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Bombings Overshadow India-Pakistan Peace Process

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The uncertain movement across the military line reflects the uncertain movement toward peace between Pakistan and India. Ten days ago, peacemakers faced their latest challenge when bombs exploded inside India. The explosions killed at least 60 people in New Delhi and were blamed on Pakistan-backed militants. NPR's Philip Reeves reports on the aftermath.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Life is back to normal at New Delhi's Sarojini Nagar market, but 10 days ago, there was utter mayhem here. Dead and dying lay all around after a bomb detonated amid a crowd shopping before the start of the holiday week. It was one of three bombs that went off in New Delhi in quick succession. Jay Prakash(ph) lost his wife and 19-year-old daughter Atti(ph) in the blast. Atti was shopping for her wedding.

Mr. JAY PRAKASH: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: Today, Prakash, a postal worker, was among 10 relatives of the victims who appeared at a press conference to demand that India's government take a much tougher line with terrorists.

Mr. PRAKASH: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: `I don't know if I can ever get over this tragedy,' he said. He called for all terrorists to be hanged.

In this charged atmosphere, there's little sympathy for talk of making peace with Pakistan. Jagdesh Mongia(ph) lost his brother-in-law at the market. Yesterday, he cremated his sister after days of sitting by her bedside as she struggled in vain to survive her wounds.

Mr. JAGDESH MONGIA: It is all ridiculous, every peace process still there is all ridiculous, meaningless, ineffective. This is not working. Government is simply befooling the citizens of this country.

REEVES: When militants attacked India's parliament in New Delhi nearly four years ago, India and Pakistan, who both possess nuclear weapons, mobilized their armies and nearly went to war. This time, the political backlash was more subdued, but the public outcry was not. Siddarth Varadarajan is deputy editor of The Hindu newspaper.

Mr. SIDDARTH VARADARAJAN (The Hindu Newspaper): So I think the public's response is, I think, much more significant than at any other time in the past. I mean, when parliament was attacked, for example, you did not have anything resembling the kind of anger, resentment at the public level that you see now.

REEVES: The Indian authorities still haven't stated precisely who they believe carried out the deadly bombings. There's a consensus in India that Pakistan-backed Islamist militants, striving to oust India from Kashmir, were responsible. That's led to calls for the congress-led government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take a much harder line with Pakistan's president, Pervaiz Musharraf. Prime Minister Singh did raise the bombings with Musharraf, but overall both sides have appeared careful to protect the peace process.

India and Pakistan have a formal agreement not to allow terrorist acts to disrupt peacemaking, a fact which Varadarajan believes proved important in the aftermath of the Delhi bombings.

Mr. VARADARAJAN: This is perhaps the first real test of that commitment, and I think, you know, this is not to say that more incidents of this kind will not, you know, strain that commitment, but I think as of now the government of India, I think, is willing to go along.

REEVES: Some analysts in India believe that Manmohan Singh, India's reformist prime minister, is pivotal to all this because of his determination to push on with peacemaking. He's thought to enjoy a level of trust with President Musharraf but says author and journalist Tarun Tejpal Singh is constrained by public opinion.

Mr. TARUN TEJPAL (Author, Journalist): There is a reflection in what he says and--off the public mood. If the public mood is hard in Pakistan, he will be making hard noises. If the public mood is soft in Pakistan, he will make soft noises. That's the conundrum of India and Pakistan. But is he committed to long-term peace? I would say almost unequivocally yes.

REEVES: Tejpal believes this is part of a profound underlying shift in relations between the two South Asian neighbors after nearly 60 years of hostility.

Mr. TEJPAL: I think if you look at it in a more historical way, in the sweep of history, I think it's fairly clear that we are moving to a better and better place with each other.

REEVES: The fear among peacemakers on both sides is that another devastating bombing attack against civilians could change that.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.