India asks 'who' and 'why' a day after blasts rock Mumbai

The attacks on Mumbai come ahead of India-Pakistan talks. Some Indian officials believe the deadly blasts were intended to derail the talks.

Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
Police use a sniffer dog at the site of an explosion in the Zaveri Bazaar, south Mumbai July 13. Three bombs rocked crowded districts of Mumbai during rush hour on Wednesday, killing at least 20 people in the biggest militant attack on India's financial capital since 2008 assaults blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

A day after three blasts rocked Mumbai, killing at least 17 people and injuring 131, the Indian government says it has no leads on suspects and will refrain for now from assigning any blame. The possibility that the blasts were intended to derail upcoming India-Pakistan talks has been floated in the media repeatedly, but officials have assiduously avoided acknowledging any suspicions they may have of a connection.

The three bombings in three different locations happened at rush hour on Wednesday in heavily congested areas of India's commercial capital.

Home Minister P Chidambaram acknowledged that India lived in a "troubled neighborhood." He said that Pakistan and Afghanistan are at the "epicenter" of terrorism and that the possibility the attacks had ties to Pakistan would be explored, according to the Hindustan Times.

“I do agree that the Indo-Pak talks will be held this month, in 10 days from now. We are not ruling out any angle. We will probe every angle,” he said. The Indian government so far insists that the talks will still happen, but Mr. Chidambaram noted that “India has made it clear time and again, an atmosphere free of violence is a necessity" for improving bilateral ties.

While the Mumbai blasts dominated the homepages of all the major Indian news sites and most featured stories exploring a Pakistan link, it received only wire agency coverage in The Dawn and The News International, two major English-language Pakistani newspapers.

An American official told The New York Times that the early signs point to India-based militants, not the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba that is suspected in the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.

Reactions in the Indian press hint at frustration and dismay about what seems to be an insurmountable problem. There have been nine attacks on Mumbai in the past two decades, most recently the November 2008 attack. [Editor's note: This sentence has been changed to correctly reflect the number of attacks on Mumbai in the past two decades.]

The Hindustan Times ran a piece headlined "Why is Mumbai targeted again and again?" The answer, according to one Indian official, is that Mumbai provides everything a terrorist wants: high population density and great importance for the country.

“Mumbai and Delhi will always remain terror targets. Delhi is the political capital and Mumbai the financial one. An attack on a city like Mumbai always rocks the nation and gets the attention of the world, which is what terrorist groups want,” said state public works minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who was also home minister of the state. …

“The population of the city makes it an easy target for the terrorists. The idea behind these kinds of terrorism is to spread fear. As such, the target of the terrorists is the average citizen, which is not difficult in Mumbai,” opined former state home secretary Chandra Iyengar.

The Times of India quoted other officials voicing the same opinion in a piece titled "Hot hunting ground for terrorists":

Former state chief secretary D M Sukhtankar said Mumbai's being the financial nerve-centre makes it vulnerable to repeated attacks. "The high population density, and its intense business and economic activity, make it an easy target for those who want to create worldwide panic," he said. "Terrorists want to demonstrate that despite efforts to prevent such incidents they can still strike at will. Mumbai offers anonymity. It is difficult to identify someone next to you," he added. Former union home secretary Ram Pradhan, who headed the 26/11 probe committee, said Mumbai has always been a target because it is here that the maximum damage can be done. "It's a big city and such blasts hit the morale of the people," he said.

In light of Mumbai's propensity to be a terror target, the Indian government is fending off accusations that yesterday's attacks were an intelligence failure, the Guardian reports. Indian newspapers "carried long lists of terror strikes in Mumbai and other cities during the last decade, including several that remain unresolved."

“Whoever planned this attack worked in a very, very clandestine manner,” Chidambaram told reporters in a Thursday morning televised press conference, according to The Wall Street Journal. “It’s not a failure of intelligence. … There are inherent difficulties in trying to police every inch” of crowded market areas,” he said.

Others in government pointed to the fact that it's been three years since the last Mumbai attack as a sign of intelligence agencies' success.

"It is very difficult to stop every single terror attack," said Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi. "We've improved in leaps and bounds, but terrorism is something that is also increasing in leaps and bounds."

[ Video is no longer available. ]

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.