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Asia

Pakistan still complacent five years after 26/11

Five years ago, a militant group from Pakistan unleashed havoc on the Indian financial hub of Mumbai, killing over 160 people in over two days of terror. Pakistan continues to refuse to confront the issue.

The evening of November 26, 2008 starts like any other in the Indian financial hub of Mumbai. Hundreds of thousands of commuters are on their way home; hotels and restaurants in the south of the city center are filled with people from the city and from all over the world.

And then it happens - the moment "26/11" becomes etched into India's collective memory: without warning, Islamist terrorists create a bloodbath, opening fire on crowds of people using automatic weapons, bombs and hand grenades. Their targets include anyone who appears to be a Jew, American or British national. They take hostages in hotels and shops; a Jewish establishment is stormed.

Indian media do not hold back from showing live pictures of the havoc and death being wrought upon the city. The images are broadcast around the world. Fighting between the terrorists and security forces lasts two days. At the end of the ordeal, on November 29, nine terrorists are dead. One of the perpetrators, the Pakistani national Ajmal Kasab, is overpowered and taken into police custody. In the incident, 166 people, mostly Indians, lost their lives. According to Amnesty International, around 300 people were injured.

'War against India'

In this Jan. 4, 2011 photo, Hafiz Saeed, the leader of a banned Islamic group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an alias of the proscribed Lashkar -e-Taiba terror group, addresses rally against India and United States in Lahore, Pakistan. (Photo: AP)

The United States has offered a USD 10 million bounty for Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba

In September 2009 seven suspects were taken to an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan for their alleged involvement in the attack. But the legal proceedings have been sluggish, as Pakistan accuses India of failing to bring forward substantial evidence against the men. India, in turn, accuses Pakistan of deliberately protracting the proceedings. The seven defendants are set to approach the Islamabad High Court for their release on bail, according to media reports.

In 2013, US citizen David Coleman Headley was sentenced to 35 years by a US federal court in Chicago, Illinois, for helping plot the attacks. Kasab was indicted in India and put on trial for "waging war against India." He was sentenced to death and hanged in November 2012.

Five years after the attacks, investigators in India and the US have come a long way in getting behind the motives, thanks to confessions by Headley and Kasab. Both of the confessions blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist organization which operates from Lahore, Pakistan, and which has close ties to the Pakistani military secret service Inter-Services Intelligence, and which has for many years been carrying out attacks in Indian Kashmir as a non-state actor. The group was declared a terrorist organization as early as 2001 by the US.

No interest in investigations

Pakistan has so far failed to help with the investigations. Arshad Mahmood, a Pakistani historian, tells DW that Islamabad 's claims that New Delhi hasn't brought forward any hard evidence against the suspects are baseless. "Pakistan clearly doesn't want any investigation linking it to the attacks. This would be a humiliation."

But, according to Toqeer Gilani, a political activist in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, there is more behind Islamabad's refusal to cooperate than just an attempt to keep face. "I am convinced that Islamic organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba are supported by Pakistani intelligence agencies. Taking action against the group would be like attacking the components of the state," he said.

This undated file photo shows Pakistani man Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack's 10 gunmen, in Mumbai, India. An Indian court convicted Kasab Monday, May 3, 2010, of murder and other charges for his role in the terror attacks that left 166 people dead in the heart of India's financial capital. (Photo: AP)

The only gunman to survive the attack, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was tried in Mumbai and hanged late last year

Five years on, the dialogue process between the two countries is still sluggish. Vinod Sharma, a journalist working for the Indian newspaper Hindustan Times, views the events of November 26, 2008 as a massive setback. "And the mistrust became even greater, as it became clear that Pakistan wouldn't bring those behind the attack to justice." This view is shared by Mahmood, who says it will be very difficult for India to overcome the trauma of Mumbai as long as Pakistan doesn't take action against those responsible. "And this is not to be expected," he adds.

A difficult dialogue

Sharma is of the opinion that the media in both countries bear some responsibility for the stalemate between the nuclear neighbors. He says it has become common practice in India to attack Pakistan and vice versa. "It helps nobody. Politics must be based on dialogue, but this is something that is ignored by the media in both nations," the journalist criticizes.

However, Sharma remains optimistic about the future of bilateral relations. He argues that Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came into office on the promise of normalizing ties with India, something viewed positively by Indians.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the United Nations General Assembly at the New York Palace hotel in New York September 29, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

There is deep mistrust between the two nuclear neighbors

"We believe that Sharif's election has been the best opportunity in a long time to improve Indo-Pakistani ties. But a lot depends on whether Sharif will be able to assert himself." Analysts suspect, however, this could be difficult, as extremists can even count on support from members of the Muslim League, Sharif's party.

But the improvement of relations also depends on India, which is set to hold parliamentary elections next spring. It remains to be seen, however, whether this will lead to better relations with Pakistan. Polls put the India's ruling Congress party behind the Hindu nationalists of the BJP. In the current situation, the government is unlikely to make Pakistan any offer for talks.

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