| A Pakistani soldier guards the site of Thursday’s attack in Rawalpindi. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Dec. 25: India today dubbed the second assassination attempt on the Pakistan President within 11 days a “very serious” development and strongly condemned it.
Within hours of the failed attack, foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said: “(The) Government of India strongly condemns the heinous terrorist attack against President Musharraf in Rawalpindi earlier today, which took many innocent lives and injured a large number of civilians.”
The official reaction clearly showed that Delhi did not believe the attack, kilometres from Pervez Musharraf’s official home, was stage-managed by the President to shore up his domestic and international image. Indian officials felt that not only the jihadis but also a section of the Pakistan military establishment might be involved.
On December 14, Musharraf had escaped a blast in Rawalpindi that occurred minutes after his car had passed by. India had condemned that attack, too.
Sarna today added: “We express our heartfelt condolences to the families of the casualties.”
The choice of his words — with the prefix General dropped from Musharraf’s name — indicated Delhi was worried about the Pakistan President’s safety.
The Indian establishment was not clear, however, whether the attacks had increased because of Musharraf’s decision to play ball with the US in curbing the Taliban’s regrouping attempts or for his “softening” of stand on Kashmir.
The foreign ministry’s attempts to play down the Prime Minister’s Islamabad visit next month notwithstanding, Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself has indicated his visit to the Saarc summit could lead to a “good beginning” in bilateral relations. “Pakistan’s conduct in the Saarc summit…will only show whether it wants to improve its relations with India,” Vajpayee today told a Hindi daily.
“But the basic question is whether Pakistan is prepared to give up its attitude of enmity towards India. If yes, a good beginning can be made to improve the ties,” he added.
Foreign ministry officials were of the view that the increasing threat to Musharraf could be attributed to his decision to take serious action against the Taliban, which might have been prompted by US pressure but was effective as evident from the recent al Qaida call to its cadre to kill Musharraf.
Coupled with this could be his recent announcement of his willingness to set aside Pakistan’s demand for a UN-mandated plebiscite in Kashmir if India matched his flexibility in resolving the decades-old dispute.
Though his government backtracked after protests in Pakistan, some in Delhi believe Musharraf’s remarks were not off the cuff. This, too, could have sparked today’s attack on him by some among the jihadis as well as the Pakistani army opposed to a compromise on Kashmir, they said.