Spectre of Mumbai attacks haunts peace in South Asia

Spectre of Mumbai attacks haunts peace in South AsiaNew Delhi/Islamabad - The terrorist siege of Mumbai did not merely leave the city convulsing in violence; its effects continue to reverberate through South Asia a year later, pushing one of the world's most volatile regions deeper into crisis.

The attacks by gunmen from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group scuttled improving relations between the two South Asian giants Pakistan and India with the latter, angered over the carnage, halting a five-year peace process.

As domestic outrage peaked amid talk of "surgical strikes" on militant camps, India scrambled its fighter jets over Pakistan, bringing the nuclear-armed neighbours to the verge of war.

The threat of war has diminished but prospects for a revival of the peace talks remain bleak on the part of New Delhi.

India has demanded that Islamabad crack down on militants and prosecute their leaders believed responsible for the Mumbai outrage, before getting back to the negotiating table.

"It is the Pakistan government's responsibility to destroy their camps and eliminate their infrastructure," Indian Premier Manmohan Singh said recently, demanding the terrorists be punished "for their crimes against humanity."

Singh, who urged Islamabad to give up the use of terrorism as a "state policy," said, "the government and people of Pakistan should realize the great harm that (their) patronization of terrorist groups has done to South Asia."

Stability in South Asia, home to one-fifth of humanity, depends largely on India-Pakistan ties. Besides battling terrorism, the region is struggling with poverty and weak human development parameters, with 400 million of its over 1.5 billion people living below the poverty line.

Bilateral relations have been marked by hostility ever since the two nations gained independence from Britain in 1947. Since then, the neighbours fought three wars, two of them over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Peace talks that held the promise of a breakthrough and covered eight contentious issues that bedevil bilateral ties were launched in early 2004. But dozens of attacks by Pakistani militants have snuffed out that flame of hope.

LeT has been blamed for most of the attacks, many of them targeting India's financial capital Mumbai.

The group, according to Indian officials, enjoys the patronage of the Pakistani intelligence agencies to launch a proxy war in Kashmir, to which both countries lay claim.

India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram recently warned Pakistan to stop instigating terrorist attacks on India, saying the country would respond forcefully.

"The Mumbai attacks should be Pakistan's last game. I have warned the country not to play with India," he said.

In repeated pledges to fight terrorism and rising Islamic militancy, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that his country had done more than any other nation to eliminate terrorism and extremism.

"Pakistan's actions against terrorists and militants speak louder than the words and have been appreciated by the international community, except India," Qureshi told the German Press Agency dpa in an interview.

But Pakistan's problems are complex and its other neighbours - Iran, Afghanistan and China - also blame it for fomenting extremism.

Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of turning a blind eye to Taliban launching cross-border attacks on its territory.

Tehran said recently that Abdolmalik Rigi, head of the Jandollah (Soldiers of God) militant group responsible for last month's deadly attack on its Revolutionary Guards, is hiding in Pakistan's south-western Balochistan province.

China, too, has been talking about its Muslims getting protection and training in Pakistan's militancy-plagued north-western region to fan violence in its province of Xinjiang.

Qureshi told dpa that Pakistan was "itself a victim of terrorism, cannot and will not allow its territory to be used for terrorism anywhere in the world."

In ruthless suicide bombings and raids, al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants have killed over 20,000 Pakistani civilians and security officials over the last eight years.

Some Indian analysts believe that Pakistan needs support in its ongoing fight against terrorism.

"Our supreme national interest lies in Islamabad winning its own war on terror. Time has come to reopen communication with Pakistan," Indian Express columnist Shekhar Gupta said.

Qureshi echoed those sentiments, saying "Pakistan believes that sustained engagement and result-oriented dialogue are necessary."

"Breakdown of dialogue only works to the advantage of those who do not want to see peace in the region," he told dpa. (dpa)