A pair of coordinated bombings rocked the city of Hyderabad in southern India on Saturday night, claiming 42 lives and heightening tensions between the nation's Hindu and Muslim population, and foreign neighbors with alleged ties to terrorism. Although the government has unofficially pinned the bombings on foreign militants, debate continues about who conducted the attacks and their motives. Despite the bombings, Hindu-Muslim relations in Hyderabad remain peaceful.
Though the two bombs caused considerable damage, the toll could have been much higher if police had not found and defused 19 more bombs hidden at bus stops, movie theaters, and bridges. "They could have killed hundreds," said Balwinder Singh, Hyderabad's police commissioner. If all the bombs had detonated, authorities believe that the death toll would have exceeded the multiple bombings in Mumbai (Bombay) last year that killed more than 186 people, one of the worst attacks in India's recent history. The Hindu calendar considers Aug. 26 to be an auspicious day, and authorities suspect that the attacks may have been meant to spark conflict between India's Muslims and Hindus, reports The Times, a London-based paper.
Hyderabad is considered a high-profile target because it is a centre of India's burgeoning information technology industry, and is now home to dozens of top Western companies and many foreign executives.
The attack appears to have been designed to provoke a fresh bout of violence between Hindus and Muslims in the city of 6.5 million people, which has one of India's largest Muslim communities. India's population of 1.1 billion is 80 per cent Hindu and about 13 per cent Muslim, but Hyderabad – the 16th-century capital of the Muslim Qutb Shahi dynasty - is more than 40 percent Muslim.
Local Hyderabad officials have said they suspect that terrorist organizations in Bangladesh and Pakistan are responsible for carrying out the attacks, reports The Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper. The federal government, though, has yet to implicate any foreign organizations.
"[Hyderabad's Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara] told newspersons here after an emergency cabinet meeting that terrorist organisations based in Bangladesh and Pakistan were also behind the bomb blast in Mecca Masjid on May 28 in which 11 people were killed," the [United News of India] said.
Anonymous intelligence sources have fingered the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, an Islamic militant organization, as the most likely suspect. Officials accused the same group of bombing a mosque in Hyderabad in May, which left 11 people dead. Over the past year, India has seen numerous bombings, the vast majority of which have been blamed on Muslim extremists with foreign ties, even when the bombings have targeted India's Islamic community, reports The Independent. The Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, which is fighting for India's withdrawal from Kashmir, has also been blamed for numerous bombings. Meanwhile, many Muslims have accused Hindu extremists of being the actors behind this weekend's bombings.
Meanwhile, Hyderabad expatriates in Dubai downplayed the role of foreign forces, reports the Gulf News. Among Dubai's Hyderabadian community, the general consensus was that the bombings had been carried out for internal political reasons, namely as an attack on the regional government in Hyderabad. "The blasts are politically motivated to bring down the government," said P.N. Rao, an Indian from Hyderabad living in Dubai.
"No doubt that the heinous act has disturbed the harmony of the Andhra Pradesh [the Indian state containing Hyderbad]. Basically it creates fears in the minds of the people. Instead of hunting for external forces the authorities should concentrate within the state and get the perpetrators. The aim is to de-stabilise existing government," said [Yalawarty Sarath, who works in a government office].
Many in India feared that the blasts would prompt religious feuding, as Hindus and Muslims blamed one another for the bombings. The explosions, however, claimed both Hindu and Muslim lives, unifying the diverse community against whoever perpetrated the bombings, reports The Times of India.
"There is no doubt that it was a terrorist attack aimed at all people in Hyderabad — not Hindus, not Muslims, not anybody alone. In this hour of great crisis we need to stand together to defeat the enemy", said Hyderabad's MP Asaduddin Owaisi.
Mazhar Hussain, in-charge of the Confederation of Voluntary Organisations, said that the bomb blasts in the city should not be looked [at] from the prism of Hindus and Muslims. "It is a bigger game the objective of which is to hurt India, bleed India. The investigation therefore should be quick, fair and credible at the local as well as national level", he said.
An opinion piece in The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, drew correlations between the attackers and Pakistan, raising concerns that the bombing might "derail [the] India-Pakistan détente." The author shared government assessments that Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami had carried out the attack and emphasized the group's connections to Pakistan. He also alleged that Pakistani officials have denied the presence of prominent members of Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami who reportedly operate within their borders.
Barely a year ago, armed with western guarantees that President Pervez Musharraf was committed to ending terrorism directed at India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh revived the dialogue process with Pakistan. Among its notable features was the creation of an India-Pakistan joint counter-terrorism mechanism. Since then, Islamist terror groups and their supporters within the Pakistani military establishment have repeatedly sought to undermine General Musharraf's commitment to end terror. The Samjhauta Express bombing and the strike on the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad were intended to strip General Musharraf's anti-jihad stance of legitimacy within Pakistan. Many in India's strategic community fear that the bombings in Hyderabad — the first major strike directed at non-Muslim civilians since the Mumbai serial bombings of 2006 — mean that Islamist terror groups have broken their shackles. They have little doubt that General Musharraf's domestic travails have strengthened pro-jihad hawks in Pakistan.