U.S. urges India to hold back, Pakistan to crack down

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 3, 2008 

NEW DELHI — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Wednesday to head off Indian retaliation against Pakistan for the Mumbai terrorist attacks as the U.S. stepped up pressure on Islamabad to cooperate "transparently, urgently and fully" in tracking down the perpetrators.

While Rice was in New Delhi, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Islamabad urging Pakistani civilian and military leaders to cooperate fully in the investigation into the attacks and intensify their operations against Islamic extremist groups. He's expected to fly to New Delhi while Rice goes to Islamabad.

Indian officials have suggested that they're contemplating striking the Islamist group in Pakistan suspected of mounting the Mumbai attacks. The Bush administration is fearful that military escalation would compel Pakistan to halt its operations against al Qaida and allied Islamic militants along its border with Afghanistan and rush its troops to its eastern border with India.

"Any response needs to be judged by its effectiveness in prevention and also by not creating other unintended consequences or difficulties," Rice said at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

However, Mukherjee warned that his government, which is facing charges of botching the response to the attacks after receiving advanced warning from the U.S., "is determined to act decisively."

U.S. military officials in Washington told McClatchy that they haven't seen any alarming military movement on either side of the India-Pakistan border, but the success of U.S. efforts to head off a conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors will depend on the extent of Pakistan’s cooperation and India’s restraint.

"A whole lot of people, including the United States, are going to be pushing for Pakistani cooperation, and in this case, it's not an elastic term," said a U.S. counter-terrorism official who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly. "The next move is how the Pakistanis react to the requests for information."

The U.S. is "basically asking the Indians: 'Can you be patient?'" said a senior U.S. military officer who requested anonymity for similar reasons.

India's ruling Congress Party-led coalition is under growing pressure from nationwide protests and charges of incompetence from opposition groups to retaliate against Pakistan months before it faces state and national elections. The rival Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which is more hawkish than the Congress Party, is charging that the Mumbai attacks are proof that the current government can't protect India.

Pakistan's eight-month-old civilian government is too weak to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Army of Resistance, the Islamic extremist group that's suspected of staging the Mumbai assault, without the help of the military and intelligence officials who in the past have assisted the group.

India is unlikely to be satisfied with any Pakistani action that doesn't include a purge of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, the powerful intelligence agency that's accused of training and directing Lashkar-e-Taiba and other groups that are fighting for independence on the Indian-held side of the contested Kashmir region.

U.S. officials and other experts have said that the ISI backed the organization in the past, but that support diminished after Islamabad outlawed the group in 2002 under pressure from the Bush administration. However, the officials and experts said they fear that some "rogue" intelligence and military officers may have maintained ties to the militants.

The Bush administration's relations with Islamabad have been strained by U.S. missile strikes in the tribal areas and by improved ties with India, and with just over a month left in office, President Bush’s ability to influence world affairs is waning.

The American attacks on Islamic militants along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan are undercutting the administration's pleas to India to refrain from mounting similar attacks on suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba targets in the heart of Pakistan, said two U.S. intelligence officials. They declined to speak on the record because they're not authorized to talk to the news media.

U.S. and Indian officials have said that the three-day terrorist assault on two luxury hotels, the main railway station, a Jewish center and other sites in Mumbai that killed more than 180 people was planned in Pakistan. U.S. officials insist that there's no evidence of official Pakistani government or military complicity, and Islamabad has repeatedly denied any involvement.

Thousands of angry protesters demonstrated in New Delhi, Mumbai and four other major cities demanding retaliation against Pakistan, which has fought three wars and frequent border clashes with India since they won independence from Britain in 1947.

"War! Go to war," shouted one protester in New Delhi.

"I'm not from Mumbai or Delhi, but from India. Terrorists out!" cried a banner.

The public anger was fueled by hawkish broadcasts on India's private television channels, some of which displayed a telephone number in Pakistan that they said was recovered from a satellite telephone the terrorists used.

Rice called on "all responsible governments" to cooperate in tracking down those who caused the carnage.

"Pakistan has a special responsibility to do so and to do so transparently, urgently and fully," said Rice, who cut short a European tour to fly to India. "The responsibility of the Pakistani government should be one of cooperation and of action."

Mukherjee said he told Rice, "no doubt the terrorist attacks in Mumbai were perpetrated by individuals who came from Pakistan and whose controllers are in Pakistan."

He didn't appear to be placated by Rice's assurances that the United States would help India "get to the bottom of this and then help you act."

"The government of India is determined to act decisively to protect Indian territorial integrity and the right of our citizens to a peaceful life with all the means at our disposal," Mukherjee warned.

(Sundarji, a McClatchy special correspondent, reported from New Delhi, and Landay reported from Washington. Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article from Washington.)

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