Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Despite an early statement by the Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, that “the same people who carried out the Mumbai attacks are behind the attack in Lahore,” India is emerging as a prime suspect in the eyes of many Pakistanis.

In the hours following the Lahore attack, some in Pakistan’s influential electronic media said on air they did not want to mirror the finger-pointing by the Indian media following the Mumbai attacks.

Even so, many discussions on several television channels with talking heads and politicians, both elected and un-elected, centred on speculation that Indian intelligence agencies were responsible for the brazen commando-style attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team as a revenge against the Mumbai attacks.

Rehman Malik, who heads the Interior Ministry, only talked of a “foreign hand,” refusing to name the country.

But at least two elected representatives of the Pakistan People’s Party — Riaz Raja, a member of the Punjab provincial Assembly and Nabeel Gabol, who is in the National Assembly — openly accused India for the attack.

Jamat-i-Islami leader Qazi Hussain also accused Indian intelligence agencies of planning and carrying out the attack.

Commentators are also not entirely ruling out the possibility of Pakistani militant groups hitting out against the state, with some bringing up the possibility that it could even be a retaliation for the action the government took against the Punjab-based Laskhar-e-Taiba following the Mumbai attack.

But the Indian angle came up in different ways. In an apparent effort to link India with the attack, Geo Television played a clip of Congress president Sonia Gandhi saying at a public meeting that Pakistan should not mistake India’s desire for peace as a sign of its weakness, and that India was capable of giving a “fitting response.”

Lt. Gen. (retd.) Hamid Gul, a former head of the Inter-services Intelligence, told one TV channel that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, cornered by the army in Sri Lanka, had carried it out at the behest of India’s Research and Analysis Wing.

By Tuesday evening, rumours were doing the rounds that the weapons found at the site of the attack bore Indian markings. They persisted despite Mr. Malik’s remarks that only a forensic analysis would reveal the origins of the weapons.

Meanwhile, the Sharif brothers, disqualified from elected office, and their PML(N) government ousted in the Punjab province only last Wednesday, had the satisfaction of blaming “Governor Raj” for the security lapses that led to the attack.

The former Chief Minister, Shabaz Sharif, told a press conference in Lahore that instead of concentrating on providing the best security to the Sri Lankan team, Governor Salman Taseer had been holding meetings “to discuss strategies for horse-trading” to enable the PPP to form the next government in the province.

He expressed the PML(N)’s determination to go ahead with its participation in a “long march” called by lawyers next week to press President Asif Ali Zardari to restore deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary.

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