The Mumbai attackers were all from Pakistan, India’s deputy interior minister said on Monday, as more top political heads rolled over last week’s carnage which left more than 170 dead.
With US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice due in India on Wednesday in a show of “solidarity,” the comments from Deputy Home Minister Shakeel Ahmad were the strongest yet pointing a finger of blame across the border.
India and Pakistan, both armed with nuclear weapons, have fought three wars and nearly came to a fourth over a previous attack on Indian soil, and there have been fears the latest bloodshed could deepen tensions between them.
“We are not saying that it is sponsored by the Pakistan government,” India’s Deputy Home Minister Shakeel Ahmad told the BBC, adding that Pakistani soil was nevertheless being used for “anti-India” activities.
“The terrorists who have been killed in these encounters in Mumbai in the last few days were of Pakistani origin,” Ahmad said, as well as the lone gunman arrested after the stunning coordinated attacks in India’s financial capital.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said Monday that he had offered to resign amid widespread public anger over perceived intelligence and security failings that contributed to the bloodshed.
“If the responsibility of the attacks is on the chief minister, then I will go,” Deshmukh told reporters. His deputy, R.R. Patil, had stepped down earlier in the day.
The most high-profile political casualty has been Interior Minister Shivraj Patil who resigned on Sunday after “owning moral responsibility” and has been replaced.
India’s powerful national security adviser offered to quit but will likely stay put.
With a sense of normalcy only slowly returning to the sprawling city, the focus has turned to who might be responsible for the brazen grenade and gun assault on two luxury hotels, a hospital, a railway station, a Jewish centre and other sites.
Suspicion has fallen on Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is fighting Indian control of disputed Kashmir and was behind the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi which pushed the neighbours close to war.
According to Indian media reports Monday citing unnamed sources, Indian government officials feel that Pakistan has not fully enforced its official ban on the group, and was therefore in some way complicit.
But Pakistan has denied any involvement in the latest bloodshed, which threatens to derail a slow-moving peace process launched in 2004, and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has urged India not to “over-react.”
Pakistan has repeatedly underlined that it is fighting its own battle against Islamist insurgents, who have taken their bloody campaign to the heart of the Pakistan capital, and stressed the two nations have a common enemy.
“Even if the militants are linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, who do you think we are fighting?” Zardari told Monday’s Financial Times, noting that Pakistan was battling a welter of militant groups along its border with Afghanistan.
“The architects of this calamity in Mumbai have managed to raise a threat on our other border,” the president said, referring to the frontier with India.
That comment suggested the Mumbai attacks might prompt Pakistan to consider pulling troops away from the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban along the Afghan border — a development the United States would surely wish to avoid and one that Rice is bound to address on her visit.
“It is a fact, a sad fact, that India has now experienced this level of terror,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
“(Rice) and others in the government will be having discussions going forward about cooperating on the war on terror,” he said. “Those will go at the pace with whatever the Indian government is comfortable with.”
At least 172 people were killed and almost 300 were wounded in the 60-hour assault that began on Wednesday evening. A Jewish centre was among the targets, and eyewitnesses said some attackers singled out Britons and Americans.
Tension between India and Pakistan dates to the post-independence partition of India in 1947 that created the Islamic state of Pakistan and led to horrific bloodletting between Muslims and Hindus.
India has also had its share of homegrown unrest, from Muslims to Maoists to Hindu extremists, and Indian officials have repeatedly declined to blame Pakistan directly for the Mumbai attacks.
“We have had terrorist attacks before… but this attack was different,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Sunday. “They came with the explicit aim of killing large numbers of innocent civilians, including foreign visitors.”
About 30 foreigners were killed including five Americans, three Germans, two French, two Australians, two Canadians, an Italian, a Japanese and a Singaporean. AFP