MUMBAI, INDIA—In the wake of last month's deadly terrorist attacks, locals took to the streets, with some bellowing jingoistic slogans and others vowing never again to pay taxes to an inept government that took a whopping 60 hours to reign in a "handful of 21-year-olds." A few saber rattlers brazenly clamored for "tough action" against Pakistan.
In a public square abutting the bullet-pocked Taj Mahal Palaces and Tower hotel, a heaving crowd of protestors wielding placards gathered to mark the attack on India's financial capital that took nearly 200 lives. One of the many rabble-rousing placards that stood out read: "Let's Declare War."
India isn't unfamiliar with terrorist attacks—it is the most-attacked nation on Earth, after war-torn Iraq, according to data compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center. However, this terrorist strike has come to be a defining moment for India, just as the United States had one seven years ago.
Mumbai, targeted several times before, was convulsed by the audacity, style, and scale of this attack and by the high-profile targets.
Nearly a quarter of India's burgeoning urban middle class believes that India should engage in a war with Pakistan, on whose soil India believes this terror attack originated, according to a recent opinion poll by Outlook, an Indian weekly.
Both countries came perilously close to war seven years ago, when the Indian parliament was attacked by a group of militants believed to have emanated from Pakistan. Both sides amassed thousands of troops along the border before tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals were de-escalated with the help of international mediation. Pakistan and India have fought three wars in the past, two of them over Kashmir, a divided territory that both countries claim in its entirety.
Now, despite mounting public pressure, neither country is eager for a confrontation. Pakistan's economy is deep in the red, and India's economic juggernaut is losing steam. With America firmly by its side, India is maneuvering to create international pressure on Pakistan to clamp down on militants. And Pakistan is complying, or so it claims.
Pakistan refused to extradite anyone from a list of what India calls 20 hard-core terrorists but has promised to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group founded in the 1980s to wrest control of Kashmir from India. Lashkar-e-Taiba is suspected of orchestrating the recent rampage across Mumbai.
Pakistan's defense minister, Chaudhury Ahmed Mukhtar, declared this week that Pakistani forces had raided the group's properties in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir and arrested Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, a senior LeT commander who, Indian investigators say, "planned out the whole assault" and trained the 10 gunmen who carried out the Mumbai attack.
On India's insistence, the United Nations Security Council this week banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which was registered as a charitable group in Pakistan but is believed to be a front organization of LeT. After the ban was imposed, Pakistan began raiding JuD properties and apprehending thousands of men.
Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the henna-bearded founder of LeT and current head of JuD, was placed under house arrest. He strongly refutes allegations against JuD and LeT. "I can say with authority that the Lashkar does not believe in killing civilians," he said in an interview before he was arrested. "The Indian leadership is using Pakistan as a punching bag to cover up its failures at home."
However, Ajmal Amir Kasab, the sole terrorist nabbed alive during the Mumbai attacks, has reportedly told Indian investigators that along with maritime training and lessons in explosives and weapons, all 10 terrorists received "motivational sermons" from Saeed.
Despite the large-scale crackdown, terrorism analysts are skeptical about Pakistan's sincerity about neutralizing these groups. "Based on past experiences," says Sajjan Gohel, the director of International Security at the London-based Asia Pacific Foundation, "there's fear that Islamabad will once again do too little, too late, and the clampdown on militant groups will be an ineffective, cosmetic exercise."