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Mumbai Train Bombings Cast Pall Over India-Pakistan Peace Process


India has deferred peace talks with Pakistan in the wake of the deadly train bombings in Mumbai, accusing its neighbor of abetting terror attacks in India. The bomb blasts have cast a shadow over a two-year peace process that had achieved a considerable lowering of tensions between the South Asian rivals.

Within hours of the July 11 bomb blasts on seven commuter trains in Mumbai, Pakistan strongly condemned the attacks, which killed nearly 200 people in the commercial hub and injured hundreds more.

Unlike the past, India did not immediately accuse its neighbor of involvement. But old tensions resurfaced quickly. Officials, who have yet to identify the bombers, have now pointed the finger at Pakistan.

Islamabad has denied any connection to the bombings, but New Delhi was quick to back words with action. It deferred talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries, who were scheduled to meet this week to review the peace process initiated in 2004.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran says India remains committed to the peace process, but says the bombings in Mumbai, also known as Bombay, have created a serious obstacle.

"I think it would be fair to say that as a result of these terrible terrorist incidents, it is becoming difficult to take this process forward," he said.

Analysts say it is not just the Bombay bombings, but a series of terror attacks in the last 10 months that are weighing on New Delhi's mind. In November, bombs ripped through a market filled with holiday shoppers in the Indian capital. In March, bombs exploded outside a packed temple in Hinduism's holiest city, Varanasi.

There is broad public support for the government's response to the Mumbai bombings. Analysts and politicians say postponing the peace talks will send a strong message to Pakistan, which India says is not doing enough to rein in at least a dozen Islamist militant groups waging a separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir.

Indian officials have said they suspect the involvement of a Kashmiri militant group operating from Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Some officials have also suggested that Pakistan's military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, might be involved.

Last week, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accused elements "across the border" of instigating and inspiring terror groups inside India. He warned that New Delhi could not be expected to continue the peace process if Islamabad did not back its pledges with action.

"Pakistan in 2004 has solemnly given an assurance that Pakistani territory will not be used to promote, encourage, aid and abet the terrorist elements directed against India," he said. "That assurance has to be fulfilled, before the peace process or other processes can make progress."

Pakistan denies supporting militant groups, and says it has done all it can to crack down on their activities since joining the global war on terror.

On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan expressed hope that the peace dialogue would continue, and repeated a firm denial of Prime Minister Singh's allegations.

"Pakistan does not allow its territory to be used against any country. This is our firm policy and commitment," he said.

Bharat Karnad, a security expert at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research, says he does not expect the peace dialogue to be permanently derailed. But Karnad says there will be a pause as New Delhi re-evaluates its counterpart in Islamabad.

"There is going to be an interregnum, an intermission, where the government of India will take stock of everything," he said, "they will consider whether the government of President Pervez Musharraf can even deliver on its commitments or its promises, and what India can do, within the country, to halt the terrorist(s) in their track."

The peace process has led to a series of small but significant "confidence-building measures." A cease-fire announced in November 2003 has quieted the once volatile Kashmir border. The two countries have restored a series of travel links, prompting tens of thousands of ordinary people to cross the previously impenetrable border. Businessmen and artists have traveled from one side to the other, exploring the possibility of cultural and commercial links.

But the talks have not produced any breakthrough on the core issue of the political dispute, the region of Kashmir itself, which is divided between the two countries and claimed by both.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since their independence from British rule in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. They came to the brink of a fourth war in 2002 after India blamed militant groups operating from Pakistan for an attack on the Indian parliament.

India's suspicions about the Mumbai bombers are a stark illustration that Kashmir continues to be the major obstacle to peace in South Asia.

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