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The brutal attack on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly complex by a four-member fidayeen squad comes even as analysts were predicting a period of relative peace for the state consequent to the focus shifting to Afghanistan.

It was believed in particular that the terrorists who had made J&K their favourite hunting ground would now cross over to join the developing war in the neighbourhood. Monday's militant strike on the J&K legislature demolishes this notion even as it cautions us against putting too simplistic a spin on what is clearly a complicated problem made more complex by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Prima facie, the needle of suspicion points at Pakistan, and indeed, for official India the attack only confirms the long-held view about Pakistani terrorism. That the Jaish-e-Mohammed is based in Pakistan and at least one of the dead assailants was a Pakistani national would seem to buttress this argument. From the Indian government's point, then, it is only fair that the Americans take note of our complaint, and urgently so in the context of their own recent suffering.

However, there are questions that this premise doesn't sufficiently answer. Would Pakistan mount such a savage attack in Kashmir at a time it has been strenuously striving to be on the same side as America? And in a war focused specifically on terrorism at that? It is difficult to believe that general Musharraf would compromise himself so blatantly when he needs more than ever to dispel the impression that he supports terrorism.

Cynics would no doubt see all this in a different light. Which is that having joined the United States in its fight against terrorism, general Musharraf needs as rarely before to pacify the jehadis and demonstrate his commitment to Kashmir. And what better way to achieve this than by executing a daring strike on the seat of power in Srinagar? It is common knowledge that the compulsion to make common cause with the United States has greatly discomfited general Musharraf who has had to face enormous domestic criticism on this count.

Quite aside from the powerful lobby of jehadis, there is also a strong anti-American opinion that he has to contend with. This must explain why Pakistani newspapers, even while welcoming the support given to the US, have tended to advise the general against going the whole hog in the war led by the US. The Pakistani president is undeniably trapped in a `damned if you do, damned if you don't' dilemma.

The J&K attack perhaps stems from this peculiar situation. It could be a message from the jehadis that general Musharraf can overrule them only at his peril. Implicit in the attack could also be a warning to India about joining any global war against terrorism. The Vajpayee government must move with caution in dealing with this, and doubly so since the US response has made it clear that India cannot count on it for help.
This article was published in TimesOfIndia in Editorial section.