Wagah attack may trigger peace talks

The horrific suicide bombing on the Pakistani side of the Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan has left people living in both countries shocked, shaken and groping for answers.

Sixty-one people were killed and over a hundred were injured when the bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body amidst people leaving the flag lowering ceremony at Wagah on Sunday evening. Three terrorist organisations, including the Jundullah, which masterminded the carnage at a Peshawar church in September last year, the Jamaat- ul Ahrar and the Mahar Mehsud rushed to claim responsibility for the attack.

 The police have arrested 21 people and are questioning them. This should provide pointers to the identity of the bomber and the outfit to which he belonged. There is little clarity on the motivation behind the bombing. Was it retaliation to the Pakistan army’s military operations in North Waziristan? With cities on high alert in anticipation of anti-Shia attacks ahead of Muharram, the attackers could have chosen Wagah, a relatively soft target, to unleash violence.

It is more likely, however, that terrorists who have the India-Pakistan peace process in their crosshairs chose Wagah for what it symbolises. It is the main overland crossing between India and Pakistan. It is through its gates that tens of thousands of Indians and Pakistanis travel to visit relatives and friends on the other side and to savour the shared culture that exists across the border. It is through Wagah too that the ‘Dosti’ bus makes its way.

India and Pakistan carry on the bulk of their trade through this crossing as well. It is Wagah’s contribution to improvement of India-Pakistan relations that the terrorists were striking out against. Tension has spiralled dangerously along the Line of Control in recent months. Are the terrorists and their backers in the ISI seeking to ignite tensions along the International Border as well? 

They must not be allowed to succeed. This makes it imperative for India and Pakistan to revive the dialogue process immediately. Keeping it in a state of suspension does no good for the people of the two countries. It only provides spoilers with space to fish in troubled waters. Importantly, Pakistan must act robustly against terrorist networks.

This will require it to snap the nurturing link between the ISI and the terrorist groups. The attack at Wagah is a reminder that powerful forces are opposed to India and Pakistan normalising their relationship. India must support the Nawaz Sharif government in its efforts to tackle terrorism. A stable Pakistan is after all in India’s interest.

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