One of the biggest questions in the wake of the three blasts that rocked Mumbai on Wednesday, killing at least 21 people and injuring dozens more, is what the fallout will be for Indo-Pakistan relations, and whether the attack will jeopardize Pakistan State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to India later this month.
So far, there’s no indication that India will unilaterally cancel Khar’s trip. For a start, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani were quick to condemn this latest attack on India’s financial capital. And significantly, no Indian official has so far pointed an accusatory finger at Pakistan over the blasts. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, for example, addressed the media in Mumbai after visiting the blasts sites, but refrained from lashing out. Instead, he simply said: ‘We will not conduct the probe with any pre-determined assumption, all groups are suspects.’ External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, too, avoided suggesting Pakistani involvement, simply noting that: ‘This is another grim reminder to everyone in this region that terror is a continuing threat to India and that’s necessary for all Indians to be vigilant.’
The reasons for the Indian restraint aren’t difficult to understand. The July 13 attacks are unlike the far more ferocious, military-like assault of November 2008, where several fully-armed terrorists staged an extended commando-type operation. Also, unlike the 2008 attacks, the July 13 strikes weren’t a suicide operation. Instead, the perpetrators chose to assemble improvised explosive devices from easily available ammonium nitrate and remotely detonate them. One bomb was kept on the roadside, the second in a box and the third one apparently in an umbrella!
Moreover, the circumstantial evidence so far points the needle of suspicion at the Indian Mujahideen, a homegrown terror outfit. Still, unlike previous IM operations, the July 13 Mumbai attacks have caused significant damage and loss of life. This will worry the Indian government. Previous IM strikes were little more than whimpers—the grenade attack on foreign tourists in Delhi during the Commonwealth Games in 2010 being a case in point. With the exception of Pune’s German bakery attack, most other IM attacks in recent times have been largely ineffective.
But yesterday’s attack suggests that IM has recharged, regrouped and reorganized in a big way. The Indian security establishment will be interested to know whether the turnaround in IM’s capabilities has been made possible with help from elements in the Pakistani establishment. Until this linkage is established, there’s no point in Indian officials crying wolf.