Cabinet Minister Resigns Amid Anger in India

By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 1, 2008

NEW DELHI, Nov. 30 -- India on Sunday began grappling with the political and diplomatic fallout from one of its deadliest terror attacks in years, with the nation's top domestic security official resigning under pressure and the government struggling to fashion a response amid mounting evidence that the attackers who killed at least 174 people in Mumbai last week had ties to an outlawed group in Pakistan.

The resignation of Home Minister Shivraj Patil came amid a growing chorus of public criticism over intelligence failures in the lead-up to the attacks and delays in the security response in the hours after it began. Public anger toward the government spilled onto the streets as protesters held up signs in front of the burned-out Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel that read: "India has woken up. When will the politicians?"

More than 24 hours after the siege ended, authorities were still removing victims' bodies from the landmark hotel as distraught family members gathered. When politicians tried to express their condolences and give checks to the families of two of those killed -- a security commando and a police officer -- they were snubbed.

The public discontent is casting a shadow over India's fragile relations with its neighbor Pakistan. Preliminary Indian investigations have revealed that the gunmen were trained there and came to Mumbai on boats via the Arabian Sea. Indian security officials said Sunday that the only survivor among the 10 attackers was a member of the Kashmiri guerrilla group Lashkar-i-Taiba, which remains active in Pakistan despite having been banned nearly seven years ago.

"We are a nation outraged right now. And such incidents are always a grave setback to the peace process between India and Pakistan. This time our response will be very serious," Anand Sharma, India's deputy foreign minister, said in an interview Sunday.

Sharma said Pakistan had reneged on a promise made in 2004 not to allow its territory to be used for attacks against India by any groups. "We have strong evidence that the men came from Pakistan. We know how they were trained and how they came. Now it is up to Pakistan to deliver on its commitment."

Pakistani officials have steadfastly denied culpability.

"I don't think that this is the time for India or anybody in India to accuse Pakistan. It's time to work with Pakistan," said Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, speaking on the ABC News program "This Week." "Pakistan is now a democracy. India is a democracy. And as two democracies, we need to strengthen each other, rather than fall into the trap of the terrorists, who want us to fight with each other so that they can get greater strength."

As tensions rose Sunday, the Bush administration said it would dispatch Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to India on Wednesday. Among the dead in Mumbai last week were six U.S. citizens.

In upcoming meetings with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon is expected to share findings from the investigation of the attacks. An FBI team landed in Mumbai on Sunday to assist in the probe, and Bush has pledged U.S. support for India's counterterrorism efforts.

Indian government officials said that although they had ruled out military action in response to the attacks, they were considering calling off the ongoing dialogue with Pakistan or suspending the five-year-old official cease-fire on the border. They also said they would consider slimming down the size of the Indian Embassy in Islamabad.

"The mood in the government towards Pakistan is definitely very hostile right now, but a military mobilization is unlikely," one official said. "We may go for a gradual, calibrated diplomatic offensive. But a lot will depend on how Pakistan responds in the coming days."

In interviews, several government officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said they felt helpless about the state of affairs in Pakistan. They said the government in Pakistan may not have the power necessary to rein in hostile extremist groups.

"Who do we talk to? Who is in control in Pakistan? They have a government, but how relevant is it in controlling the terror groups there?" a senior official said.

"If we go back to business-as-usual with Pakistan, it would be a grave mistake," said Kanwal Sibal, a former diplomat and an analyst. "But, unfortunately, all the Western nations that are extending verbal support to us today are the ones who will also put pressure on India to resume dialogue and will not support us if we take tough action."

As India weighs the political and diplomatic consequences of the assault on Mumbai, officials and political observers say Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faces constraints in selecting India's response. Singh is nearing the end of his five-year term and has little time to shake off the prevailing perception that his government has failed to tackle the threat of terrorism. A wave of bomb blasts has ripped through several Indian cities since May, killing about 260 people and injuring hundreds.

The public call for concerted action has come to a head in the past four days as citizens have protested on street corners, launched text-message campaigns and held candlelight vigils. "The government is on trial like never before," said Mahesh Rangarajan, an independent political analyst and columnist. "There is a feeling among the middle class that our politicians have failed us miserably. They want a leadership that will respond to a brick with a rock."

Reports from New Delhi and Mumbai in recent days have indicated that the government had information about the likelihood of an attack from the sea and that there had been directives to boost coastal security. On Saturday, the special secretary of internal security, M.L. Kumawat, said there was a recent advisory to the coast guard about infiltration by sea. On Sunday, Mumbai's fishermen's union said it had told the city police recently about its suspicions that explosives were being smuggled in by boat.

There were also indications Sunday that the government's response to the attacks was slow: The Times of India reported that it took nearly 10 hours to get commandos into position.

In Washington, U.S. officials would not directly address a report that American intelligence may have passed along warnings about an impending attack. Two senior officials with access to sensitive intelligence files would neither confirm nor deny the claim, though one pointed out that local Indian officials have acknowledged being told to take precautions hours before the attackers struck.

"If any information had been received, we would have certainly passed it on," said a counterterrorism official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In a televised interview, the chairman of the chain that includes the Taj hotel said his company had increased security after being warned of a possible attack. But security officials in Maharashtra state said at a news conference in Mumbai that they had received no specific warnings.

U.S. officials also said they saw no reason to question New Delhi's assertion that the attackers appear to have been linked to Lashkar-i-Taiba. "What has been learned so far from this investigation does point in the direction of Kashmir," the counterterrorism official said. He said analysts were being cautious while awaiting more information from India's investigation, including its interrogation of a captured attacker.

Some private security analysts said they worry that Pakistan-India relations may be headed toward their worst crisis since 2001, when the two countries mobilized troops along the border, prompting fears of a nuclear exchange. Then, U.S. intervention helped to defuse the crisis. But this time, the United States is preoccupied with two wars and an economic meltdown, said Kamran Bokhari, director of Middle East analysis for Stratfor, a private intelligence company.

"The domestic politics of India, Pakistan and the United States are leading up to an inevitable flare-up on the Indo-Pakistani border," Bokhari said. "In cases like this, the preferences of policymakers matter little. Each country is getting locked into place, and the logic appears to be pointing to a crisis."

At a meeting of all major political parties in New Delhi on Sunday evening, Singh promised that India will set up a federal investigative agency, strengthen maritime and air security, and establish four more hubs for its commando force, called the National Security Guards, which battled the assailants in Mumbai.

Analysts say India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, known as the BJP, is likely to benefit politically from the Mumbai attacks by highlighting Singh's less-than-resolute response. The party advocates a tough anti-terrorism law that Singh's government, which relies on Muslim votes, has been reluctant to pass for fear that it will be abused to unfairly target Muslims.

"It is time for unilateral action against the training camps in Pakistan," said Yashwant Sinha, a senior leader with the BJP. "If the U.S. can go into Afghanistan to punish the Taliban and chase Osama bin Laden, why should India hesitate?"

Correspondent Emily Wax in Mumbai and staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.

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