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Mumbai attacks undid progress in Indo-Pak relations in 2008

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad | December 31, 2008 10:45 IST

Relations between India and Pakistan, which appeared to be on course towards normalisation after return of civilian rule in Islamabad [Images] almost touched a nadir at the year end in the aftermath of Pakistani militants carrying out a carnage in Mumbai [Images]. The terror attacks cast a long shadow over a spate of confidence building measures taken by the two sides to thaw a long freeze in bilateral ties.
    
The attack drew international ire against Pakistan-based terror groups and India asked Pakistan to shut down the entire terrorist network operating on its soil, but Islamabad attempted to deflect international clamour for action, saying it could only do so after New Delhi [Images] provided evidence to substantiate any hand of its citizens in the attack.
    
Islamabad's stone walling came even in the face of one of the ten suicide attackers who came from Karachi being
apprehended alive.
    
The Mumbai carnage on November 26 came as the civilian rulers had spent over a year spent consolidating their grip on power and battling a raging Taliban [Images] insurgency in the northwestern part of the country.
    
The Pakistan People's Party of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto [Images] formed a coalition with its arch-rival the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz after the February 18 general election that was largely free from interference by the powerful army and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, accused of rigging past polls.

Despite sharp differences on the issue of reinstating judges deposed during last year's emergency rule, the PPP and
PML-N succeeded in forcing former President Pervez Musharraf [Images] out of office in August after a war of words that lasted several months.
    
A weakened Musharraf resigned to avoid facing an impeachment motion that the coalition threatened to bring against him and was replaced the following month by PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari [Images]. But even before Zardari's election, the coalition broke up, with PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif [Images] angrily accusing the PPP of failing to deliver on various promises.
    
Through the year, Pakistan witnessed nearly 50 devastating suicide attacks, with the Taliban and other militant groups striking with near impunity at high-value targets even in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and Wah cantonment.
    
Lt Gen Mushtaq Baig, the chief of military's medical services, was killed along with seven others by a suicide bomber when his car stopped at a traffic light in Rawalpindi in February.
    
Nearly 80 people were killed when two suicide bombers struck at an ordnance factory complex in Wah cantonment in
August.
    
Probably the most devastating suicide attack was the one on the Marriott Hotel in the heart of Islamabad on September 20. A suicide attacker rammed a truck packed with 600 kg of explosives into the hotel's gate, killing nearly 60 people, including the Czech envoy.
    
Pakistani security forces kept up their campaign against the local Taliban in the Swat valley of the North West
Frontier Province and adjoining tribal belt, particularly Bajaur Agency, where the army claims to have killed over 1,500 militants.

Though there is considerable "bitterness and anger" in India over the Mumbai attacks, the "hype should be reduced by both sides as any war or hostilities would be devastating for both sides", Matinuddin said."There have been hiccups in the Pakistan-India peace process in the past and we will overcome the current problems too though it may take much longer," he said, adding that recent Pakistani steps such as the increased air force vigilance were aimed at sending out the message that the country "is not sleeping and is prepared" for any eventuality.
    
Experts also believe that tackling the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and the Taliban militancy alone will help the
government to consolidate on the gains made through the peaceful democratic transition earlier this year and to tackle Pakistan's economic woes.
    
Pakistan's rupee plunged to Rs 84 to the US dollar in November while the country's foreign reserves too plummeted,
forcing Islamabad to sign up for a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.
    
The global economic crisis too impacted Pakistan's economy, with inflation soaring to about 25 per cent as the
country was refused financial aid by traditional partners like China and Saudi Arabia.
    
Indo-Pak relations were back to freeze point by the year end as despite initial promise of clampdown on terror network, the PPP-led civilian government as well as the opposition seemed to be working under apparent pressure from the army to stonewall the clampdown.




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