INTERVIEW
 
Mumbai Terrorist Attacks May Stall India-Pakistan Peace Process
Bloomberg
December 1, 2008
Terrorist attacks in Mumbai may stall Indian-Pakistani peace talks, analysts said, as India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee held elements from the nation’s predominantly Muslim neighbor responsible.

“In the short term, the talks will be in a limbo,” N. Manoharan, senior research fellow at the New Delhi-based Centre for Land Warfare Studies, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “The future course of the talks will be decided only after the current situation is resolved.”

The assault killed 195 people, 22 of them foreigners, and was the deadliest in 15 years in Hindu-majority India. The toll is in addition to some 300 people who died this year in bombings at markets, mosques, bus stations and theaters in India. The Mumbai attacks began Nov. 26 at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower and Oberoi-Trident hotels, a Jewish center, a rail station and a cafe, and ended three days later with the final battle for the Taj.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari said his government will act against any individual or group in the country, provided there is evidence they were responsible for the attacks.

“I will take strictest of action in the light of evidence and in front of the world,” Zardari told CNN-IBN Nov. 29, according to a transcript posted on the private broadcaster’s Web site. “I am appalled, I am hurt, I am bleeding. I stand with the people of India. I stand with the leadership of India.”

Cease-Fire

India won’t halt talks with its neighbor or suspend the five-year-old cease-fire on the Line of Control that separates the two sides in Kashmir, NDTV reported yesterday. Earlier, the private broadcaster had reported that India may suspend talks and halt rail and air links with Pakistan.

India does plan to bolster security along its borders following the attacks, Mukherjee said yesterday in New Delhi. “Greater vigilance must be maintained to protect our cities and the mainland,” he said following an all-party meeting convened by the prime minister. “Security along our sea and land border will be further strengthened.”

Leaders of Pakistan and India “have to realize that they cannot afford another destabilization of relations or suspension of peace talks as it would waste the efforts of the past five years,” Ishtiaq Ahmed, associate professor of international relations at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, said in a telephone interview. “The two countries have to avoid knee-jerk reactions and India must come out with evidence before blaming Pakistan.”

Ambassador’s Denials

Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, said yesterday his government was not connected to the attacks and called for the two nations work together to “strengthen each other, rather than fall into the trap of the terrorists, who want us to fight with each other.”

Speaking on ABC television’s “This Week,” Haqqani said it was “plain wrong” to say that militants are harbored by Pakistan.

Pakistan’s government two days ago turned down India’s request for the chief of the Pakistani military intelligence agency to visit India to help investigate the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Officials from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency will instead be sent to India, said Zahid Bashir, the Pakistani prime minister’s press secretary, in a telephone interview from the capital, Islamabad.

Spy Chief

Zardari had said Nov. 28 he would send the intelligence head to India for the first time to counter claims that the attackers are linked to his country. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the next day that this was a misunderstanding at a press briefing.

India will “go after” individuals and organizations behind the attacks, which were “well-planned with external linkages,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a televised address Nov. 27, without identifying the nations.

Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil resigned yesterday, taking “moral” responsibility for the assault on Mumbai. Palaniappan Chidambaram, finance minister since 2004, was named to replace Patil.

Indian Foreign Minister Mukherjee on Nov. 28 said elements from Pakistan, which has fought three wars with India, were behind the attacks. Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi challenged India to provide evidence of a link.

Pakistan’s military denied a report in the Nation newspaper that it had been put on high alert on the country’s eastern border with India in anticipation of an Indian troop buildup in the area in response to the attacks in Mumbai.

Cease-Fire Holding

The cease-fire with India is holding and there is no movement or mobilization of troops, the Pakistani military said.

“India’s External Affairs Ministry has already denied that” there is any movement of forces, Athar Abbas, Pakistan military spokesman, said in a phone interview. “Our information doesn’t show any unusual movement from the Indian side.”

Lashkar-i-Taiba or Jaish-i-Muhammad, two Muslim extremist groups from Pakistan that have attacked India in the past, may be involved, MSNBC reported on its Web site, citing unidentified analysts and counterterrorism officials. The groups are linked to violence in the disputed Kashmir region.

Members of Hindu groups in India have been arrested for terrorist attacks in some parts of the country. Most of the attacks in India have not been solved.

Nuclear-Armed Neighbors

The nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over Kashmir, which is divided between them and claimed in full by both countries.

India says the success of the peace talks that started in 2003 depends on Pakistan ending support for cross-border terrorism in the part of Kashmir under Indian control and taking steps to combat militants.

The two nations ended their fifth round of talks between home secretaries in New Delhi on Nov. 26, just before the attacks began that evening. They resolved to cooperate with each other to combat terrorism and take “severe action” against any elements involved in terrorist acts, according to a joint statement issued then.

India wouldn’t want the hardliners within the Pakistan army, intelligence agencies and Islamic groups to take an upper hand over the government, Manoharan said.

Access interview at Bloomberg.com