India says bombers had help in Pakistan

New tensions threaten faltering peace process

July 15, 2006|By HENRY CHU | HENRY CHU,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW DELHI, India -- Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said yesterday that this week's railway bombings in Bombay had support from "elements across the border" in Pakistan, escalating the war of words between the nuclear-armed neighbors and further casting a pall over the possibility of peace between them.

On a visit to survivors of Tuesday's synchronized blasts, Singh accused Islamabad of falling down on its pledge not "to promote, encourage, aid and abet terrorism," saying that "that assurance has to be fulfilled before the peace process and other processes progress."

His remarks were the highest-level allegation yet that archrival Pakistan was at least indirectly responsible for the bombings, which killed as many as 200 people and wounded hundreds more. Until now, senior Indian officials had refrained from blaming Pakistan, concerned that it might derail already-spluttering peace talks between the two countries.

But investigators have said repeatedly in the past few days that the attack, which ripped through a key Bombay commuter line during the height of the evening rush hour, bore the hallmarks of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant group dedicated to forcing India to relinquish its portion of the contested Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means "Army of the Pure," is based in Pakistan, operating through a Muslim charity despite Islamabad's insistence that it had banned the group.

Pakistani officials continued yesterday to reject allegations of involvement in the bombings in Bombay, also known as Mumbai. A spokeswoman warned New Delhi against using the attack as a pretext for putting a further brake on the peace process, which has made only incremental progress over the past few years.

"The peace process between Pakistan and India is a separate matter. It is in the interest of both" that dialogue continue, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.

Talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries, which were scheduled for the coming week, now look increasingly in doubt.

Before his remarks yesterday, Singh had been under growing pressure to come out strongly against Pakistan, both from his political rivals, who accuse the government of taking too soft an approach toward Islamabad, and from the public, which has embraced the view that Pakistan was directly or indirectly behind the bombings. Newspaper editorials urged the prime minister to condemn the "jihad factory" next door.

The Indian government has blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for past terrorist attacks, often without publicly presenting much evidence beyond similarities in modus operandi. Among the incidents laid at the group's door are the coordinated bombings last October in New Delhi that killed more than 50 people and a brazen 2001 assault on the Indian Parliament that nearly sparked a fourth war between the two countries.

The peace process since that time has produced little real progress in resolving the dispute over Kashmir, which both sides claim as their rightful territory but which has been divided between them for nearly 60 years.

A Muslim insurgency aimed at setting up an independent state or uniting Kashmir under Pakistani rule has killed tens of thousands of people in the past two decades and shows little signs of abating. On the same day as the railway bombings in Bombay, eight Indian tourists were killed in a series of grenade attacks by suspected Islamic militants in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian-controlled side.

Henry Chu writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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