Indo-Pak talks to go on despite Pune blast

NEW DELHI: The bomb blast that ripped apart the German Bakery in Pune killing nine people, mostly young Indians out for a convivial meal on Saturday evening, indicates exactly the kind of minefield the Indian government will have to tread its way through in attempting to resume a dialogue process with Pakistan. As a swift and coordinated investigation into the blast provides pointers to those who may be responsible for the outrage, sources said a Pakistan connection was almost certain. Pointing out that the blast site was among the locations checked out by David Coleman Headley, an American of Pakistani origin currently being held by the FBI in Chicago for being one of the alleged masterminds behind the Mumbai blasts of 26 November 2008, sources indicated there was little doubt that there was a link to Pakistani terrorist groups.

“Nothing is ruled out, nothing is ruled in. The investigation is in progress,” India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said about who could be behind the blasts. That the blast occurred a day after Pakistan formally accepted the Indian offer of dialogue is “pointer enough” that groups were determined to thwart any efforts at establishing peace between the sub-continental neighbours.

Already under fire from the opposition BJP and other political parties for proposing dialogue, and from a host of defence and strategic analysts who have questioned the timing of India’s offer of talks to Pakistan, a wary Indian government cautiously said the foreign secretary-level talks scheduled for February 25 would stay on schedule.

“The talks are going to go on schedule,” an official said. “We realise there are complexities in engaging Pakistan, but we have to see things in their entirety. At this moment, there is no reason for the talks to not go on,” the official said. In fact, senior officials said, the terrorist attack on Pune would allow India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao to retain the focus squarely on the terrorism issue during her preliminary talks with counterpart Salman Bashir, and deter any attempts to widen the focus to include issues like water-sharing and Kashmir.

The Indian government does not buy the oft-stated Pakistani thesis that terrorism would stop only when there is a resolution to the “issue” of Jammu and Kashmir claiming there can be no justification for the killing of innocent people. Sources said Rao would strongly protest Islamabad’s tacit compliance

with anti-Indian terrorist groups by citing a public meeting by some of India’s most wanted terrorists in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on February 5, during which senior members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Harkatul Mujahideen openly talked of attacking India. One of the speakers, the LET’s Abdur Rahman Makki, even named possible target sites, among them Pune, New Delhi and Kanpur, clearly signaling their lethal intent.

The evening before the Pune blast, Pakistan agreed to India’s offer of foreign secretary-level talks in New Delhi on Feb 25. India had suspended the composite dialogue process with Pakistan after terrorists killed 166 people during a three-day rampage through Mumbai on 26/11.

Part of the reason behind offering talks to Islamabad was because almost 15 months had been “relatively peaceful, without any major terrorist incidents.”