The Big Question: Is India right to blame Pakistan for the attacks on Mumbai?

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The Independent Online

Why are we asking this now?

In recent days the Indian government has stepped up the war of words with Pakistan that started when terror attacks in Mumbai left about 170 people dead. Yesterday, in his most outspoken statement yet, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Pakistan authorities "must have" been involved in the terror attack in November. Though not accusing the government in Islamabad directly, he continued: "There is enough evidence to show that, given the sophistication and military precision of the attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan."

What was Pakistan's response?

While Mr Singh's comments were not particularly different from those made in recent days by the country's Foreign Secretary and Home Minister, the response in Pakistan was especially angry – possibly because they came from the Prime Minister himself. Officials in Islamabad dismissed the comments as a "propaganda offensive" and said that claiming state agencies were involved in the attacks was both unwarranted and unacceptable. "India must refrain from hostile propaganda, and must not whip up tensions," said a Foreign Ministry statement. "Pakistan emphatically rejects the unfortunate allegations."

Does India believe that the civilian government is behind the attacks?

Almost certainly not. Indian officials have stressed they are not pointing fingers at Pakistan's civilian leadership, headed by the President Asif Ali Zardari and the Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani. Until this point they have also been careful to draw a distinction between so-called "state actors" and "non-state" actors. These comments suggest, however, they believes that some elements of Pakistan's state – the intelligence agencies for example – may have been involved. On Monday India's Foreign Secretary, Shivshankar Menon, went as far as to say: "Even the so-called non-state actors function within a state are citizens of a state. We don't think there's such a thing as non-state actors."

So why has their approach changed?

India is determined to keep up the pressure on Pakistan. Its shift in rhetoric coincides with the passing to Pakistan of a dossier of evidence it says proves the attacks were carried out by Pakistan-based militants – members of the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The dossier reportedly included transcripts of electronic intercepts and interrogation reports from the questioning of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving militant. Some reports claim the dossier contained information detailing strict instructions given by the militants' handlers to those who carried out the attacks, stressing the need to "kill Jews" and to seize a senior Indian official. Indian officials said taken in its entirety, the evidence "leads to the conclusion that the plot was hatched in Pakistan and as the operation in Mumbai was on, it was masterminded and controlled from Pakistan".

Is there more to it?

Part of the problem for India is that it has very few realistic options for dealing with Pakistan. Officials in Delhi know that if they were to launch any sort of military strike against suspected terror targets inside Pakistan, the result could be devastating; the civilian government in Pakistan would be weakened; there would be huge public anger in the country and there would almost certainly be more attacks launched on Indian targets as a result. In such circumstances, India can realistically do little more than speak firmly and seek to keep international support on its side. It's also worth bearing in mind that, with an election scheduled to take place in the next couple of months, Indian officials – in much the same way as their Pakistan counterparts – need to speak differently for different audiences. The Congress Party-led government has often been accused by its main opposition rival, the BJP, of being soft on terrorism and in the aftermath of Mumbai, Mr Singh and his senior ministers want to be seen to be acting firmly. It may also reflect a belief in Delhi that the Indian government needs to address different power centres in Pakistan – the civilian administration, the military and the intelligence establishment.

What steps has Pakistan taken so far?

In the aftermath of the attacks, Pakistan made warm, cooperative noises and arrested about 50 people associated with LeT and closed down a number of its facilities. Mr Zardari even offered to send the head of the ISI intelligence agency to India to help, though this was quickly overruled by the military. Since then it appears to have dug its heels in, insisting that intelligence suggesting the involvement of Pakistan-based militants it had been given through second parties, including the US and Britain, was not conclusive. Even now, while it says it is reviewing the dossier of evidence it has been given directly, officials have raised doubts about its veracity or completeness. It has also said it would not extradite any alleged suspects to India, as no treaty exists for such procedures.

Could Pakistan do more?

The problem for Mr Zardari and the civilian government that has held office for less than a year, is that its position is terribly fragile. Mr Zardari faces challenges on many fronts, and how far the military would allow the government to move against militants such as the LeT, with which it may still retain links, is unclear. While the president may wish to be seen to cooperate with the international community, there are vast domestic pressures not to be seen to bow towards India, a historic adversary.

How significant are their historical disagreements?

All-important. India and Pakistan have fought on three occasions. They faced off with each other in 2002 when some analysts believed the nuclear-armed countries were again heading for war. As a result there is observable mutual distrust and even the most level-headed of officials often betray seemingly illogical suspicion of the other side. The media in both countries has sometimes been guilty of nationalistic or hysterical coverage.

What are the chances of a joint investigation?

India is nervous of sharing too much intelligence with Pakistan and the ISI, elements of which were blamed by Delhi and Washington for involvement in a bomb attack last year on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that left more than 50 people dead. That may be why India took so long to directly provide Pakistan with the dossier of evidence. At the moment there are several concurrent and separate investigations being carried out by India, the ISI, the FBI and Scotland Yard.

What offers the best hope of resolving things?

India is hopeful that international pressure from the US, China and Saudi Arabia – which have the most influence over Pakistan – might elicit a further response from Islamabad, in whose court the ball now lies since being handed the dossier. Joe Biden, the Vice-President elect, will this week be the latest US envoy to visit Pakistan for talks to defuse the tension. If Pakistan were to try and prosecute some LeT members, India could at least claim some sort of result. It will also, of course, have to address the issue of those Indians allegedly also involved in the plot.

Could the nuclear-armed neighbours come to blows over Mumbai?

Yes...

* The two nations have already fought three times before.

* Both sides have dispatched thousands of troops to their border. This cannot help but raise tensions.

* There is widespread mistrust and suspicion from both parties about each other and no sense that these suspicions can be easily allayed.

No...

* The international community wants Pakistan to focus on the militants in the tribal areas who attack Western troops in Afghanistan.

* Military action by India could lead to a military coup in Pakistan.

* Both sides are all too well aware of the huge cost, human and financial, of conflict.

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