India: Talks with Pakistan undeterred by Pune attack

Indian officials said Monday that upcoming peace talks with Pakistan are on track despite Saturday's attacks in Pune which some suspect were orchestrated by a Pakistan-based terrorist group.

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Indian officials said Monday that talks with Pakistan – scheduled for Feb. 25 in New Delhi – are on track despite the Feb. 13 cafe bombing that killed nine people in the Indian city of Pune.

Although there is no confirmed Pakistan link to the Pune bombing, analysts say the announcement shows that India is not allowing itself to be easily derailed from what will be the first peace talks since Delhi broke off dialogue between the two nuclear-armed nations after the Nov. 2008 Mumbai (Bombay) attacks that killed about 165. The Pune bombing is the largest terrorist attack on India since then.

No one has claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack, but suspicion quickly fell on militant Islamic groups. A bomb hidden in a rucksack under a table in the "German Cafe" killed nine people – including an Iranian and an Italian – and injured 60, according to Bloomberg. Pune, known for its prosperous IT and auto industry, is 125 miles southeast of Mumbai (click here for a map).

An Indian official told Agence France-Presse on Monday that there was "no change" to the US-backed "Indo-Pak" talks between the countries' foreign ministers, which were announced only one day before the Pune bombing. While on a visit Monday to the Indian capital en route to Islamabad, Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts encouraged the two nations to push forward with dialogue, reports the Wall Street Journal.

"The right thing is to talk; you lose nothing by talking," Kerry said. If India finds a Pakistani link to the Pune attack, "I hope India will have that conversation with Pakistan and, if they have evidence to that effect, that should be the first thing on the table and Pakistan has to deal with it," he added.

The Obama administration has an interest in the dialogue as it has encouraged ally Pakistan to focus efforts on Taliban militants in its North-West Frontier Province and in Afghanistan rather than on Pakistan's tradition rival, India, according to the Washington Post.

Indian investigators are looking into the possibility of the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group blamed for orchestrating the Mumbai attacks, the Christian Science Monitor reported. Investigators also say the bombings bear the mark of the Indian Mujahideen, a group of homegrown Islamic terrorists blamed for attacks in several Indian cities.

“But even if that were true,” Ajit Doval, the former director of the Intelligence Bureau of India told the Monitor, “you must bear in mind that the Indian Mujahideen is the offshoot of trans-border terrorist operations launched against India.”

in the wake of the Pune bombing, nationalist groups in India quickly protested against Pakistan, and the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called on the ruling Congress Party to call off bilateral talks. Opposition groups held a rally Sunday and burned a Pakistani flag, the Times of India reported.

"The [ruling Congress Party] government can provide tight security to protect Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan but has failed to provide security at sensitive locations. Today security of the common man is more important than the actors," said [the Vishwa Hindu Parishad party leader] Hemant Jambhekar.

Investigators may find clues in the surveillance video recorded by a five-star hotel near the cafe. The video reportedly shows two suspects, one talking on a phone and the other carrying a bag, according to the Hindustan Times.

The official said the footage was too "grainy and coarse" to give any clues about the suspects in its present form.

"But the investigators are getting it closely examined and may enhance the generation of the video to get some clues," he said.

Police showed this footage on Monday to cafe workers who spotted the abandoned rucksack before it exploded, according to the Associated Press.

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