Mumbai attacks likely to frost India-Pakistan ties

By Manish Chand, IANS,

New Delhi : With India blaming “elements in Pakistan” for engineering terror strikes in Mumbai and Islamabad warning New Delhi against “playing politics”, the thawing ties between the two countries are headed for a prolonged winter, fear diplomats and analysts.

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“All fingers point to the LeT’s (Lashkar-e-Tayeba) involvement. The LeT is hand in gloves with the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency),” Satish Chandra, a former envoy of India to Pakistan, told IANS.

Echoing growing impatience in the Indian strategic community about the political leadership’s inability to take Pakistan head-on over the issue of cross-border terrorism, Chandra asserted that India should make it “painful and costly” for Pakistan to sponsor such strikes against India.

“It should chill relations. How can you have good relations with a country which is doing such things? The Indian government is turning a blind eye to it,” Chandra said.

“Relations can’t and should not be cordial. We need to take firm action against Pakistan,” he said.

The LeT, a banned militant outfit, is widely seen by India’s intelligence community as a creation of Pakistan’s spy agency ISI with a specific mandate to carry out terror strikes in India, specially in Jammu and Kashmir whose ownership is claimed by both sides.

The audacious terror strikes in Mumbai, which killed 183 people and left over 300 injured, come days after Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari warmed hearts of people in India by saying that there is “a little bit of India in every Pakistani” and offered a no-first use of nuclear weapons pledge.

New Delhi has blamed “elements in Pakistan” for the terror strikes and told Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who was then visiting India that Islamabad needed to take “immediate action” and honour its Jan 6, 2004 pledge that Pakistani territory would not be used as a launchpad for terror strikes.

Pakistan was quick to deny any link and offered cooperation to India in investigating the incident. In an interview, President Zardari assured India that if any evidence was found linking any individual or group in Pakistan, he will take “strictest action” against them.

Initial investigations reveal that the modus operandi adopted in Mumbai attacks – terrorists using hand grenades and firing recklessly with their AK-47 rifles – bore the hallmarks of tactices deployed by LeT in fomenting insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. Terrorists came via the sea route from Karachi to Mumbai, according to Indian security agencies.

Within hours of a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani Friday, Pakistan’s backtracking on a decision to send the ISI chief is also seen here as a reinforcement of India’s suspicions of the involvement of Pakistan’s spy agency in the Mumbai mayhem. Pakistan has now decided to send a senior ISI representative to India.

Slamming the idea of calling the ISI chief to India, G. Parthasarathy, a former Indian envoy to Pakistan, said that such a move will lead to “a dead end”.

“It’s like asking a burglar to join the probe into the burglary he has committed,” Parthsarathy told IANS. Once India provides the information on the Mumbai terror attacks, the ISI man will go back and change the facts on the ground, he said.

“It would also be good PR for Pakistan as they can tell the world that they cooperated with India,” he added.

Chandra feels there is no alternative but to act.

“It’s time to focus on getting some of known terrorist masterminds like LeT chief Hafez Mohammad Sayeed, Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim who are close to the Pakistani establishment,” he said.

“India’s strategy should be to expose Pakistan before the world. We got to tell the world about all the jehadi elements who are roaming freely in Pakistan,” added K. Subrahmanyam, a strategic expert.

International observers also contend that if Pakistan’s alleged involvement in the Mumbai carnage was established, relations would perhaps turn chilly.

“It would certainly complicate everything, put things on hold, make any negotiations harder,” said Terry Pattar, a counter-terrorism associate in the Strategic Advisory Services at Jane’s Information Group.

The fears of nearly five-year-old peace process grinding to a halt are all-too-real and recall the freezing of the composite dialogue after the July 2006 attacks on Mumbai’s commuter trains in which India suspected Pakistan’s hand.

India’s suspicion of the ISI’s involvement in the attack on the Indian mission in Kabul nearly five months ago has already put the composite dialogue under stress.

“The Mumbai attacks and India’s response to them could derail the peace process — presumably what the militants would want — particularly if India’s leaders attempt to tie homegrown militants to Pakistan-based Islamist groups or the Pakistani state,” said Shuza Nawaz, the Pakistani author of “Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within.”

After a cabinet meeting Saturday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Qureshi underlined that Pakistan will remain “fully engaged with the Indian leadership” to jointly fight terrorism.

India has eschewed bellicose posturing so far. But that might change radically if credible evidence is found linking Pakistan to the assault in India, with consequences not just for the two countries but the entire region, say experts.