New Delhi/Islamabad, Dec. 26: The Indian government is taking a hard look at whether Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should travel to Islamabad after yesterday’s suicide attack on President Pervez Musharraf.
National security adviser Brajesh Mishra has called a meeting of the security establishment tomorrow to make an assessment for possible use by the leadership to decide one way or another.
Sixteen people, including the two suicide bombers, were killed in the attack on Musharraf’s motorcade in Rawalpindi, the army headquarters. It was the second attempt on the President in 11 days in the same area.
Less than 24 hours after the attack, the Pakistan government claimed to have found clues that could help identify the perpetrators. Interior minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said one of the bombers had been identified and several suspects detained. He claimed it was almost certain the bombers were not Pakistanis.
“The face of one of the bombers is recognisable but I will not say anything further because it could impede the pace of investigations,” he said, adding that the attempt on the President’s life was a “continuity” of the September 11 attacks.
While intelligence officials and police started investigating shopowners and residents of the Rawalpindi area where the attack took place, it was learnt that the bombers were Chechens having close links with al Qaida.
There was no confirmation of the claim by unidentified officials. But al Qaida’s underground deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had declared Musharraf an enemy in September.
Information minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said the bomber, whose mutilated head had been found, looked like a foreigner.
Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali announced the President’s security would be revamped, though Musharraf himself scoffed at suggestions the incident was the result of a security lapse.
“I must tell all those that you cannot stop suicide attackers anywhere if they are bent upon doing something, they go after the targets, and obviously I was and am their target,” Musharraf had said in a late-night statement yesterday.
The attack came just over a week before the Saarc summit in Islamabad, due to be attended by Vajpayee and other South Asian heads of state/government.
Some analysts wondered if Vajpayee and other leaders would at all want to attend the meet. A Pakistani columnist, Nasim Zehra, expressed the fear the incident might put the summit in jeopardy, suggesting that the pattern of attacks indicated an attempt to sabotage it.
Musharraf has, however, brushed aside such concerns. “People around me are in some danger, but others are not,” he said in a reference to fears of the attack making the summit, beginning January 4, uncertain.
For India, the decision is not easy. There is the question about the Prime Minister’s security to consider and the implications of a decision not to travel for Vajpayee’s own peace initiative.
A section of his aides objected yesterday itself to his trip, arguing that Vajpayee’s safety was more important than India-Pakistan relations.
But calling off the visit could open India up to allegations that it was again blocking a Saarc summit, especially as no other South Asian leader has suggested yet of second thoughts on travelling to Islamabad.