July 7, 2005

Indian PM says attacks may affect Pakistan

By Y.P. Rajesh

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's prime minister has said
public support for peace with Pakistan could wither if there
were more attacks like this week's raid on a disputed religious
site which Hindu groups have blamed on Muslim militants.

Hindu activists blocked roads and closed shops in dozens of
Indian cities on Wednesday, a day after unidentified gunmen
stormed the site in the northern town of Ayodhya, claimed by
both Hindus and minority Muslims.

All six attackers were killed.

"I have always maintained that we need to carry public
opinion to make a success of the peace process," The Hindu
newspaper quoted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as saying in
remarks published on Thursday.

"Anything that comes in the way of public opinion, and
certainly these incidents, if they get repeated, have the
potential to disrupt the peace process," Singh was quoted as
telling reporters traveling with him on his way to the G-8
summit in Scotland.

Islamabad said it had already condemned the Ayodhya attack
and reiterated its commitment to the peace process.

"We are a frontline state against terrorism and are fully
committed to the peace process," Pakistani foreign ministry
spokesman Naeem Khan said responding to Singh's comments.

"The peace process is irreversible. Such incidents should
not be allowed to disrupt the peace process," he said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the Ayodhya raid
but security officials and Hindu hard-liners say that it was
the work of Muslim militant groups based in Pakistan, going by
the nature of the attack in which the gunmen stormed the holy
complex with an explosives-laden vehicle.


The raid on the shrine sparked fears of a fresh communal
strife between India's Hindus and Muslims who have been rowing
over its ownership.

The nuclear rivals, who launched peace talks last year,
have blamed each other in the past for militancy and attacks in
their own countries.

But since the peace talks began last year, there has been a
general understanding between the two sides that they should
not allow rebel attacks to derail the dialogue, analysts say.

"India needs to take another look at its policy of dealing
with Pakistan," India's Hindustan Times newspaper said in an
editorial on Thursday.

It said it was increasingly become apparent that either
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was not in control of the
situation or was playing a "double game." If it was the latter,
New Delhi needed to readjust its strategy, it said.

"The larger policy of befriending Pakistan and neutralising
the jehadis must, however, remain our grand strategy," the
daily said referring to Islamic militants.

Singh said both nations had committed themselves to
preserving the peace process, which has made slow progress with
no sign of a settlement on the main dispute over the Himalayan
region of Kashmir.

"In our joint statement, I and President Musharraf have
committed ourselves to making the peace process irreversible,"
he said, referring to talks he held with Musharraf in April.

"I sincerely hope that we can stick to that solemn
commitment, both of us."

Singh did not point fingers when asked who could be behind
the latest attack. But he said: "There is no doubt that the
infrastructure of terror is, by and large, intact."

Pakistan denies it gives any material support to the
militants fighting in Kashmir or elsewhere in India.

(Additional reporting by Robert Birsel in ISLAMABAD)