By ERIC MARGOLIS
Last week's bloody attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) that left more than 150 dead and 300 wounded are the latest sign the once distinct conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and western India are beginning to overlap, creating a new, increasingly dangerous zone of crisis in South Asia.
India immediately blamed Pakistan for the attacks.
The Mumbai attacks appeared designed to punish and humiliate India over the Kashmir conflict. Kashmir is India's only Muslim majority state. India has 500,000 troops and paramilitary units fighting Muslim Kashmiri independence seekers. The 19-year-old struggle has left some 40,000 dead, mostly Muslims.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars over divided Kashmir since 1947.
Clashes between Pakistani and Indian forces along the Kashmir ceasefire line are frequent.
The Mumbai attackers' hunt for Britons and Americans also suggested revenge for intensifying U.S. bombing of villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal zone that was just denounced by Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's U.S.-installed leader.
Hostages were taken, including Canadians, who have become targets due to their nation's military role in Afghanistan. I have often stayed at both the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi.
Last June, 41 people died when India's embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was blown up. India immediately blamed Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, and accused it of bombings in Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmadabad and Bangalore.
Islamabad denies these charges and accuses India's spy agency, RAW, of bombings in Pakistan's frontier tribal zone and Karachi.
Pakistan is deeply alarmed by India's growing influence in Afghanistan, long Pakistan's backyard. India is arming and financing Uzbek and Tajik Afghan Communists, has large numbers of RAW agents in the field and, to Pakistan's alarm, Delhi recently secured an air base in Tajikistan.
India insists Kashmiri and Pakistani extremist groups -- it names 36 -- are backed by ISI in an effort to destabilize India. Recently, Hindu extremists linked to the neo-fascist RSS and Hitler-admiring Shiv Sena movements have begun attacking Indian Muslims and Christians.
Add to this witches' curry vicious Hindi and Muslim gangsters known as "goondas" who terrorize and extort India's big cities.
Regional secessionist movements plague India's south and east, and some Sikhs still struggle for independence. Naxalites, a Marxist revolutionary movement of landless peasants, remains one of India's major internal security threats.
India and Pakistan's large arsenals of nuclear-armed missiles and strike aircraft are on a hair-trigger alert. The ongoing Indo-Pak confrontation that I detailed in my book, War at the Top of the World, is the world's most dangerous nuclear threat.
U.S. president-elect Barack Obama has laudably vowed to seek a settlement of the six-decade Kashmir conflict.
India's 155 million Muslims have been largely passive and avoided violence. But there's a growing belief among some young Indian Muslims that they are second-class citizens and oppressed. Many were radicalized by the horrible pogrom in 2002 in the state of Gujarat in which up to 3,000 Muslims were massacred, many burned alive by Hindu mobs egged on by state politicians.
Small numbers of young Indian Muslims are turning to violence in spite of the government's efforts to be even handed and responsive to Muslim demands.
More important, the relentless expansion of the U.S.-led Afghan conflict is dangerously destabilizing already turbulent Pakistan. As India and Pakistan wage a proxy struggle to dominate Afghanistan, bankrupt Pakistan is being bribed by Washington to wage war on its own Pashtun tribal people who oppose the western occupation of neighbouring Afghanistan.
Violence in Kashmir is again on the rise. Indian repression of both violent and non-violent Kashmiri Muslim independence seekers is intensifying. Iran also is stirring the pot in Afghanistan and among Pakistan's Shia, who are 20% of the population.
The biggest danger right now is small bands of fanatical extremists, such as those who attacked Mumbai this week, or violent Kashmiri groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed, who brazenly assaulted India's parliament in 2001, could provoke an enraged India to retaliate against Pakistan, spark an open war over Afghanistan or even tempt India to invade a Pakistan destabilized by U.S. cross-border attacks.South Asia now a crisis zone
Edmonton Sun, Canada