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India calls for action as world remembers anniversary of Mumbai terror attacks

EU Reporter Correspondent

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This week marks the 12th anniversary of a date forever etched on the minds of Indian people: the murderous 2008 attacks in Mumbai. The atrocity was likened to the 2001 terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York and, while the scale was not quite the same, some 166 people were killed when gunmen went on a killing spree in India’s financial capital.

The attacks were carried out by 10 gunmen who were believed to be connected to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a  Pakistan based terrorist organization. Armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades, the terrorists targeted civilians at numerous sites in the southern part of Mumbai, including the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, the popular Leopold Café, two hospitals, and a theatre.

Pakistan has long been criticized for cultivating militant proxy groups and the country currently faces renewed pressure to act against terrorists. There is particular concern that despite some convictions, some of those responsible for the terrible attacks are still at liberty and thereby free to plot a similar atrocity.

With the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks falling today (26 November), international pressure is again pushing Pakistan to take more action against militant groups and their leaders.

Some argue there is still a lack of political will on the part of Pakistan to deal with the issue. As evidence, they point to the decision by a global “dirty money” watchdog to keep Pakistan on its “grey list” for failing to meet international anti-terrorism financing norms.

The independent Financial Action Task Force has urged Pakistan to meet these requirements by February 2021.

Pakistan was placed on the FATF’s “grey list” of countries with inadequate controls over terrorism financing in 2018 saying Pakistan “still needs to demonstrate that law enforcement agencies are identifying and investigating the widest range of terrorism financing activity.”

The watchdog also asked Islamabad to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions and has called for Pakistan to prosecute those funding “terrorism”, as well as to enact laws to help track and stop “terror financing”.

Xiangmin Liu, president of the FATF, warned: “Pakistan needs to do more and it needs to do it faster.”

Further comment comes from Denis MacShane, a former Europe minister in the UK under Tony Blair, who told this website, “It is hardly a secret that Pakistan's renowned Inter-Services Intelligence agency undertakes black operations rather like Mossad does for Israel as Pakistan have been locked in its cold, occasionally hot war with its much bigger neighbour India. A number of majority Muslim states have helped Islamist terrorist actions, most notably Saudi Arabia, whose Islamist citizens helped carry out the 9/11 attacks on Manhattan. Pakistan's nominally civilian government is helpless against the military and the ISI.”

There is still widespread concern about Islamist militant groups in Pakiston - especially Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its welfare arms, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insanyat - and on their sources of income.

There are also long-standing accusations that Pakistan has nurtured and supported Islamist militant groups for use as proxies to project power in the region, particularly towards its arch-rival India.

As recently as last year, a U.S. State Department country report on terrorism said Pakistan “continued to provide safe harbour to other top militant leaders.”

There is concern too at reports that a top Pakistan militant suspected to have planned the 2008 Mumbai attacks is still living freely in Pakistan.

India and the United States have both indicted Sajid Mir, of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group, for the three-day attacks on hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre in which 166 people were killed including six Americans.

The immediate impact of the attacks was felt on the ongoing peace process between the two countries and India’s attempt at pressuring Pakistan to crack down on terrorists within its borders has been strongly supported by the international community.

At various times since the attacks, there have been concerns that tensions might escalate between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. India, however, has refrained from amassing troops at the Pakistan border as it had following the December 13, 2001, attack on India’s parliament. Instead, India has focused on building international public support through various diplomatic channels and the media.

India has long said there is evidence that “official agencies” were involved in plotting the attack – a charge Islamabad denies – and Islamabad is widely believed to use jihadist groups such as LeT as proxies against India. The U.S. is among those to allege that Pakistan is a safe haven for terrorists.

Fraser Cameron, a former senior European commission official and now director of the EU-Asia Centre in Brussels, said, “Indian claims that Pakistan continues to provide refuge to some of those involved in the 2008 attacks makes a Modi-Khan meeting almost impossible to arrange.”

The anniversary this week of the Mumbai attacks will evoke a strong national and international outcry against such violence and has sparked renewed calls to increase efforts to deal with the menace of terrorism.

The sense of outrage at Pakistan’s failure to fully hold to account those responsible for the attacks is summed up by Willy Fautre, the respected director of Brussels-based right NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers.

He told this site: “Ten years ago, from 26 to 29 November, over 160 people lost their lives in ten terrorist attacks perpetrated by ten Pakistanis in Mumbai. Nine of them were killed. Human Rights Without Frontiers deplores the fact that Pakistan waited until 2020 before convicting the mastermind of the Mumbai attack, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. He was sentenced to five years and a half in prison.”

NATO

Russia and Ukraine hold military drills, NATO criticizes Russian troop build-up

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Russia and Ukraine held simultaneous military drills on Wednesday as NATO foreign and defence ministers began emergency discussions on a massing of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, write Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Robin Emmott.

On the rebel frontline in Ukraine

Washington and NATO have been alarmed by the large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and two U.S. warships are due to arrive in the Black Sea this week.

Ahead of the arrival of the U.S. warships, the Russian navy on Wednesday began a drill in the Black Sea that rehearsed firing at surface and air targets. The drill came a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Moscow to end its troop build-up.

Russia - which said the US naval move was an unfriendly provocation and warned Washington to stay far away from Crimea and its Black Sea coast - says the build-up is a three-week snap military drill to test combat readiness in response to what it calls threatening behaviour from NATO. It has said the exercise is due to wrap up within two weeks.

In Ukraine, armed forces rehearsed repelling a tank and infantry attack near the border of Russian-annexed Crimea while its defence minister, Andrii Taran, told European parliamentarians in Brussels that Russia was preparing to potentially store nuclear weapons in Crimea.

Taran provided no evidence for his assertion but said Russia was massing 110,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in 56 battalion-sized tactical groups, citing Kyiv’s latest intelligence.

Fighting has increased in recent weeks in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in a seven-year conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who held talks in Brussels with Stoltenberg ahead of a video conference of all 30 NATO allies, said the alliance would “address Russia’s aggressive actions in and around Ukraine”, without elaborating.

Russia’s relations with the United States slumped to a new post-Cold War low last month after US President Joe Biden said he thought Vladimir Putin was a “killer”.

In a phone call with Putin on Tuesday, Biden proposed holding a summit between the estranged leaders to tackle a raft of issues, including reducing tensions over Ukraine.

The Kremlin on Wednesday said it was too early to talk about such a summit in tangible terms and that holding such a meeting was contingent on Washington’s future behaviour, in what looked like a thinly veiled reference to potential US sanctions.

Russia has regularly accused NATO of destabilising Europe by bolstering its troops in the Baltic countries and Poland - all members of the Atlantic alliance - in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

NATO has denied a claim by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that the alliance was deploying 40,000 troops and 15,000 pieces of military equipment near Russia’s borders, mainly in the Black Sea and the Baltic regions.

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NATO

Russia calls US 'adversary', rejects NATO call to end Ukraine build-up

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The United States called on Russia to halt a military build-up on Ukraine’s border on Tuesday (13 April) as Moscow, in words recalling the Cold War, said its “adversary” should keep US warships well away from annexed Crimea, write Robin Emmott and Andrew Osborn.

Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and fighting has escalated in recent weeks in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in a seven-year conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.

Two U.S. warships are due to arrive in the Black Sea this week.

In Brussels for talks with NATO leaders and Ukraine’s foreign minister, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington stood firmly behind Ukraine.

He also said he would discuss Kyiv’s ambitions to one day join NATO - although France and Germany have long worried that bringing the former Soviet republic into the Western alliance would antagonise Russia.

“The United States is our adversary and does everything it can to undermine Russia’s position on the world stage,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies on Tuesday.

Ryabkov’s remarks suggest that the diplomatic niceties which the former Cold War enemies have generally sought to observe in recent decades is fraying, and that Russia would robustly push back against what it regards as unacceptable U.S. interference in its sphere of influence.

“We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good,” Ryabkov said, calling the U.S. deployment a provocation designed to test Russian nerves.

CALL FOR DE-ESCALATION

Blinken met Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba after Group of Seven foreign ministers condemned what they said was the unexplained rise in Russian troop numbers.

Related CoverageBiden, in call with Putin, voiced concerns about Russian military buildup

Echoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who met Kuleba earlier, Blinken said Moscow was massing forces in its biggest build-up since 2014, since Moscow annexed Crimea. He called Russia’s actions “very provocative”.

“In recent weeks Russia has moved thousands of combat-ready troops to Ukraine’s borders, the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014,” Stoltenberg said.

“Russia must end this military build-up in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and de-escalate immediately,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference with Kuleba.

Russia has said it moves its forces around as it sees fit, including for defensive purposes. It has regularly accused NATO of destabilising Europe with its troop reinforcements in the Baltics and Poland since the annexation of Crimea.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday Russia had moved two armies and three paratrooper units to near its western borders in the last three weeks, responding to what it called threatening military action by NATO.

Shoigu, speaking on state television, said NATO was deploying 40,000 troops near Russia’s borders, mainly in the Black Sea and the Baltic regions.

“In total, 40,000 troops and 15,000 weapons and pieces of military equipment are concentrated near our territory, including strategic aircraft,” Shoigu said.

The Western alliance denies any such plans.

SANCTIONS, MILITARY HELP

Kuleba said Kyiv wanted a diplomatic solution.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame over the worsening situation in the eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed separatist forces.

Kuleba appealed for further economic sanctions against Moscow and more military help to Kyiv.

“At the operational level, we need measures which will deter Russia and which will contain its aggressive intentions,” Kuleba said after the NATO-Ukraine Commission met at the alliance headquarters.

This could be direct support aimed at strengthening Ukraine’s defence capabilities.

Separately, two diplomats said Stoltenberg would chair a video conference with allied defence and foreign ministers on Wednesday. Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were expected to be present at NATO headquarters in Brussels to brief the other 29 allies on Ukraine, as well as on Afghanistan, the diplomats said.

Austin, on a visit to Berlin, said the United States would ramp up its forces in Germany in light of the friction with Moscow, abandoning former President Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw about round 12,000 of the 36,000 troops from there.

Kyiv has welcomed the show of Western support, but it falls short of Ukraine’s desire for full membership of NATO.

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NATO

White House says Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday (6 April) that Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO as a member and that the Biden administration has been discussing that aspiration with the country, write Trevor Hunnicutt and Nandita Bose in Washington.

“We are strong supporters of them, we are engaged with them… but that is a decision for NATO to make,” Psaki said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on NATO on Tuesday to lay out a path for Ukraine to join the alliance, after Russia has massed troops near the conflict-hit Donbass region.

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