By James Fontanella-Khan in Mumbai
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, on Saturday met survivors of last November’s terror attacks in Mumbai at the Taj Mahal hotel, where 31 people were killed, in a symbolically charged show of solidarity for India’s fight against terrorism.
“We have a very strong sense of solidarity and sympathy [with India] having gone through what we did on 9/11,” said Mrs Clinton.
“Both our people have experienced the senseless and searing effects of violent extremism,” Mrs Clinton wrote in a condolence book for the victims, as she said that the war to “rid the world of hatred and extremism” needed a global effort.
Shashi Tharoor, India’s junior foreign minister, said: “Her decision to spend two nights under that roof [of the Taj Mahal hotel] is symbolically a very important sign of understanding how much this matters to us.”
During a private ceremony with the hotel staff from the Taj and the nearby Trident-Oberoi, where 32 people were killed, Mrs Clinton praised the courage of those who risked their lives to protect guests trapped inside the hotels during the three-day long siege.
The US secretary of state also paid special tribute to Karambir Kang, the Taj Mahal’s general manager, who lost his wife and two children, who were trapped in a top floor that had been set alight by the terrorists.
Mrs Clinton, who will travel to New Delhi on Sunday, said she would focus on strengthening relations between the US and India throughout the trip, in particular over sensitive matters such as climate change and counter-terrorism.
However, the US secretary of state tried to avoid making any reference to India’s thorny relations with Pakistan, after Indian officials had expressed their concerns that the US was trying to pressure the neighbouring countries towards formal peace talks.
“Clearly, any decision that is made between the governments of India and Pakistan to begin talking together, to explore the very difficult issues between them, is up to those governments,” said Mrs Clinton.
India and Pakistan on Thursday signalled a new thaw in their strained relations, as Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, jointly affirmed their commitment to work together to combat terrorism.
However, Mr Singh said formal peace talks could not resume “unless and until [the] terrorist heads who shook Mumbai are properly accounted for, [and the] perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to book”.
New Delhi blamed the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist group, for the attacks and demanded that Islamabad bring the perpetrators to justice, who India believes may have been supported by agencies within Pakistan.
Mrs Clinton also met with a group of business leaders including Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Group and Mukesh Ambani, India’s wealthiest man and owner of Reliance Industries, to discuss ways to increase co-operation and tackle climate change.
The US secretary of state urged India to act firmly against climate change and not to commit the same mistakes the US made in the past.
“We acknowledge now with President Obama that we have made mistakes in the United States, and we along with other developed countries have contributed most significantly to the problem that we face with climate change,” she said. ”We are hoping a great country like India will not make the same mistakes.”