New Delhi's Abbottabad Mission
President Obama was right and brave to send the SEALs to bring justice to Osama Bin Laden in his lair in Pakistan. But that mission will also have another—unintended—consequence. When (not if) the next Pakistani-based terror attack in India happens, New Delhi will have to decide if it can and will do its own Abbottabad.
Pakistan is home to more terrorists than any other country. Osama lived less than a mile from the country's top military academy, its West Point, for five years. His heir Ayman Zawahiri is probably somewhere nearby. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, 9/11’s tactical maestro, was in the country's military capital Rawalpindi when he was captured. Mullah Omar, Amir of Believers to al-Qaeda and head of the Afghan Taliban, is either in Quetta or Karachi. Hafez Saed, head of Lashkar-e-Tayyeiba and mastermind of the Mumbai massacre, is in Lahore. Fazul Rahman Khalil, head of Harakat al-Mujahedin, which hijacked an Indian airliner in 1999, is in an Islamabad suburb. Dawood Ibrahim, who killed hundreds with bombs on Mumbai's metro in 1993, lives in Karachi. There are no secrets here—the Pakistani press reports their hideouts on a regular basis.
After a decade of fruitless effort, the CIA finally found Bin Laden last year. Obama did the right thing—he told Pakistan nothing and took out the greatest mass murderer in American history.
Sooner, not later, these Pakistani based terror groups will attack India again. In 2001 they attacked its parliament, in 2002 a key army base in Kashmir, in 2006 Mumbai's subway and in 2008 all over that great city in what Indians call 26/11. Indian security forces foil new plots constantly. The terrorists behind these plots all live in Pakistan, many enjoy the support of the Pakistani army and some want to precipitate an Indo-Pakistani war.
The next successful attack will raise again the question of Indian retaliation. For over a decade India has held back, fearful of starting down the road to armageddon. Prime ministers from both the left and right have stepped back from using force. But now there is a precedent for unilateral military action to decapitate Pakistan-based terror. Can India do the same? Should it? Can it afford not act? If it does, will war follow? Those will be the relevant issues. India may chose again to avoid action, but it will be politically harder than ever after Abbottabad. Obama may counsel restraint in a future crisis, but his action—again, in my view, the right action—will speak louder than words.
In New Delhi and Islamabad these discussions about Abbottabad's legacy began hours after the raid ended. Fortunately, India and Pakistan have resumed the dialogue they suspended in 2008, but it is off to a turtle-like start. It urgently needs jump-starting. The peace process needs to get ahead of the terror camp and the next 26/11. And Obama changed the ground rules on May 2, 2011.