The peace process between India and Pakistan appeared to be in danger yesterday as the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, publicly accused "elements" in Pakistan of being involved in the Bombay bombings. Speaking in Bombay after meeting with victims of Tuesday' s serial bombings, Dr Singh said India would not continue with the peace process unless Pakistan acted against Islamic militants based on its territory.
Any threat of a return to hostility across one of the most dangerous nuclear faultlines in the world will cause international concern. India has already called off the next round of peace talks, scheduled for 20 July, in reaction to the bombings, in which at least 179 people were killed.
"If the acts of terrorism are not controlled, it is exceedingly difficult for any government to carry forward what may be called the normalisation and the peace process," Dr Singh said.
Indian intelligence believes the bombings were a joint operation between Lashkar-e Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group, and the homegrown Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Dr Singh said yesterday that India was "certain" that the bombers were "instigated, inspired and supported by elements across the border".
Islamabad immediately denied involvement, and called for the peace process to continue. "These allegations are unsubstantiated, we have already rejected them," said Tasnim Aslam, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry. "The peace process...is a separate matter. It is in the interest of both Pakistan and India as well as the region. That is why we believe that the peace process must be continued."
But some Indian officials went further than Dr Singh yesterday, directly accusing Pakistan' s ISI intelligence service. "Activists of SIMI have probably facilitated this but the planning was ISI," a Home Ministry official told Reuters news agency. Two Pakistanis have been arrested in Nepal in connection with the bombings, after a tip-off from Indian police. Separately, India released the name of a third suspect, to add to two released on Thursday. Their nationalities have not been released.
The world watched nervously in 2002 as the two nuclear-armed neighbours came close to war after India accused Pakistan of being behind militant attacks. That was considered by many analysts to be the closest the world has came to a nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Bombay bombings were the latest in a series of major attacks that began with coordinated bombings in Delhi markets last October, in which at least 61 people died. They were followed by coordinated bombings in Hinduism' s holiest city, Varanasi, in March, in which at least 28 died.
After both attacks, India scrupulously avoided blaming Pakistan - and, at first, Dr Singh' s government seemed to be following the same course after the Bombay blasts. But this time he has come under enormous pressure to act against Pakistan, with his government being accused of weakness.
The accusation of Pakistani involvement centres on the militant group Lashkar-e Toiba, which has denied that it was involved in the bombings. Often wrongly described as a Kashmiri militant group, Lashkar is Pakistan-based. Although it has been active mostly in Indian-held Kashmir, its leadership is based entirely in Pakistan.
The fundamentalist Lashkar used to have close links to the ISI. It was armed and helped by the ISI to establish itself in Indian-held Kahsmir, as part of a Pakistani strategy of war by proxy.
Its links to the ISI have long been severed, at least according to the Pakistani establishment. President Pervez Musharraf banned Lashkar in 2002, but it is an open secret that it has continued to operate under different names. It was involved in the relief effort after last year' s Kashmir earthquake.Reuse content