New Delhi: Triple blasts in Mumbai last week have cast a shadow over the imminent visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to New Delhi and a new round of India-Pakistan peace talks later this month.
No-one has claimed responsibility for the bombs on Wednesday evening that killed 19 and injured more than 100, and the initial police investigation has failed to unearth any clear leads.
Briefing reporters on Thursday about the investigation, home minister P. Chidambaram cast the net of suspicion as wide as it would go in a deliberate effort to avoid pointing the finger at Pakistan.
“All groups hostile to India are on the radar,” he said.
The involvement of a Pakistan-based group would instantly thrust relations between New Delhi and Islamabad back into the deep freeze, just as the nuclear-armed neighbours are about to restart a faltering peace process.
India accuses Pakistan’s army and intelligence services of aiding militant groups that carry out attacks on Indian soil. Terror strikes have brought the estranged neighbours to the brink of war in the past.
“It is too early to know because the investigations can go in any direction” Brahma Chellaney of the New Delhi-based Centre of Policy Research think-tank, told AFP.
“(But) if the investigations throw up cross-border links then that will queer the pitch for the talks.”
For Clinton, any Pakistani involvement would again see her under pressure to drop US military support for Islamabad during her talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday.
Last week, Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna welcomed Washington’s decision to suspend $800 million worth of aid to Pakistan.
“Counter-terrorism has always been part of our strategic dialogue,” an Indian foreign ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “The 13 July attacks will be part of the exchange.”
Clinton said last week that it was “more important than ever that we stand with India” and she reaffirmed her “commitment to the shared struggle against terrorism.”
Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, said the latest attacks in Mumbai “will inevitably colour Secretary Clinton’s visit.”
He said the latest bloodshed in India’s commercial capital had the potential to upset the delicate balance in the three US relationships in the region—with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“If it becomes clear that the Pakistanis at some levels were involved in these attacks, then it would certainly give greater force to Indian complaints that the United States has coddled Pakistan and is not being stern enough,” he said.
“I think, as the Indians are to be commended for doing, we want to avoid jumping to a conclusion until we simply have more information into who is responsible for these deeds.”
India broke off its peace process with Pakistan after the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which were blamed on the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-a-Taiba.
Ten gunmen went on a 60-hour rampage, killing 166 people across the city.
Initial suspicions for this week’s explosions have fallen on the Indian Mujahideen, an Indian group with links to Lashkar-e-Taiba, but their past operations have come with a claim of responsibility.
Krishna would face tremendous public pressure to call off his planned meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar—scheduled for the last week of July in New Delhi—if any new Pakistan links are unearthed.
“If it is established the Indian Mujahideen (IM) was involved in the Mumbai blasts then that will vitiate the climate of the talks because the link between IM and the Lashkar-e-Taiba is very well established,” said Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan.
The government’s policy of engaging the Pakistani government, pushed by Prime Minister Singh, has faced fierce criticism from the main opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.