from Pakistan. The charges have enflamed already strained relations between the two countries. Stephen Cohen studies that relationship for the Brookings Institution.

Dr. STEPHEN COHEN (Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program, Brookings Institution): Well, I just finished a book on the four major crises between India and Pakistan since 1987, and I think we may have another book coming along. This looks like a good brew up into another major crisis.

This one would have nuclear implications, as well. They have between 80 and 100 nuclear weapons each. Cool heads might prevail in both countries, but I doubt it, frankly.

SEABROOK: India has arrested just one gunman involved in the attacks. He's Pakistani. He may be part of a group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Dr. COHEN: That's right.

SEABROOK: Who are these people?

Dr. COHEN: Well, Lashkar was a group that evolved out of the attempt by Pakistan to wrest Kashmir away from India. India controls most of Kashmir, but not all of it. And both countries claim it, although Pakistanis claim that Kashmir has never been decided.

So LET was actually banned by Musharraff because they were involved in some terrorist acts in 1991, '92. And the U.S. has put LET on the its terrorist watch list, but in fact, it operates openly in Pakistan. The Pakistani state is so weak that it cannot actually control these kinds of groups.

SEABROOK: Hmm. On the streets, that arrest has only stoked Indian anger against Pakistan. Pakistan responded yesterday by threatening to move troops from the Afghan border to the Indian border. What's going on here?

Dr. COHEN: Well, one of the reasons Pakistan has threatened to do that, I think, is to get the Americans involved. We've urged Pakistan to move its forces from the Indian border to the Afghan border. In a sense, this provides an excuse for them to pull back out of the FATA area where the Taliban are located and conducting raids in Afghanistan where our forces are at. And that implicitly puts pressure on us because we do need Pakistani cooperation in the FATA area.

SEABROOK: Hmm. How do you see this playing out? You mentioned, you know, this could escalate into another major crisis between India and Pakistan.

Dr. COHEN: It could do that. I think that if the Indians exercise some restraint, and the Pakistanis, in a sense, find ways of demonstrating to India that they've cleaned up their act, then it could be defused. But I'm not sure that this is going to happen.

In Pakistan, there's a weak government headed - although democratically elected, but has no control over its own security forces, and it's headed by Asif Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower, and he doesn't really have control over his own security apparatus. That's - we all know that.

And in the case of India, you've got a government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which is at the end of his string, which is - this is likely to push the Congress Party out in the next elections. So I think, if two governments which are fairly weak, insecure, being pressured by popular opinion, so this has the makings of another crisis.

SEABROOK: Stephen Cohen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thanks very much for coming in, sir.

Dr. COHEN: Thank you.

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