My mother's voice on the telephone crackled with anxiety.
“What is happening? Do you think there will be war?” she asked. "I think you should just come back to India so we can all be together whatever happens.”
“But if something does happen,” I replied, “I don't know who will be safer — you in India or me in San Francisco.”
“That's true,” she said after a pause. “I don't know which is safer anymore.”
We are on opposite sides of the world, but the aftershocks of the American tragedy are rippling out to the Indian subcontinent. We South Asia watchers are nervous, waiting to see how the unfolding events will affect traditional flash points between India and Pakistan, between them and their giant neighbor China, and between Hindus and Muslims within the two countries.
Could the talk of an Islamic holy war or jihad spark more violence between India's Hindus and Muslims? I vividly remember the bloody riots in 1992-93, sparked by a Hindu mob's destruction of an old mosque in Ayodhya.
What will happen to relations between India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers that have fought three wars with each other since becoming separate states in 1947? Their standoff over the disputed border state of Kashmir keeps them perennially on the brink of another confrontation.
Looming over it all is China, which has occupied some 40,000 square kilometers of Indian territory since the 1962 Sino-Indian war.
Within India, some extremist Hindus have tried to use September 11 to show that their distrust of Muslims was well founded. Some Muslim leaders have threatened to launch peaceful demonstrations if India assists the United States without being furnished with more evidence about who is to blame. Many Hindu leaders are nervous that, in return for Pakistan’s cooperation, the United States will pump funds into Pakistan that will eventually be used against India.
The flash point in India-Pakistan relations has always been Kashmir. When I was a child, my family took pleasant vacations to Kashmir all the time.
Now it’s virtually a military state, bristling with AK-47s and constant reports of massacres of civilians caught in the crossfire between Indian soldiers and separatist fighters. India, Pakistan, and the Taliban are all entangled there. In 1999, a hijacked Indian airliner was allowed by the Taliban to land in Kandahar, Afghanistan. To free the hostages, the Indian government released three jailed Islamic leaders. The hijackers and the three leaders went to Pakistan, where one of them, Maulana Azhar, told supporters, “I have come here because this is my duty, to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.”
The United States now knows that it is a target of Islamic militants not just in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, but at home in New York. Many Hindu lead