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Backgrounder: Counterterrorism in India

Council on Foreign Relations

Authors: Eben Kaplan, Associate Editor
Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer

Updated: November 27, 2008


The November 2008 deadly terrorist assault (ABC News) on Mumbai's hotel district and a spate of bomb attacks (BBC) across India's cities the same year have claimed hundreds of lives and once again raised questions about India's vulnerability to terrorism. According to the latest report on global terrorism by the U.S. government's National Counter-Terrorism Center, more than one thousand people died in India because of terrorist attacks in 2007, ranking India fourth behind only Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. India, a nation of a billion people, has been confronted with terrorism since its birth, and currently contends with a variety of regional groups mainly intent on separatism.

Why is India the target of so many terrorist attacks?

India is embroiled in a number of low-intensity conflicts throughout its territory. Many terrorist incidents are the products of these clashes. The regions most affected are:

* Jammu and Kashmir. Located at the northern tip of India's territory, this state has been the focal point of a territorial dispute dating back to 1947—when British colonial rule ended—involving India, Pakistan, and China. India claims the entire region as its sovereign territory, though it controls only about half of it. A third of the land is controlled by Pakistan, and China controls the remainder. The quarrel between India and Pakistan has touched off a number of military showdowns. Since the late 1980s, the region has been home to a number of militant groups seeking independence for the region. Experts say these groups have extensive support networks in Pakistan, and some accuse Pakistan of using these insurgent groups to wage a proxy war in the region. Over the last decade, this conflict has been linked to some two-thirds of all fatalities from terrorist attacks in India.

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Copyright 2008 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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