India-Pakistan Peace Process Will Probably Stumble On

When bombs go off and innocents are killed, Indian officials are quick to focus suspicion on Muslim militants and longtime rival Pakistan (search). Those accusations returned Monday after twin car bomb attacks in Bombay (search) killed at least 44 people.

But with India (search) and Pakistan closer than they've been in two years, neither side wants violence to sink nascent peace talks.

"I don't see Monday's events affecting the dialogue process, unless irrefutable evidence is found" that Pakistan was involved, said C. Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, a New Delhi-based think tank.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, one Bombay police official blamed the "enemy country" -- an unmistakable reference to Pakistan. But other police officials said they had no direct evidence linking the attack to Muslim militants, and there were no immediate accusations from top national officials.

The Pakistanis, for their part, distanced themselves from the bombings even before the accusations began.

"We deplore these attacks," Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said, calling them "wanton targeting of civilians."

Earlier this month, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (search) had tea with Indian lawmakers following a conference in Islamabad that saw representatives of both countries renew calls for peace.

Indian and Pakistani participants called for a more vigorous peace process, talks over the flashpoint issue of Kashmir, and greater cultural exchanges in the unofficial two-day conference, which was organized by a prominent journalists group.

Just over a year ago, India and Pakistan appeared on the brink of their fourth war since independence from Britain in 1947. A million soldiers from both sides wer massed along their frontier and foreign diplomats spoke darkly about evacuation plans in case of nuclear attacks.

That came after India blamed Pakistan for an attack by Islamic militants on the Indian Parliament compound in December 2001. Pakistan denied involvement and tensions eventually eased after intense international diplomacy.

After the Parliament attack, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (search) had insisted there would be no resumption of talks until Islamabad ended the infiltration into India of Islamic militants from Pakistan. The guerrillas have waged a 13-year battle for the independence of Indian Kashmir, the Himalayan region over which India and Pakistan have twice gone to war. Pakistan denies giving material support to the militants.

But while guerrilla attacks continued, by April the prime minister was announcing India and Pakistan were resuming the peace process.

"This is a new beginning," he told Parliament.

While many observers believe Vajpayee personally wants peace, diplomatic pragmatism -- and pure mercantilism -- may explain the resumption of the process.

Vajpayee told Parliament that India had to "grasp every opportunity" for peace and bilateral trade, which could amount to $3 billion if relations were restored.

Within a few months, diplomatic ties were back, buses were again crossing the border and discussions were being held about resuming air links.

Bhaskar said India and Pakistan have "acquired a degree of resilience to deal with the escalation of violence that accompanies talk of resuming a dialogue."

Peace overtures regularly spark violence as those with vested interests in bad relations -- extremists on both sides -- try to stop ties from growing closer, he said.

Still, months after Vajpayee's speech, there have been no open talks at all on the larger issues, such as the future of Kashmir.

"The blasts," said S.K. Singh, a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, "complicate what is already a slow process."