India: Mumbai Attacks Could Derail New University in India

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Dec 11 14:36:43 UTC 2008

>>From the Chronicle of Higher Education,  Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mumbai Attacks Could Derail New University in India


New Delhi

The terror attacks in Mumbai last month, believed to have been carried out
by Pakistani militants, have imperiled the development of a new university
that was supposed to help promote peace in the fractious region. South Asian
University, scheduled to open here in 2010, was to bring together students
from across the region and also offer a significant boost to India's weak
efforts to internationalize its higher-education system. Supported by the
governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal,
Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and with an initial commitment of $2-million from
India, the university's development has been an important regional
confidence-building measure, designed to ensure that India and Pakistan do
not return to the nuclear confrontation they faced in 2002.

Now, although Pakistan says it has arrested some terrorists, India is
accusing Pakistan of not acting strongly enough, so the university will
quite likely die a high-profile death, according to some educators and
political analysts. The university's supporters say it will proceed on
schedule. The police in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, said they had
recovered fake identity cards from Indian universities from the 10
terrorists who carried out the attacks, which killed nearly 200 people on
November 26, a day people here have christened "India's 9/11." Nine of the
terrorists died.

Indian intelligence officials believe that coordinated bomb blasts in
October in the eastern Indian city of Guwahati, which killed 77 people, were
carried out with the help of Islamist militant university students from
Bangladesh. That means India will make it very tough for students and
professors with ties to Bangladesh and Pakistan to get visas, say
independent observers from all three countries. "I think it is going to be
exceedingly difficult in the light of what happened in Bombay that anyone in
the [Indian] foreign ministry will be inclined to run the risk of letting
people [from Pakistan or Bangladesh] in," said Sumit Ganguly, a
political-science professor at Indiana University at Bloomington.

That sentiment was echoed by Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign
secretary. "We need some strict restrictions so the wrong people don't
enter," he said. Yet for the university to become a reality, the governments
of all the countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
had agreed that students selected for the university would be guaranteed
visas, Gowher Rizvi, who prepared the concept plan for the university, told
*The Chronicle* last year. "Without this agreement between the countries,
the university couldn't have happened," said Mr. Rizvi, vice provost for
international programs at the University of Virginia. Now that agreement
will most likely be snatched from the table—fast.

Setback to Relations

India has already put on hold all official talks to increase trade with
Pakistan, and both countries have ruled out playing cricket against each
other—the subcontinent's primary passion—in the immediate future. The shared
university "will be scuttled if this is not resolved," said Praful Bidwai,
an Indian political commentator. If that happens, it would set back what
were increasingly warming relations between the intellectuals of the three
rival nations—often seen, perhaps optimistically, as a sign that rationality
might prevail over jealousy and distrust.

Mr. Rizvi believes the attacks make the argument for the university even
stronger now, as do some other academics. "It would be a blow to not just
the South Asian University, but [would] also strengthen those who want
enmity, not peace, between Pakistan and India," said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a
physics professor at Quaid-i-Azam University, in Islamabad, Pakistan. G.K.
Chadha, South Asian University's Indian vice chancellor, who went to Dhaka,
Bangladesh, days after the attacks for a scheduled meeting with the
university's representatives from other regional countries, is optimistic
the institution will go on.

"The meeting was very cordial, and the Bombay attacks didn't figure remotely
in the talks," said Mr. Chadha on his return. "There was no element of
hostility." How that optimistic outlook will fare remains to be seen, given
the growing skepticism among some academics. "I'm a firm believer in student
exchanges," said Indiana University's Mr. Ganguly. "But not when national
governments are perfectly prepared to use student exchanges for potential
purposes of espionage or intelligence gathering or acts of terror."


Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at

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