India worried about Bhutto murder fallout; suspends travel links


New Delhi : Former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s death cast a shadow of worry in neighbouring India that suspended its bus and train link with the country Friday amid concern that the elements that murdered her might try and create trouble here as well.

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There was also worry about where the power centre in Pakistan now lay.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired a top cabinet panel meeting to consider the security fallout of Bhutto’s murder even as the government announced it was suspending all train and bus services to Pakistan, except for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus between the two parts of Kashmir.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Home Minister Shivraj Patil and National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan were among those who attended the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) which lasted for about an hour.

“It was pointed out at the meeting that the main concern now was to keep a close watch on the activities of the jehadis (in Pakistan) to ensure they didn’t attempt to foment trouble here,” official sources said.

It was also stressed during the meeting that India’s interests should be maintained in Pakistan in the otherwise volatile situation exacerbated by Bhutto’s slaying Thursday.

“The meeting also assessed whether there was an element of the (Pakistani) establishment’s role (in Bhutto’s killing). There have been various suggestions in the media about this and we probably will never know the truth. It is the perception that matters,” the sources said.

In this context, the CCS meeting also noted that there were “similarities” in the two explosions targeting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s convoy in the recent and one that was aimed at former prime minister Shaukat Aziz when he was campaigning for a National Assembly seat.

As for the question of whether general elections would still be held in Pakistan on Jan 8, the sources said the general view at the CCS meeting was that more important than the polls, the question was where the power centre in the country now lay.

Asked whether India would reassess its engagement with Musharraf in Pakistan’s changed political scenario, the sources said: “We never had put all our bets in one basket. We put our own interests first. We had been talking to other players like Benazir Bhutto and (former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and other opposition leaders also.”

Asked why there was no Indian representation at the funeral, the sources said this was because it was a “personal affair”.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that soon after news came in about Bhutto’s assassination Thursday, Indian Army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor briefed NSA Narayanan on the security scenario on the border with Pakistan and the measures being taken to prevent any “(border) incidents”.

Manmohan Singh visited the Pakistan High Commission here Friday to mourn Bhutto’s assassination and said Pakistan and South Asia have lost a leader deeply “committed to peace and democracy”.

Underneath a photograph of the Bhutto in the embassy, the prime minister wrote in the official condolence book: “In her sad and the untimely death, Pakistan and South Asia have lost an outstanding political leader who was passionately committed to moderation, democracy, peace and friendship.”

“It was with the deepest sense of horror and sorrow that I have learnt of the tragic demise of Madam Benazir Bhutto. I convey my heartfelt condolences to her family and the people of Pakistan,” Manmohan Singh added.

Since morning, the imposing iron wrought gates of the embassy had been opened frequently to let in a stream of visitors – senior Indian political leaders and ambassadors of various countries.

The green Pakistani flag with its white crescent had been flying at half-mast, after President Pervez Musharraf announced three days’ official mourning.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit were early visitors to the high commission.

Earlier, while speaking in Goa, Manmohan Singh had said the killing of Bhutto was a reminder of the destructive ability of terrorism and reiterated the need to work together to deal with the menace.

“The great tragedy once again is a reminder to all of us of the great harm that terrorism can do to the peace, prosperity and well being of the region,” he said.

All Indian political parties Friday condemned Bhutto’s assassination.

A joint resolution adopted at the end of the all-party meeting hailed Bhutto as a great leader and the voice of moderation and democracy in Pakistan.

“The leaders of major Indian political parties unanimously condemn the brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto and express their resolve to jointly defeat the forces of terrorism,” a statement said.

The prime minister’s spokesperson, Sanjaya Baru discounted the possibility of an official Indian delegation visiting Pakistan to condole Bhutto’s death.

“It was not a state funeral. It was a private affair,” he said.

Stalwarts of Indian industry also expressed shock and anguish over the assassination of the former Pakistan prime minister in Rawalpindi.

According to the business chambers, her sudden demise, which has resulted in widespread violence across Pakistan, may translate into a serious decrease in bilateral trade between India and Pakistan.

“We are deeply anguished by Benazir Bhutto’s sudden demise. But we hope the reason for which she sacrificed her life, which is democracy, should be restored,” Habil Khorakiwala, president, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), told IANS.