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Victims of '93 Bombay Terror Wary of U.S. Motives - 9/11

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The New York Times

September 24, 2001

Victims of '93 Bombay Terror Wary of U.S. Motives


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Santosh Verma for The New York Times

BUSINESS AS USUAL IN 2001 Ramesh Damani, right, with colleagues in his office at the Bombay Stock Exchange. Mr. Damani studied and worked in California before returning to Bombay to run a small brokerage house.
BOMBAY, Sept. 21 — This city, the financial capital of the world's most populous democracy, knows the sudden horror of a terrorist attack that seems to come from nowhere.

Eight years ago, as hundreds of brokers hustled to the manic rhythms of the trading ring in the 28- story Bombay Stock Exchange, someone drove a car into the basement and detonated a powerful bomb.

The blast sent a hailstorm of glass flying into the lanes around the building. Shards sliced through the bodies of pushcart vendors. Then, before anyone had time to assimilate the carnage, more bombs exploded in swift succession across the city, killing more than 260 people and wounding more than 700.

If any place should rejoice in America's declaration of war on terrorism, it would seem to be Bombay, a city that has suffered its effects firsthand and where many people have deep ties to the United States.

Yet there is also a wariness here of America's motives in announcing that every country must either stand with or against the United States as it goes after terrorists and the states that harbor them.

India has accused Pakistani intelligence agents of sponsoring the bombings in Bombay in 1993, a contention Pakistan has always denied. But to get at America's No. 1 suspect, Osama bin Laden, the United States is working with Pakistan, which many Indians regard as the principal incubator of terrorism directed against them.

Some Indians think that despite its righteous call to arms, the world's sole superpower is mainly interested in fighting the terrorists who struck it, not the ones who hit them.

"What happened to the United States is deadly and sad," said Gaurav Sanghvi, who was a 22-year- old broker in the stock exchange building on the day of the blasts in 1993. "They keep talking about a war on terrorism, but they keep asking Pakistan to help, and Pakistan supports terrorism."

The Bush administration's seemingly straightforward goal of defeating global terrorism has inevitably enmeshed it in the tricky, complicated realities of South Asia. "This is the world's fight," President Bush declared. "This is civilization's fight."

But for India and Pakistan, the terms of the struggle are not that simple. For years each of them has accused the other of sponsoring terrorism in their battle for Kashmir, the Himalayan territory that both claim.

Now, when relations between India and America have been improving, the United States faces a delicate diplomatic challenge to sustain Pakistan's support for American military strikes into neighboring Afghanistan while not alienating India.

The Indian government says it supports America in its hour of need, but the strains of America's cooperation with Pakistan are showing. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said in an interview with The Times of India on Thursday that Washington had not yet shown that "it was in a mood to focus on India's bitter experience of terrorism on its own soil."

India would eventually like the United States to put pressure on Pakistan to return those accused of carrying out the Bombay blasts — Muslim gangsters from Bombay's underworld who India says now live in Karachi — and to crack down on the Islamic religious schools and training camps in Pakistan that India believes breed terrorists. But none of that is happening, at least not now. Indian officials say no such request has been made to the United States at this point.

India wakes with numbing regularity to headlines that announce the latest slaughter of innocents in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, most recently of beheaded Hindu priests and murdered shepherds. India blames the killings on Islamic fundamentalist groups in the territory that it says are supported by Pakistan. Pakistan denies it.

The Indian authorities have built a detailed circumstantial case laid out in yellowing confidential documents that they say prove that Pakistan was behind the Bombay attacks.

When Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, visited India in July, India's home minister, L. K. Advani, raised the issue and the need for an extradition treaty so that the accused, Dawood Ibrahim, could be returned to India to face justice.

The general denied that Mr. Ibrahim was in Pakistan, but earlier this month Newsline, a reputable Pakistani magazine, reported that the main suspects charged in the Bombay blasts were living in Karachi "under fake names and ID's, and provided protection by government agencies."

This city and the stock traders who were at the Bombay Stock Exchange when the bomb exploded eight years ago seem to savor the ironies of the current situation.

A banner draped on Marine Drive, a broad thoroughfare that sweeps along the Arabian Sea, says, "Terrorist Attack Expensive Wake-Up Call for U.S.," capturing the sense here that the United States is finally enduring in one ghastly, overwhelming incident what India has suffered in countless cruel cuts for more than a decade.

"It's only when the police commissioner's house is robbed that strict action is taken," said Rakesh Jhun jhunwala, an investor who was on the trading floor when the bomb exploded on March 12, 1993.

American State Department reports annually chastise India for human rights abuses in Kashmir, but leading American politicians are now demanding that the C.I.A. again be empowered to hire shady operatives with violent pasts and to assassinate evildoers.

"Generally the feeling here is that whenever there's a bomb blast, India is asked, `Where is the proof Pakistan is involved?' " said Deena Mehta, a stockbroker. "Now that it's happened in America's own backyard, they're not asking for proof. They're just announcing that the finger points at Afghanistan and planning to attack."

Still, there is a strong conviction among the peddlers and the brokers who work in and around the stock exchange that India should help America. Partly, it grows out of self- interest. The Afghan training camps that America is likely to strike produce holy warriors battling India in Kashmir, they say.

But there is another more personal undercurrent in the desire to help that goes beyond politics. Many of the brokers interviewed had studied in the United States or had friends or family there.

The number of people of Indian descent living in the United States has doubled in the last decade to 1.7 million. They are linked to their Indian friends and relatives by e-mail, Internet chat rooms and telephone. Scores of those missing in the collapse of the World Trade Center are of Indian origin, officials here say.

"On the street level there are deep roots with America," said Ramesh Damani, who studied and worked in California for a dozen years before moving back to Bombay to run his own small brokerage firm. "The country of aspiration is America. Everyone wants to go to America."

Sanat Dalal, dapper in a brilliant white safari suit, epitomizes the contradictory tugs of feeling toward the United States. An autographed portrait of Bill Clinton hangs on the wall of his sleek 12th-floor trading office at the stock exchange.

He unabashedly admires America's capitalist, individualistic ethos. His son, who got his master's in business administration at the University of Hartford, lives and works in Connecticut.

But like many Indians, Mr. Dalal seems baffled that the United States, the second-largest democracy in the world, has turned to Pakistan, run by a military government since a coup in 1999, rather than democratic, pluralistic India. "Americans talk of democracy," he said, "but side with dictators."

Further Reading:

F.·.W.·. Magazine || 9/11: The Archive - The 'Lighter' Side of the New World Order?