Mumbai attacks increase pressure on Obama for regional solution: WSJ

November 28th, 2008 - 11:44 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Nov 28 (IANS) The terrorist strikes in Mumbai are likely to intensify pressure on President-elect Barack Obama to craft a regional solution to the instability in South and Central Asia, a leading US daily suggested.Under President George W. Bush, the US has improved ties with India and its relations with Pakistan also have been on a modest upswing, with American officials citing better collaboration in fighting Al Qaeda in lawless Pakistani border areas, the Wall Street Journal noted.

But “the problem for Washington is that India and Pakistan remain at loggerheads” and a conflict between the two “nuclear-armed states, has a way of overwhelming US goals in the region,” it suggested referring to finger pointing over the Mumbai attacks.

It cited US officials as saying that the nature of the Mumbai attacks has led them to examine whether two Pakistan-based terrorist groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, may have played a role.

However, they said that the evidence is merely circumstantial and that nothing is proven. Both groups have primarily focused on the conflict between Pakistan and India over the disputed Kashmir region. The groups have also developed ties to Al Qaeda.

“It isn’t known whether the Mumbai attackers, who targeted both Indians and Western visitors, were specifically trying to punish India for its warming ties with the US,” the Journal said noting, “Terrorism in India has a long history that predates the recent nuclear-cooperation deal with the US.”

“Still, it is clear that Pakistan fears being surrounded by a three-way alliance of the US, India and Afghanistan, and the US-India nuclear deal fed such fears,” it said.

“We don’t see the US as a neutral broker anymore,” a senior Pakistani official was cited by the Journal said. “We don’t think this is how we should be repaid for our support in fighting Al Qaeda.”

“A big concern for the US now is that a war of words with India could divert Pakistan’s attention from the fight against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces that have found havens in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the Journal said.

Pakistan is sensitive to any signs that the US is favouring India, especially as US-Indian business ties deepen and the two countries cooperate on military matters, it said pointing to the new pressure on Obama.

During the presidential campaign, Obama said that he believes normalising ties between India and Pakistan, and between Pakistan and Afghanistan, is central to bringing stability to South and Central Asia, it noted.

Meanwhile, Washington Times cited US terrorism experts as saying the extent and sophistication of the attacks pointed to an Al Qaeda-affiliated group.

An unnamed US counter-terrorism official said it was too soon to say who was responsible for the attacks. However, he added, “When you look at India when it comes to terrorists attacks - particularly those that are simultaneous and sophisticated - we’ve seen these kinds of things before.”

Bruce Riedel, a veteran CIA officer and former senior director for South Asia and the Middle East on the White House National Security Council, said the attacks had the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic group such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is based in Pakistan and has had links to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

“India has been a major target of terrorism for the last several years, Bombay (Mumbai) in particular,”Riedel said. “The vast bulk of these attacks have been carried out by Islamic extremist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has close links to al Qaeda.”

The targeting Wednesday of hotels frequented by Western businessmen and officials reinforces the likelihood of a link with al Qaeda,Riedel said. “Islamic groups, when they adopt the Al Qaeda signature, have to adopt the ‘far enemy’ [the United States and the West] as part of the programme.”

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