By Keith L. Alexander and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 29, 2008
With Indian government officials suggesting that groups based in Pakistan were responsible for the attack in Mumbai, many South Asians in the Washington area expressed fear yesterday that an improvement in relations between the two countries could be wiped out.
"Strides were taking place. There was talk of an end to a possibility of a nuclear attack and creating a visa-free border in India. This kind of talk could derail all of that progress," said Pakistani native and North Potomac resident Rashid Makhdoom, author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army and the Wars Within."
To express solidarity and condolences in the context of Indian tradition, several dozen people gathered last night at a Hindu temple in Lanham to pray before an altar adorned with flowers and fruits.
"Let everyone be friends with everyone . . . let there be no animosity . . . let everyone be happy and prosperous," said Shreekanta Nayak, president of the National Council of Asian Indian Associations, to the group at the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple.
White-robed priests offered prayers and led chanting. Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson (D) expressed pride in the diversity of the county and asserted that "whatever affects one of us affects all of us."
Sambhu N. Banik, a psychology professor at Bowie State University, described the Mumbai attacks as "the 9/11 of India." He urged nations to recognize their common interest in defending against terrorist extremism.
"We need to unite and work together to see that these heinous crimes cannot happen in a democratic country again," Banik said.
Earlier yesterday, Maryland House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), whose grandparents were born in Mumbai, said he never truly believed that India and Pakistan would become allies.
"It's like they're two different planets," Barve said.
Many former residents of Pakistan said they doubted Pakistani officials were behind the group that carried out the attacks. Instead, many believe it was a militant, al Queda-like group that hoped to derail India's upcoming local elections.
"We need to look at what type of financial support and training these attackers had," said Sanjay Puri of Herndon, who came from India 27 years ago. His organization, the US-India Political Action Committee, hopes to meet for a briefing next week with members of Congress and members of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team.
Puri said he had to cancel a visit by a group of Virginia school superintendents to Mumbai next week to see how schools operate there.
"This is like Sept. 11," Puri said. "People came into the country and launched an act of war. It will now be up to India to respond."
Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.