The bombers who targeted Mumbai’s rail system had support from inside Pakistan, India’s prime minister said Friday, warning that the nuclear-armed rivals’ peace process could be derailed unless Islamabad reins in terrorists.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s unusually blunt comments appeared to signal a major shift in relations between India and Pakistan, whose ties had warmed over the past two years.
Also Friday, investigators named a third suspect in the carefully coordinated bombings that shattered first-class commuter rail cars Tuesday, killing more than 200 people.
“We will leave no stone unturned — I reiterate, no stone unturned — in ensuring that terrorist elements in India are neutralized and smashed,” Singh told reporters in Mumbai. “These acts of terrorism are desperate acts of desperate individuals.”
Pakistan denies accusations
Singh, who met bombing victims and officials, noted that Pakistan had assured India two years ago its territory “would not be used to promote, encourage, aid and abet terrorism.
“That assurance has to be fulfilled before the peace process and other processes progress,” he said.
Pakistan quickly denied Singh’s accusations, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam calling them “unsubstantiated.”
However, Singh said investigators are certain that terror cells operating in India “are instigated, inspired and supported by elements across the border, without which they cannot act with such devastating effect.
“They clearly want to destroy our growing economic strength,” Singh said.
‘A major stumbling block’
After coming to the brink of war in 2002, India and Pakistan began a peace process that has brought them closer, yet concrete agreement on the most pressing issue — the Himalayan region of Kashmir — has been minimal.
Scheduled talks July 20 between the foreign secretaries of the two countries appeared increasingly unlikely, with local news reports saying they had been canceled. Navtej Sarna, the Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said only that no announcement had been made.
In an indication of the growing criticism of the government, a phone-in survey Thursday by the NDTV news channel found 99 percent of callers saying the government was too soft on terrorism. While clearly unscientific — and apparently designed to stoke public outrage — the results nonetheless underscored the pressure on officials.
Analysts saw hurdles for the peace talks.
“This is certainly going to be a major stumbling block,” said Samina Ahmed, the South Asia project director for the International Crisis Group in Islamabad. “The attack couldn’t have taken place at a worse time.”
A wide net
Investigators were casting a wide net for the assailants — focusing on a Pakistan-based Islamic militant network, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, along with smaller homegrown groups.
The inquiry spread to Nepal, where police said Friday they had arrested two Pakistanis in connection with the seizure of plastic explosives in Katmandu in 2001. They said the men are being investigated for links to the Mumbai blasts.
Mumbai Police Commissioner A.N. Roy said a man known only as Rahil was the third person sought in connection with the blasts. The Indian government’s Anti-Terror Squad released photos Thursday night of two other suspects, Sayyad Zabiuddin and Zulfeqar Fayyaz.
On the run
Roy said those two suspects have been on the run since May, when authorities arrested three suspected Muslim insurgents and seized arms, ammunition and plastic explosives in western India.
Investigators gave few other details, though Indian news reports said all three named suspects are members of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. It was banned by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2001, but is thought to have reorganized under a new name, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which has hundreds of branches across Pakistan.
Lashkar has denied any role in the Mumbai bombings. Indian officials, though, have blamed it for many major attacks, including March bombings in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi that killed 20 people and a bombing that killed more than 60 in New Delhi in October.
An Indian Home Ministry official also said investigators were pursuing leads that the outlawed Students Islamic Movement of India could have been involved in the Mumbai attacks, possibly with the aid of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The official requested anonymity because the inquiry is ongoing. Pakistan dismissed the allegation, with Aslam calling it baseless.
Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both, is at the heart of their rivalry. The countries have fought three wars since Britain divided colonial India into India and Pakistan in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.