U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice landed in Islamabad on Thursday walking a diplomatic tightrope. She had just been in India and knew that New Delhi wanted Washington's help in getting Pakistan to crack down on groups implicated in last week's terrorist attack on Mumbai. But she also knew that such a crackdown would be unpopular in Pakistan and could very well destabilize its weak civilian government. How then to mollify India's saber-rattling public while getting Pakistan's officials to act against their own interest? The two nuclear-powered nations of the subcontinent have been to war against each other three times, and tempers are now rising on both sides of the border.
The moment has been made all the more delicate by the intricacies and mysteries of the investigation of the Mumbai massacre. Meeting the press in Islamabad, Rice shied away from pointing a finger at Pakistan, saying only that Pakistan had a "special responsibility" in dealing with the aftermath of the attacks. This was despite the claims of an anonymous American defense official in the New York Times linking the militant Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which allegedly trained the Mumbai attackers, to ex-officers in Pakistan's intelligence service. Indian officials believe that the LeT masterminded these attacks, as well as previous ones on the country's Parliament building in 2001 grounds, some suggest, for targeted strikes against the group's base camps within Pakistan. (See pictures of Mumbai's days of terror.)
Rice has urged Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and his government to act "with resolve and a real sense of transparency" in dealing with the terrorist groups Pakistan harbors. Zardari, for his part, denied having received any evidence of Pakistani involvement. But the civilian government in Islamabad, like almost all others before it, wields little real power in a state that has always been dominated by the military. "Zardari's government was born with its hands tied," says B. Raman, a noted Indian commentator and columnist.
Indian investigators say they can pin the attacks on Pakistan for a number of reasons: the GPS coordinates of the fishing boat the terrorists used to land in Mumbai lead back to the Pakistani city of Karachi; e-mails as well as a phone call claiming responsibility for the attack trace back to Lahore, also in Pakistan, where the LeT has its civilian front.
Most important, though, is the testimony of the sole surviving attacker, Ajmal Amir Kasab, 21, who allegedly revealed his Pakistani identity to police interrogators after being captured. Kasab, who gunned down dozens at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus on Nov. 26, is being kept in an unknown location in the state of Maharashtra, whose capital is Mumbai. He has not yet been granted access to a lawyer but will be charged in due course, say state-government sources. According to the police, Kasab left his impoverished parents in Faridkot, Pakistan, and joined the LeT. The group allegedly trained him in weapons and drafted him into its marine detachment, supposedly organized to infiltrate India by sea. According to the transcript of his statement, supplied by the police, Kasab said, "We were told that our big brother India is so rich and we are dying of poverty and hunger." His family, Kasab claims, was promised some $4,000 if his operation essentially, a coordinated suicide strike was a success.
So far, it has been impossible to independently verify the police account of Kasab's confession, and that is one of the reasons Pakistan has yet to act on the incendiary implications. The details are key, and they seem to fluctuate depending on who is narrating the tale. Indian media have even given the surviving attacker conflicting last names. Some say it is Iman, not Kasab. "There are many doubts that people will have," says Bhushan Gagrani, a Maharashtra government spokesman. "But I don't see a reason not to believe the police."
Not everyone in India is comforted by simply hounding culprits over the border in Pakistan. Some worry about a deeper and closer conspiracy. Media reports on Thursday had the attackers carrying at least three SIM cards purchased on the Indian side of the border with Bangladesh, pointing to some local collusion, a possibility the police had tried to rule out when they first publicized Kasab's testimony. Lapses in policing since the attacks have infuriated the public. Newspapers ran stories this past week about how even after the attacks, truckers transporting contraband into the city were allegedly able to bribe cops at checkpoints for less than $1. A full week after the attackers stomped around the ticket booths of the train station, inspectors found bags of RDX explosives left over from the assault they had been lying among discarded parcels. "It is an unfortunate incident," says Gagrani. "Next time, we will survey it better." With reporting by Hussain Zaidi / Mumbai