India bomb blast clouds renewal of Pakistan talks

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A deadly bomb blast in western India threw a cloud Sunday over the scheduled resumption of India-Pakistan peace talks that were suspended in the wake of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The blast, which killed nine people late Saturday in a packed restaurant frequented by students and foreigners in the western city of Pune, was the first major attack on Indian soil since the Mumbai massacre.

The timing was particularly sensitive, coming a day after India and Pakistan agreed to resume official talks after a 14-month hiatus. An initial meeting between their foreign secretaries has been scheduled for February 25.

India broke off all dialogue in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram described Saturday’s blast as a “significant terrorist incident” but refused to speculate on who was responsible or what impact, if any, it might have on talks with Islamabad.

“Those are matters we will consider in Delhi. We are ruling out nothing. We are ruling in nothing,” he told reporters after visiting the blast site.

India admitted to major intelligence failings after Mumbai, but Chidambaram denied that was the case in Pune.

“There is no intelligence failure. This was not an overt attack by gun-wielding terrorists. It was an insidious attack with a bomb planted in a soft target,” he said.

All Indian states and airports were put on heightened alert, and security was also stepped up for the ongoing cricket tour by South Africa. Related Article: India’s Pune stunned by bomb attack

Several media reports cited Intelligence Bureau sources as saying the blast bore the hallmarks of the Indian Mujahideen, a militant group that claimed responsibility for a series of bomb blasts in September 2008 in New Delhi.

The main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the attack underscored fears that the government had acted rashly in agreeing to resume talks with Pakistan.

“What has happened in Pune is a grim reminder about the fragility of our security system, and the adventurous track that we are walking,” senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley told reporters.

“The whole nation is wondering today as to what has changed that we decided to change our diplomatic position,” Jaitley said.

“When terror threatens India, then not talking is also a legitimate diplomatic option,” he added.

Saturday’s bomb, apparently left under a table in a backpack, went off in the German Bakery â€" a popular eatery in central Pune â€" at about 7:30 pm (1400 GMT).

Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said four Iranians, two Sudanese, one Taiwanese, one German and two Nepalese were among 57 people injured.

An unnamed waiter told the NDTV 24x7 news channel that he had alerted his manager after seeing an unaccompanied red and black bag.

“My employer told me to go find out who it belonged to. While I was on my way, someone outside asked for water. It was while I was getting the bottles that the bomb went off,” he said. “The men and women sitting there all died.”

Another eyewitness described a scene of carnage.

“There is no German Bakery anymore,” he said “There were bodies everywhere.”

Pune, a key education hub with a growing IT industry, is about 100 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Mumbai and the blast carried echoes of the 2008 attack on India’s financial capital by 10 Islamist gunmen, in which 166 people were killed.

The German Bakery is only 200 yards (183 metres) from an ashram, or religious retreat, run by the Swiss-based group Osho International.

David Headley, a US-Pakistani national awaiting trial in the United States for allegedly scouting out possible targets in the Mumbai attacks, is believed to have stayed in the ashram on a trip to Pune.

The bakery was also close to Chabad House, a Jewish cultural and religious centre run by the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement whose members were targeted in the Mumbai attacks.

“Chabad House was surveyed by David Headley,” said Chidambaram. “It’s premature to say whether this particular incident is related to that.

Source: AFP

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