Seventeen bomb blasts in a 10-kilometre radius in 70 minutes on Saturday in Ahmadabad. Nine blasts in Bangalore, outsourcing capital of the world, on Friday. A country on the edge of panic.
The world shares in Indians' pain, anger and determination to face down the terrorists, to not give them the triumph of being cowed or the satisfaction of fomenting communal hatred and bloodletting. For security from acts and the fear of terrorism is indeed indivisible, and the world is the battlefield.
We have been here before. In 1993, twin attacks on Bombay's financial centre and Air India building were dress rehearsals of a sort for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York. Then, the world ignored how India and Southwest Asia had joined the front line of global terrorism. No longer.
The most immediate tasks will be to help the victims, tighten security, plug the fatal intelligence gaps and prevent outbreaks of violence against Muslims.
Chances are high the perpetrators will turn out to have pan-Islamic links with the banned Students Islamic Movement of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh or similar groups. All the more reason to insist that not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are Muslim.
Before the Iraq war, the leading practitioners of suicide terrorism were Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers: Hindus. The most ruthless terrorism in 1980s India was perpetrated by Sikhs. Europe, including Britain, has had its share of Christian terrorists. If anything, India's 140 million Muslims are a salutary negation of the facile thesis about Islam's incompatibility with democracy.
In a billion-strong country with an 80-per-cent Hindu population, the Prime Minister and army chief are Sikhs, the previous president was a Muslim and the power behind the throne is a Catholic of Italian origin - profound testimony to the pluralism and accommodation of India's complex and adaptable power-sharing arrangements. Democratic politics, political freedoms, civil liberties and religious tolerance must be protected at all costs.
But India earned its reputation as a soft state that can be intimidated into meeting terrorists' demands. Jailed terror suspects are released in exchange for kidnapped kin of political leaders. In December, 1999, in a day that will live in infamy in the annals of international terrorism, foreign minister Jaswant Singh personally escorted three terrorists to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in order to secure the release of passengers from a hijacked Indian Airlines flight. One of the freed terrorists was later implicated in 9/11. In response to an attack on Parliament in December, 2001, India mobilized its defence forces for a year along the border with Pakistan at great expense, only to send them back to barracks with no actual action - war-mongering without war.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the anger and disdain of the people for the tough rhetoric followed by no action of successive governments of all parties.
To break out of this trap, India must eliminate the corruption and politicization of the police forces and their antiquated training and equipment, as well as criminalization of politics. The number of parliamentarians with pending criminal cases is alarming. Terrorism thrives and prospers in such conditions.
India habitually points the finger of criminality at Pakistan, whose offers to help with the investigations are repeatedly spurned. Some foreign footprint - training, financing, arming - is likely. But for a foreign government to be able to infiltrate groups of Indians and recruit them to the terrorist cause indicates failures of intelligence and interdiction, on the one hand, and disaffection among sections of the population, on the other.
The intelligence agencies function as autonomous fiefs with little oversight and virtually no accountability for failures and lapses. This is matched by the flaws of the criminal justice system, which is rudimentary and lamentable by the standards of mature democracies.
Justice has neither been done nor seen to be done with respect to the large-scale atrocities against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. They spawned a crop of angry and twisted young men whose rage can be channelled into lethal terrorist violence.
India also needs to be tough on the causes of terrorism. Poverty is not a direct cause, but it is an incubator of terrorism and a root cause of corruption. New Delhi needs to implement reform in order to maintain rapid economic growth. It also needs to solve its long-running territorial conflicts - more than 90 per cent of suicide terrorists aim to compel military forces to withdraw from territory they consider an occupied homeland. India's terrorism problem is specific to Kashmir, not generic to Muslims.
External involvement in Kashmiri militancy is not absent, however. The world must coax or coerce regimes that are tolerant of export-only terrorist cells to confront the menace. One group's terrorist cannot be tolerated as another's freedom fighter.
The blowback phenomenon has returned to haunt the West, which supported jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It also consumed Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. Pakistan remains in danger of tearing itself apart from the inside because of armed elements espousing a variety of foreign extremist causes. These South Asian neighbours must pool resources to root out the tyranny of terrorism throughout the region.