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Ahead of bilateral talks, India investigates Pakistani links to deadly strike

By Emily Wax
Monday, February 15, 2010; A18

JODHPUR, INDIA -- India is investigating whether Pakistan was behind an attack that killed nine people in the western city of Pune ahead of peace talks scheduled for next week, officials said Sunday.

The U.S.-backed talks are set to be the first high-level dialogue between the nuclear-armed rivals since 10 men from Pakistan carried out a three-day rampage in Mumbai that left 165 people dead in November 2008.

The attack on Saturday was "a desperate move by terror-driven organizations to prevent amity and cordiality between nations," India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters in response to a question about whether the talks would be delayed. "We will have to look into probe reports and then evaluate them."

The United States has encouraged India to invite Pakistan to the negotiating table to hash out long-simmering issues, including Pakistan's role in the Mumbai attacks and the disputed region of Kashmir. The Obama administration has urged Pakistan to focus its military strength on Afghanistan and on the spillover of Taliban militants in its northwest frontier, instead of on India.

Cities across India were on high alert after the attack. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist group, called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to cancel the peace talks.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani condemned the attack and said he wanted the talks to go forward. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain and partition in 1947.

The explosion took place at the German Bakery in Koregaon Park, an upscale Pune neighborhood near a Chabad Jewish Center and the Osho Ashram. The ashram, a spiritual center with many Western followers, was allegedly a potential target for David Coleman Headley, who is on trial in Chicago for plotting terrorist acts.

Indian intelligence officials had warned police that an attack was likely in Koregaon Park.

Rabbi Betzalel Kupchik of Chabad, an orthodox group, said in a telephone interview from Pune that the Indian government had warned of the potential for an attack four months ago and provided extra security, turning the center into a "fortress."

"We have God, and we have the Indian intelligence and police," he said. "We sleep well at night."

Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, said the government's reaction to the Pune attack showed that lessons had been learned from the Mumbai siege -- response times were far faster and security was in place.

"What's important here is that the Chabad house and the ashram were not attacked," Sahni said. "No country can protect every shop, every railway station, every bus. Then tomorrow we will have to start protecting every home. Until we address the sources of terrorism, which is Pakistan, this will keep happening."

Correspondent Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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