RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We turn now to a man who's written many books about his native India and who has also served as United Nations under-secretary-general. His name is Shashi Tharoor. He's a regular columnist for The Hindu and The Times of India. And he joins us on the line from southern India. Good morning.
Dr. SHASHI THAROOR (Indian Journalist, Author, Diplomat): Good morning to you.
MONTAGNE: Now, the terrorist attacks in India, sadly, are not a new thing. Why, though, do the attacks in Mumbai this past week seem to be so different?
Dr. THAROOR: Well, it was different for a couple of important reasons. One was, of course, its duration. A sustained siege over three days obviously grabbed the country's attention and the attention of the world. And the second factor, to put it quite bluntly, is that foreigners were also killed for the first time. And so those two things, I think, have made all the difference in terms of suddenly waking up the world to what's going on here. India has been bled by Islamist extremist terrorism for many years, but it's only now that the world is seeing that this is part of a larger global phenomenon.
MONTAGNE: Now you have written about this that there's irony in the fact that the terrorists came ashore near the Gateway of India. That's a landmark structure in Mumbai. What does it signify, the Gateway of India, to Indians?
Dr. THAROOR: Well, it's a lovely arch that goes back to 1911, which in many ways has become a symbol of the openness of the city and of the country that lies behind it. It's a place that was always thronged and will again, I'm sure, be thronged daily by people of every imaginable religion, cast, and creed.
On a typical afternoon, you'd find Parsi gentlemen out for their constitutionals. Muslim women in burkas taking the sea air, Christians including Goan waiters from the Taj Hotel nearby, Hindus from all parts of the country speaking in a multitude of tongues, all mingling together in this space. And somehow to see this very place empty, barricaded by the police, while the fires raged in the Taj Hotel was deeply saddening.
MONTAGNE: Talking about the multitudes within India, of course there are many different religious and ethnic groups living there. Is this attack uniting Indians on some level?
Dr. THAROOR: It is indeed. In fact, one of the things that relieves me most - because I wrote about this when it happened - and I was afraid that one of the things that could happen might be a backlash against our Muslim brothers and sisters, that the feeling that because this was Islamist terror, that somehow the Muslim community should be punished for it. That would have been disastrous. And then, as I wrote, the terrorists would have won. But nothing remotely like that has happened. People have completely rallied together.
Not even the most right-wing, sort of, Hindu chauvinist political parties have said a word against India's own Muslims. It's been a very focused anger, focused on two targets: one, the terrorists and those who sponsored them in Pakistan, and second, against the institutional failures of our own political class and our own government structure. And these two bits of anger I hope can now be channeled in a constructive direction, not to destroy anything, but to build on the very strong sense of national unity that exists to create a new and better India, one that will be less vulnerable to this sort of terror.
MONTAGNE: Well, you would hope so. But as regards Pakistan, you've written that the succession of military rulers of Pakistan who've nurtured Islamist extremism - those are your words - this is coming back to haunt the civilian government.
Dr. THAROOR: It is indeed. I mean, we've just seen the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad blown up this summer. And I have very little doubt that President Zardari realizes that the very forces of Islamist extremism that were behind the assassination of his wife would love to bring his own government and himself down. So I'm sure the civilian government sees the danger to them and to the kind of civilian-led Pakistan they'd like to maintain.
And the worry that India has is this is such a weak civilian government that it might be unable to take the tough and decisive action necessary to, frankly, clamp down on the terrorist movements. They're known. Their addresses are known. Their training camps are a matter of public record. If generals can meet them, so can Pakistani authorities meet them. But the Pakistani authorities are very reluctant to proceed against them for fear that their own heads would then be on the chopping block.
MONTAGNE: Shashi Tharoor is a former United Nations under-secretary-general. Thank you very much for joining us.
Dr. THAROOR: Thank you. All the best.