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India challenges Pakistan to act, fast

December 02, 2008|Mark Magnier and Laura King | Magnier and King are Times staff writers.

MUMBAI, INDIA, AND ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — India called in a Pakistani envoy Monday and demanded that its neighbor and longtime rival take swift action after deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai that shook the nation, even as widening domestic fallout forced another top official to resign.

Increasingly confident that evidence in attacks that killed at least 170 people points to the involvement of Pakistan-based groups, India also called on Pakistan to hand over 20 terrorism suspects reportedly based there, amplifying a demand made in 2002.

At the top of the list were Dawood Ibrahim, an underworld figure from Mumbai with links to militant organizations, and Maulana Masood Azhar, leader of the extremist group Jaish-e-Muhammad.

Indian officials told Pakistan in a written diplomatic note that hopes for a "qualitatively new relationship" between the countries depended on cooperation in the investigation of the Mumbai attacks, which targeted luxury hotels and other landmarks in India's financial capital.

"In other words, all bets would be off if Pakistan failed to provide satisfaction," the Times of India newspaper said today.

Underscoring the gravity with which Washington views the increase in regional tension, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected to arrive in India on Wednesday after a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Brussels.

Rice told reporters in London that U.S.-India relations have had a "banner year," including the recent signing of a landmark nuclear cooperation deal.

She said that Pakistan, an important ally in the U.S. fight against Islamic extremism, had nothing to fear from warmer ties between India and the United States.

However, Pakistan has been under U.S. pressure to cooperate with the Mumbai investigation, as it has pledged to do. Rice said the Bush administration expected "complete, absolute, total transparency" from Pakistani authorities.

"This is a time when everyone in the civilized world needs to unite," Rice said. "Ultimately the terrorists have to be stopped."

Pakistan's civilian government, in office less than a year, has been trying to rally the country's fractious political parties behind it. Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani was to convene a meeting today to try to achieve consensus on policy in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan dismissed claims by Indian investigators that the attackers underwent months of training at camps run by a Pakistani militant group, saying no proof was provided. Indian investigators say the lone surviving gunman was trained by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba in weapons handling, bomb making and seaborne assaults. The Mumbai attackers arrived Wednesday night by boat, landing a few blocks from their targets.

Indian media have reported that Pakistani food, clothing and toiletry brands were found on the trawler that ferried the militants to Mumbai.

Indian soldiers on Monday removed the last bodies and defused booby traps at Mumbai's battered Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, one of two hotels targeted in the attack that also left 10 militants dead. Many shops reopened and residents returned to work, but an increasingly angry electorate was questioning why its government responded so slowly. It took three days before police and soldiers subdued the militants.

In another example of the fallout from the attacks, R.R. Patil, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra state, where Mumbai is located, quit on Monday amid speculation that his boss, the chief minister, would soon follow.

Adding to the tension in India, at least 10 people were wounded after a bomb ripped through a passenger train today in India's troubled eastern state of Assam, where there is a long-standing insurgency unrelated to the tension with Pakistan.

Even as Pakistan denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks, it appeared to be accepting the possibility that Lashkar-e-Taiba might ultimately be found responsible.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, in an interview published Monday in the Financial Times, for the first time specifically addressed the strong suspicion that has settled on the group, which for nearly two decades has battled Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

"Even if the militants are linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, who do you think we are fighting?" he said. Pakistan itself has been hit by a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks blamed on militant groups over the last 18 months, including the assassination of Zardari's wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

While attention has been focused on the Mumbai attacks, violence has continued to flare in Pakistan's volatile northwestern region.

In the Swat valley, a trouble spot 100 miles north of the capital, Islamabad, at least eight people were killed and 40 others injured when a suicide bomber struck a military checkpoint.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, or Army of the Pious, was banned in Pakistan in 2002, but its founders immediately reorganized themselves as an Islamic charity called Jamaat ud-Dawa, which still operates legally in Pakistan and has denied any link to the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan's powerful intelligence apparatus has in the past provided support to militant movements, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban.

But in another interview, Zardari added that his government should not be held accountable for insurgents' actions.

"We don't think the world's great nations and countries can be held hostage by non-state actors," Zardari told Arj television, using a phrase generally taken to refer to insurgent groups.


Times staff writer Henry Chu in London contributed to this report.


Mark Magnier reporting from Mumbai, India

Laura King reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan

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