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    South Asia
     Nov 1, 2005
India and Pakistan push on, despite blasts
By Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI - While Saturday evening's serial blasts in the Indian capital claimed at least 60 lives, they have not officially stopped India and Pakistan from going ahead with plans to open the border in divided, insurgency-hit Kashmir to facilitate relief operations for the survivors of the October 8 earthquake.

Suspicion for the blasts has fallen on the Lashkar e-Toiba (Soldiers of God) jihadi group, which is based in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and sworn to liberate Muslim-majority, Indian-administered Kashmir or have it accede to Pakistan. But authorities were determined to allow relief work across the Line of Control (LoC) that separates the two regions.

The Pakistani government has condemned the bombings and an official statement issued in Islamabad said the "attack in a

crowded market place is a criminal act of terrorism".

The reference was to the bombing in the popular Sarojini Nagar market, adjacent to the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, where 42 persons were counted dead, some after being rushed to hospital.

A bomb that went off almost simultaneously claimed 18 lives in the crowded Paharganj area, close to the main New Delhi railway station and frequented by backpackers from around the world for its cheap lodgings.

The alert conductor of a state-owned bus discovered and flung away a suitcase with a time-bomb in it, but not fast or far enough to avoid injuries to the driver and four other persons.

Though sealed off for investigations by Sunday morning, Sarojini Nagar and Paharganj were opened to shoppers for Diwali, India's "festival of lights", which symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and falls this year on November 1. Police said they saw no reason to keep the markets closed.

More than 200 people were injured in the three blasts, many of them seriously and hospital authorities feared more deaths in the coming days.

In Srinagar, capital of Indian Kashmir, a previously unheard of group called "Inquilab" claimed responsibility for the blasts, but police said it could be a front for larger, internationally banned groups such as the Lashkar e-Toiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

At a media briefing late Sunday, the assistant police commissioner, Jarnail Singh, said that while investigations were continuing, there was reason to believe that the Lashkar e-Toiba was behind the bombings.

But unlike in the past, the Indian government seemed reluctant to officially blame any group or point an accusing finger at Pakistan for the attack, possibly because of current delicate negotiations on delivery of earthquake relief and a "peace process" involving "composite dialogue", running since January 2004.

The mood of retaining normalcy was determined by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who in a televised address called Saturday's attacks "dastardly acts of terrorism" and resolved to "defeat their [the terrorists'] nefarious designs and not allow them to succeed."

Police believe the bombings were timed to coincide with the scheduled sentencing on Saturday of three members of the Lashkar e-Toiba for mounting an attack inside the historic Red Fort complex in December 2000 and killing two soldiers and a civilian.

However, Judge O P Saini had postponed to Monday the sentencing of Mohammed Arif, alias Ashfaq, a Pakistani national, and Indian conspirators Nazir Ahmed Qasid and Farooq Ahmad Qasid.

Judge Saini found Ashfaq guilty of murder, criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery, illegal possession of arms and of illegally entering and staying in India.

Opening of the LoC in Kashmir, so that relief material, including desperately needed food, medical aid and material for shelter, could flow into Pakistani Kashmir, has been resisted by hardliners and jihadi militant groups based there.

Some 100,000 people are estimated to have perished in the October 8 temblor, while 400,000 survivors need medical aid and shelter before the Himalayan winter hardens to freezing temperatures about mid-November.

The last major jihadi attack mounted in the Indian capital occurred in December 2000 when a five-man suicide squad of well-armed militants tried to blow up the Indian parliament, while in session, using a car bomb.

Accusing Pakistan of orchestrating the attack, India mobilized troops along their common border, bringing the two nuclear-armed neighbors close to war, until high-level "shuttle diplomacy" led by Colin Powell, then US secretary of state, succeeded in defusing the situation.

But the attack also resulted in a downgrading of diplomatic missions in each other's countries and the suspension of air and surface links until the initiation of the composite dialogue, which was to have covered a range of outstanding bilateral issues, including resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Despite the slow pace of the composite dialogue, the two countries could report steady progress in improving bilateral relations, including the opening of a bus route from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, in April this year.

Since then, Singh and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf were able to declare as "irreversible" the peace process, though India has complained that militant camps continue to exist in Pakistani Kashmir.

Immediately after the earthquake struck, India's offer to send across its helicopters for emergency rescue and relief was turned down by Musharraf, citing "local sensitivities".

Speculation that hundreds of militants had died and that their camps were devastated by the earthquake were quickly dispelled when a suicide squad attacked a high-security area in Srinagar and shot dead Ghulam Nabi Lone, the state's education minister, in his house on October 18.

But in spite of the jihadi attacks in Srinagar and in the Indian capital, the two countries announced on Sunday the opening of five points on the LoC through which aid material can flow, as well as Kashmiri people wishing to meet relatives living on the other side.

A joint statement issued in Islamabad said: "For relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction purposes, it was agreed that with prior information and acceptance and depending on feasibility, relief items can be sent in either direction and handed over to local authorities on the aforementioned crossing points."

The two sides "agreed on operationalization of the arrangements on 7 November 2005 as a humanitarian measure", the statement said.

For more than 55 years, the heavily fortified and fenced LoC has been the scene of extreme hostilities, including three wars and cross-border militancy.

On Saturday, a top political leader in Pakistani Kashmir, Qayyum Khan, was quoted urging Islamabad to accept India's offer of helicopters, even if they were flown by Indian pilots.

Qayyum was quoted by Pakistan's PPI news agency as saying, "What [is it that] we want to keep secret from India despite the presence of the US, NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and other foreign organizations in the quake-hit areas?"

According to Qayyum, what mattered was that "90% of official and private buildings [in Pakistani Kashmir] had been destroyed", that "our whole generation of school-going children to which our future was attached had been wiped out", and that unless aid reached the survivors quickly, far worse tragedies were in store.

(Inter Press Service)

Waging jihad against disaster
(Oct 20, '05)

Nature forces back terror
(Oct 18, '05)


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