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India doesn't let blasts derail Pakistan talks
NEW DELHI (AP) — India brushed off speculation tying the Mumbai bombings to Pakistan and said Friday it remained committed to recently renewed peace talks with its rival neighbor.
The moves showed how little appetite New Delhi has for escalating tensions in the region while it focuses on maintaining economic growth in the South Asian nation of 1.2 billion people.
While future revelations about the culprits in the blasts that killed 17 people Wednesday could still sabotage relations between the countries, the Indian government so far has rejected opposition demands for a heavy response against Pakistan.
On Friday, India said it was working out dates for the next round of negotiations expected this month between top officials from both countries.
“The talks with Pakistan are on schedule,” foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said.
Pakistan’s leaders had quickly condemned the blasts and have welcomed India’s measured response. In a statement Friday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani “expressed satisfaction at the resolve of both Pakistan and India to continue with their bilateral dialogue, and not get deterred by terrorists’ designs to derail the dialogue once again.”
The coordinated triple bombings were the worst terror attack in India since 10 Pakistan-based militants rampaged through the city in November 2008, killing 166 people.
Investigators examined forensic evidence and footage from closed circuit cameras Friday for clues about who orchestrated the blasts.
“People are being questioned on the basis of our previous database and known linkages. We also have identified the scooter in which one of the bombs was planted,” India’s Home Secretary R.K. Singh told reporters in New Delhi.
He also said investigators had intercepted an email sent from outside Mumbai but declined to give details.
Intelligence analysts say the attack bore the hallmarks of the Indian Mujahideen, a shadowy Islamic militant group.
A former top Indian intelligence official told The Associated Press that Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group has been providing ideological and physical training to the Indian Mujahedeen since 2004.
Leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party strongly criticized the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for not taking a harder line with Pakistan.
“Manmohan Singh, sir, what is the nature of your relationship with Pakistan?” BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad asked angrily at a news conference Friday.
Government officials have refused to take the bait. Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said Thursday that investigators were not ruling out the possibility the attacks were aimed at scuttling the talks.
G. Parthasarthy, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, said it would have been counterproductive for the government to overreact, especially on something as important as peace talks, before a culprit was named.
“If concrete proof emerges, I have no idea what the government will do,” he said.
The talks, though unlikely to produce concrete results because of political weakness on both sides, at least will lower the temperature between the nations, said Ashok Mehta, a retired Indian army general and leading strategic analyst.
“They’ve tried both talking and not talking, and the experience has been that talking is the most viable option,” he said.
In addition, cutting off talks would be a politically damaging admission of failure for Singh, who is already fighting off a raft of corruption allegations against his government.
“The prime minister has staked his reputation and his political fortune on being able to change Pakistan’s behavior and get them to live as peaceful and friendly neighbors,” Mehta said.
India and Pakistan, nuclear powers that have fought three wars since independence in 1947, had been engaged in reportedly fruitful negotiations before the Mumbai siege nearly three years ago.
India quickly broke off the peace talks, demanding Pakistan crack down on those accused in the attack, including Lashkar-e-Taiba. Last month, a Pakistani-American testified in a trial in Chicago that Pakistani intelligence was directly involved in plotting and funding the Mumbai siege, a charge denied by Islamabad.
Though India remained unsatisfied with Islamabad’s tepid effort to bring those responsible for the attack to justice, the two countries decided in February to restart a full-fledged peace process and have since held talks about the disputed region of Kashmir and the continuing threat posed by terrorism.
Pakistani political analyst Khaled Mahmood said India has in the past been quick to suspend talks or consider military options, but that they “didn’t gain anything out of it.”
This time, “the government’s approach has been more mature,” he said. “It’s a good development. The process is already on. If this would be interrupted, then it would take a lot of time and effort to resume it.”
But Parthasarthy, the former ambassador to Pakistan, said India’s patience has limits.
“Tensions will flare if there is one more terrorist attack,” he said. “I don’t think next time around our response will be as Gandhian as it was in the past.”