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Are Al Qaeda's fingerprints on the Mumbai attack?

The consequences could definitely be in their favor.

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Even before Barack Obama's foreign-policy team has been sworn in, an ugly new problem has been added to the president-elect's international "to do" list.

It is the deteriorating relationship between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the violent assault on India's commercial capital, Mumbai (formerly Bombay). At least five intelligence services – of the United States, Britain, Israel, India, and Pakistan – are trying to determine the originators of the attack. If, as seems possible, they prove to be of Pakistani origin and direction, recent promising overtures to ameliorate longstanding hostility between India and Pakistan would be blown off the negotiating table.

There are more serious possible consequences. Public sentiment in India is demanding strong retaliatory action against Pakistan. President-elect Obama has said India has the "sovereign right" to go after the terrorists who attacked it. The New Delhi government is facing strong criticism from its citizens for alleged incompetence in handling the assault. Officials have resigned. Elections loom.

If this crisis, and its attendant politics, should trigger new warfare between India and Pakistan, Pakistan would be distracted from its military action against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces who operate from sanctuary along the rugged Pakistani-Afghan border. Pakistan's military would regroup to meet the threat across its border from India. This would be a welcome scenario for Al Qaeda and some of its Taliban allies, and a setback for American and NATO-nation forces in Afghanistan at war with them.

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