NEW DELHI, Nov 28: The recovery of the bodies of a Brooklyn rabbi and his wife on Friday at the end of the seizure of a Jewish centre in Mumbai by terrorists could be as good a reason as any to start a discussion on India’s Middle East policy, among other questions the attacks raised.
Instead, as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi probably noted here on Friday, the penultimate day of his ill-
fated visit, that India — mainly its media, the leadership, and a middle class that easily acquires the demeanour of Shakespeare’s mob-like crowds — remained obsessed with a Pakistani hand in the horrific blood-letting.
Mr Qureshi, on his part, was adamant at a news conference hosted by Delhi’s women journalists that there were no longer training camps for terrorists in Pakistan. Few would accept that he had not overstretched the point. Asked if the killers of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the truck bomber of Marriott Hotel were trained elsewhere, he waffled, saying something about an international link, and named Iraq as a factor.
Between India’s threat of retribution against Pakistan for the Mumbai massacres and Mr Qureshi’s denial of terrorists thriving in his watch, lies an opportunity to clear the vision on both sides. There is a good chance that the chief of ISI, an institution hitherto blamed for all the ills of Pakistan and for bad blood with India, may yet clear the air with a promised visit to New Delhi to discuss Mumbai’s tryst with terror.
Mr Qureshi sought to allay Indian fears that the ISI was an untrustworthy rogue entity, telling reporters that the agency was today taking orders from an elected government, and not from anyone else. He did not, how-
ever, entirely rule out the presence of rogue elements “in your society and ours”.
In the meantime, the Indian media has picked up what it said was enough evidence from two or more men, apprehended from among the terrorists for questioning, to claim clinching evidence against “elements in Pakistan” for the act. A satellite phone was said to have been used to call Karachi a few times during the three-night standoff. Some incriminating credit cards were said to be found as well as a boat that apparently transported them from Karachi.
The Indian government threw its weight behind the reports. An Indian foreign ministry statement described a telephone call Mr Mukherjee made to Mr Qureshi in terms that could be seen as terse. Mr Mukherjee conveyed “the hope that the Government of Pakistan will take immediate action with regard to the terrorist attacks on Mumbai”.
“The Government of Pakistan has said that it wants a leap forward in our bilateral relations, (but) outrages like the attack on our Embassy in Kabul and now the attack on Mumbai are intended to make this impossible,” the statement quoted Mr Mukherjee as saying.
There was a glimpse of conciliation though. “The groups responsible and their supporters are, therefore, also acting against the direct interests of the Government of Pakistan.” But the bottom line was that India expected “Pakistan to honour its solemn commitments not to permit the use of its territory for terrorism against India”.
Dr Singh received a call from President Asif Ali Zardari, who assured him that Islamabad “will cooperate with India in exposing and apprehending the culprits and masterminds behind” the attacks in Mumbai.
Earlier India’s national security adviser M.K. Narayanan claimed a Lashkar-i-Tayyaba hand, which he said took the link right up to Al Qaeda. A key question, however, remained untended. If it was possible for the killers of Mumbai to have belonged to Pakistan, and who evidently harboured a specific hatred of Jews, Americans and Britons, as reports have suggested being the case, then was it not even more likely that the terrorists bore a greater grudge against President Asif Zardari’s policies for exactly the same reasons.
In his own way this was more or less the burden of Mr Qureshi’s fulminations in the meeting at the Indian Womens’ Press Club. “I have come here to build bridges. I am mourning with you,” he said. “I want to turn the tide from confrontation into cooperation.” Mr Qureshi recalled Pakistan’s woes with terrorism, saying he too had narrowly escaped assassination recently.
Yet neither the Indian establishment nor Pakistan appeared ready to address the mocking absurdity in the fact that Muslim extremists, whether originating in Pakistan or anywhere else, had chosen India to vent their anger with the West, even more tragically towards Jews.
Mr Qureshi did say that terrorism was a global phenomenon in which India and Pakistan were equal targets. But he did not say why this was so. The cold-blooded killing of the rabbi and his wife link the tragic events in Mumbai to the politics of the Middle East as much as they are rooted in the fanaticism breeding in our own region.