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