Pakistan cancels talks with India on Mumbai, Kashmir

"Pakistan Shows its True Colours," screamed angry headlines here this morning after Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi abruptly and defiantly refused to schedule talks with India about the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai and the countries' longstanding dispute over Kashmir. Those attacks left 173 people dead. The terrorist group, Lashkar e Taiba, has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which shook this nation of over a billion people.

It has also long been acknowledged that Lashkar e Taiba has been given safe haven in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where they have been allowed to operate with relative impunity. All but one of the Mumbai attackers were Pakistani, and it is also suspected that Pakistani intelligence (ISI) provided them with logistical and other support on their trip by sea from Karachi, Pakistan, to Mumbai on India's west coast. Although Pakistan charged several members of the terrorist group in the attack, they are seen as cosmetic, especially in light of Pakistan's refusal to cooperate with India in bringing the terrorists to justice. There had been some positive movement in this crisis with the two nations agreeing to hold talks this month; but today's heated rhetoric has heightened tensions again.

Pakistan issued an angry and defiant rebuke to India's suggestion of talks on the 18th or 25th of February. In refusing the offer, Queshi vowed that Pakistan "will never bow to India." In a strident and rambling speech, Queshi laid blame for the growing crisis between these two nuclear powers entirely at India's feet, re-writing recent history and claiming that Pakistan is the victim in this drama. He alleged that it was only Pakistan's "bold stance" that brought India to the negotiating table after it, according to Qureshi threatened to cut relations between the two nuclear powers. He also made unsubstantiated and outrageous accusations that India orchestrated the high profile terrorist attacks on Sri Lankan cricketers in Pakistan last March and is cooperating with the Taliban to de-stabilize Pakistan.

India responded through Foreign Minister P. Chidambaram that the refusal is a provocation that threatens dialogue between the two traditional rivals. He also referred to Lakshar e Taiba and other terror groups as "representatives of forces of darkness [that are] implacably opposed to India." He also vowed that "India will defeat them" wherever they are. The media was even more strident, expressing outrage at Pakistan's unexpected refusal of dialogue "after India bent over backwards" despite the Islamic country's coddling of terrorists responsible for the loss of Indian life.

Sources here, both inside and outside of the intelligence community attribute Pakistan's defiance in part on a "changed atmosphere... based in part on Obama's policies." The sources have said that the United States is now seen as "not having the stomach" to oppose Islamic terrorists or especially the countries that support them. "This," more than one said, "is the result of your appeasement."

At this point, the next steps by both India and Pakistan are unclear.


Dr. Richard L. Benkin, reporting from Delhi