Indian officials and foreign observers have started to blame Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for last week's deadly Mumbai terror attacks, turning up the heat on a country faced with rising instability and growing militancy on a number of fronts.
More than 172 people died in the attacks, in which a handful of armed gunmen attacked the city's main train station as well as luxury hotels and a Jewish community center, taking hostages in a 60-hour-long standoff. More than 300 people were wounded, says Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Responsibility for the Mumbai attacks was initially claimed by a new group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen, but before the standoff was over Indian officials accused Pakistan-based groups of playing a role.
An Indian police official said the only gunman captured alive after the attacks claimed to belong to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group with links to the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and one long seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service.
Lashkar is suspected of carrying out a daring 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi and was legal in Pakistan until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when it was outlawed, reports the Council on Foreign Relations.
Lashkar-e-Taiba has an extensive network in southern and Southeast Asia. A senior US military intelligence official described the group as "al Qaeda junior," as it has vast resources, an extensive network, and is able to carry out complex attacks throughout its area of operations....
The relationship between al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba is complex, the official noted. "While Lashkar-e-Taiba is definitely subordinate to al Qaeda in many ways, it runs its own network and has its own command structure. The groups often train in each others' camps, and fight side by side in Afghanistan."...
Founded by Hafiz Mohammed Saeed in Afghanistan in 1990, the organization quickly expanded its reach. The Lashkar-e-Taiba has received direct support by Pakistan's notorious Inter-Service Intelligence agency as they serve to destabilize India and wage war in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
"We will take up strongly with our neighbors that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated," he said. "And that there will be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them."
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has denied Pakistani involvement and condemned the attacks, telling The Hindu: "I empathise with the people of Bombay. I feel the pain. I feel their loss and my heart goes out to their loss and the people you have lost."
[A]s the President of Pakistan let me assure you [that] if any evidence points to any individual or group in my part of the country, I shall take the strictest of action in the light of the evidence and in front of the world... Without any hesitation whatsoever, no matter where it may lead.
The two nuclear-armed neighbors have been rivals since they were partitioned into separate countries in 1947, after British-controlled India gained independence.
The Mumbai attacks have raised the specter of renewed cross-border tensions. But Brajesh Mishra, a former Indian national security adviser, says in an interview with AFP that beyond saber rattling there is little that India can do to Pakistan.
"There is little to suggest that the gunmen were sponsored by the Pakistani government," he tells AFP.
The Times of India reported on Monday that Azam Amir Kasab, the only gunman captured alive and a Pakistani citizen, has provided authorities with the names of "at least five" Mumbai locals who helped the gunmen plan their attack.
The article reports that Mr. Kasab claims members of the group were instructed to target Israeli interests "to avenge atrocities on Palestinians." It also reports that some of the attackers had previously stayed as guests in the Nariman House Jewish community center, to stake out the place.
Time magazine writes that perhaps a greater cause for alarm is the added internal pressure that the attacks create in both countries. In India, they raise the fear of sectarian violence and greater hardship for the disadvantaged Muslim minority, which accounts for 13.4 percent of India's 1.1 billion people.
There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, Muslim Indians have shorter life spans, worse health, lower literacy levels and lower-paying jobs. Add to that toxic brew the lingering resentment over 2002's anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat. The riots, instigated by Hindu nationalists, killed some 2,000 people, most of them Muslims. To this day, few of the perpetrators have been convicted.
For Pakistan, questions over the country's role in the attacks last week "could not have come at a worse time" for the Zardari government, according to Time. The government already faces a grim laundry list of problems: a Taliban insurgency in its northwestern tribal areas, longstanding separatist claims along the Iranian border in the southwest, dozens of American military strikes within its territory, and mounting economic woes.
As a Taliban insurgency continues to simmer in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, clashes on Sunday between rival political groups in the southern metropolis of Karachi killed 13 people and wounded 70. The country is on the verge of economic collapse, its desperate pleas for financial assistance from China and Saudi Arabia last month having been rebuffed, forcing Pakistan to accept loans from the International Monetary Fund — but those loans come with stern conditions limiting government spending, the implementation of which will risk inflaming further unrest. A suspected U.S. predator drone attack in the tribal areas on Saturday — one of dozens in recent months — has further alienated a population already suspicious of U.S. interference.
Two people were killed, and a dozen trucks destroyed, when militants attacked a shipping terminal in Peshawar, Pakistan, reports the Associated Press. The trucks were part of a US and NATO supply shipment into Afghanistan, which has seen a sharp uptick of Taliban and Al Qaeda violence within the past year. Nearby, a suicide bomber struck a military checkpoint in the Swat valley, killing eight and wounding 40.