Mumbai death toll tops 170

Horrific numbers coming out of Mumbai as authorities sift through the the damage wrought by 3 days of war fought in the middle of a major city. Latest reports put the death toll at more than 170 - a number that will probably rise over the next 24 hours.

And the Pakistani connection seems to be firming up although it will probably be impossible to trace the attack directly to the intelligence agency ISI in Pakistan. The idea that the attacks were planned in Pakistan and the terrorists trained there may turn out to be confirmed but any hand in the events of the last few days by the ISI will probably be hidden well.

Now, India must pick up the pieces and go through some self examination. And reports coming from survivors rival anything Dante ever wrote about hell:

But when drunken revelers in a nearby alley began throwing bottles and stones, two attackers stepped onto a balcony of Nariman House and opened fire on passers-by, killing a 22-year-old call center worker who was the sole support of his widowed mother; five others were injured. A teenage boy who stepped out onto his balcony and came within firing range was swiftly shot and killed, a witness said.

“We still don’t know why they did this,” said Rony Dass, a cable television installer who lives across the street from the gas station. He lost a lifelong friend, a tailor who was locking up his store for the night on Wednesday, only to be killed by a gunman.

At the Oberoi hotel, the second luxury hotel to be assaulted, the gunmen called guests on hotel phones; some of those who picked up were then attacked, their doors smashed open and the guests shot. At the Taj, terrorists broke in room by room and shot occupants at point blank range. Some were shot in the back.

Initial reports that westerners were "targeted" by the terrorists seem to have been premature. It appears more likely that the terrorists killed anyone who came into their sights.

Who were they? Attention is centering on a Kashmiri terrorist outfit who has received help from the ISI in the past and who has at least one base/training camp inside Pakistan itself. 

Lashkar-i-Taiba, which means Army of the Pious, was founded as a guerrilla group to fight the Indian army in Kashmir and received support from Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies as a proxy force. Under pressure from the United States, the Pakistani government banned the group after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but analysts said it continues to enjoy the backing of some Pakistani politicians and security officials. It also has operated joint training camps in Pakistan with al-QaedaTaliban.

The tactics involved in the Mumbai attacks have been embraced before by Lashkar-i-Taiba. The group has routinely trained gunmen -- called "fedayeen," or fighters who volunteer to sacrifice themselves in battle -- to carry out operations in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington who formerly served at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, said if India can prove Lashkar-i-Taiba was culpable, "then the stress on the relationship becomes really acute."

Lashkar was one of the groups that Pakistani intelligence "favored for all its dirty work in Kashmir and elsewhere," Tellis said. "The whole question of Pakistan's involvement itself is difficult because there are so many 'Pakistans.' . . . There is the intelligence agency, the army, the civilian government. I cannot imagine that the civilian government would have anything to do with an operation like this."

The military is displeased with the civilian government that they offered to send the Intelligence chief to India to help in the investigation. Almost immediately, the Pak foreign minister backed down from that offer and they may send a lower level officer instead. This shows just how much influence the military still has over the civilian government despite the ousting of General Musharraf from the presidency.

There is a chance that India might attack the base in Pakistan where Lashkar planned and trained for the attack. But it is much more likely that cooler heads will prevail in Delhi and no such dangerous move will be taken.

Nevertheless, relations between the two nuclear armed enemies - which had been improving slightly of late - have been setback. That can only mean continued tensions in Kasmir and the possibility that some incident could spark a conflict whose ending could only be guessed at.