New Delhi/Islamabad: India and Pakistan traded verbal salvos of what some experts see as the end-game in diplomatic efforts to resolve the deteriorating relations between the two countries in the wake of the November terror attacks in Mumbai for which India holds its neighbour responsible.
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Pakistan rejected Singh’s accusation as unacceptable, saying India has embarked on a propaganda offensive and that such charges jeopardized chances of cooperation against terrorism. “It (Singh’s comment) will not only ratchet up tensions but occlude facts and destroy all prospects of serious and objective investigations into the Mumbai attacks,” a statement from Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.
It is not clear whether Singh’s comments and Pakistan’s rejection of India’s evidence will nudge the two countries to the brink of a violent confrontation; the two countries have fought three wars since 1947.
“The Prime Minister’s statement has definitely raised the ante. In articulations made by the Indian government it was earlier said that there were elements in Pakistan; now we are talking about the Pakistani establishment. I will not use the word confrontation but the situation is definitely brittle,” said Uday Bhaskar, a defence expert and former director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, or Idsa.
Meanwhile, the US, despite needing Pakistan’s continued assistance in its ongoing war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, increased diplomatic pressure on the country. Maintaining that the Mumbai attackers had links “that lead to Pakistani soil”, the US has asked Islamabad to pursue leads provided by New Delhi and track down the perpetrators of the deadly terror strikes.
It was “clear that the attackers had links that lead to Pakistani soil,” visiting assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher told reporters in Islamabad.
Singh was even more explicit during his speech at a meeting of chief ministers to discuss preparedness against terror. “On the basis of the investigations carried out, including (by) the agencies of some foreign countries whose nationals were killed in the attack, there is enough evidence to show that, given the sophistication and military precision of the attack it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan.”
Outlining the security challenges faced by the country, Manmohan Singh said India’s external policies have been dictated by a desire to have a supportive neighbourhood. “Unfortunately, we cannot choose our neighbours, and some countries like Pakistan have in the past encouraged and given sanctuary to terrorists and other forces who are antagonistic to India.”
Strong message: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security, in New Delhi on Tuesday. PIB
Addressing the same meeting, home minister P. Chidambaram warned that there was “ample evidence” of existence of terrorist modules and “many sleeper cells” in the country and asked state governments to put in place a clear command structure to avoid ambiguity in the event of a terror attack.
Meanwhile, Pakistan continued to send out mixed signals in response to India’s submission of evidence which included data from satellite phones and what it termed as the confession of the sole surviving terrorist involved in the Mumbai attacks.
Pakistan President’s spokesperson Farahtullah Babar described as “premature” reports in a section of the Pakistani media which said the information handed over by India was insufficient and could not serve as the basis for action by Pakistan. The country’s minister of state for foreign affairs Malik Amad Khan and foreign secretary Salman Bashir questioned the credibility of the evidence on the Mumbai attacks provided by India.
“India has given us some material, we are examining it,” Pakistan high commissioner Shahid Malik told reporters. “There is no question of rejection or otherwise.”
Mahmud Ali Durrani, adviser to the Pakistan Prime Minister on national security, said he believed Singh’s comments were “unfortunate”. Both countries should not enter into a “blame-game” and India should let Pakistan complete its investigations into the Mumbai attacks, he added.
Analysts say Singh’s speech was at once intended for several different audiences: the Indian electorate, who will be heading to the polls in coming months and have in the past supported confrontations with Pakistan; leaders in Islamabad, which India wants to crack down on the terror network it says operates across the border; and the international community, which New Delhi hopes will help pressure Pakistan into action. “We must convince the US, the UN, the Arab countries and all international agencies concerned to force Pakistan to act. The way forward has to be economic sanctions and other diplomatic offensives,” said journalist and political commentator B.G. Verghese.
A clear diplomatic win for India will be crucial for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ahead of the elections. The country’s main opposition party, which has long argued its case that the UPA was soft on terror, was quick to react to Tuesday’s exchanges between the two countries. “The country would like to know what is the threshold of the government and how long the country would have to wait while Pakistan stands belligerent stating insufficient evidence,” said Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
Mint’s Utpal Bhaskar, Reuters’ Krittivas Mukherjee, AFP, and AP contributed?to this story.