Rice in India to ease tensions with Pakistan

3rd December 2008, Comments 0 comments

US Secretary of State meets with Pakistani and Indian officials Wednesday to urge cooperation after attacks.

3 December 2008

NEW DELHI - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in New Delhi Wednesday to try to ease India-Pakistan tensions over the Mumbai attacks, as US intelligence blamed a Pakistan-based militant group.

Ties between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals became strained in the wake of late November's devastating assault by Islamist militants on India's economic capital which left 188 people dead.

An Indian government source told AFP that Rice will be presented evidence of a Pakistan link to the attack.

"We will put on the table information so far gathered. We plan to share transcripts of satellite phone conversations that link the terrorists to their Pakistani handlers," the senior official said on condition of anonymity.

"We have evidence of numbers recovered from phones (that show) where the calls came from or were made to," he added.

A senior State Department official said Rice would pressure the two US allies, who fought three wars against each other since their 1947 independence from British rule, to cooperate in eradicating terrorism.

"I want to consult with the Indian government on what we can do to help," Rice told reporters on her way to India. "I am going to, of course, express solidarity with the Indian people. This was a horrible attack."

India says the only gunman captured confirmed under interrogation that all the militants were from Pakistan and received their training there.

The United States is particularly concerned about any military confrontation with India that might cause Pakistan to move troops from its western border with Afghanistan, a battleground in the US "war on terror".

Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group fighting Indian control of disputed Kashmir, is a lead suspect. The group attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001, bringing India and Pakistan close to fighting another war.

US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell on Tuesday said the Pakistan-based group was the focus of investigations.

"The same group that we believe is responsible for Mumbai had a similar attack in 2006," he said. "Go back to 2001 and it was an attack on the parliament."

India met with the Pakistani ambassador earlier in December and demanded Pakistan arrest and return 20 terror suspects, including the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Saeed.

Others named were Maulana Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed rebel group, and Dawood Ibrahim, wanted in India on charges of leading serial bombings in Mumbai in 1993 that killed around 300 people.

Pakistan suggested creating a "joint investigation mechanism" but says it wants proof that all the attackers were Pakistanis.

India's security and intelligence agencies were intensely criticised over their handling of the incident, which already forced interior minister Shivraj Patil to resign.

"The state of Pakistan is no way responsible," Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari told CNN.

"I think these are stateless actors who have been operating throughout the region. The gunmen, whoever they are, they are all stateless actors who are holding hostage the whole world."

US networks reported that the United States warned India in October that hotels and business centres in Mumbai would be targeted by attackers coming from the sea.

One US intelligence official even named the Taj Mahal hotel, one of 10 sites hit in the 60-hour siege by gunmen, as a specific target, ABC television said.

It said Indian intelligence officials interrupted a phone call on 18 November to an address in Pakistan used by the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, revealing a possible attack from the sea.

About 10 gunmen landed in rubber boats in Mumbai with automatic weapons and hand grenades, attacking the city and killing 188 and injuring more than 300. The dead included 22 foreign nationals.

[AFP / Sylvie Lanteaume / Expatica]

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