New Delhi: The US is expected to join India’s war against terror when US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tomorrow and offers India “all the help it wants in developing its homeland security potential”, according to a US government official who did not wish to be identified.
Meanwhile, Pakistan offered on Tuesday to help India investigate the militant assault on Mumbai and said it would “frame a response” to an Indian demand that it hand over 20 of India’s most wanted men.
Shared outrage: A 26 November photo of US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in Washington, DC. Rice arrives in New Delhi on Wednesday and is expected to go to Pakistan on Thursday. J. Scott Applewhite / AP
India has blamed Islamist militants based in Pakistan for last week’s attacks in Mumbai that killed 183 people.
Pakistan has condemned the assault, denied any involvement by state agencies and vowed to work with India in its investigation. It has rejected what it called unsubstantiated allegations of complicity.
The US official added that Rice will not only offer to upgrade equipment and technology used by Indian security forces but also a long-term, institutional relationship “between the two democracies” that also includes the training of Indian personnel.
Rice arrives in New Delhi from a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, and is likely to go on to Pakistan on Thursday, although there has been no confirmation of her Pakistan itinerary.
Rice’s visit is a manifestation of US support for Mumbai’s terror victims, the US official added, and it also sends a tough message to the Pakistani political establishment that it should do its utmost to arrest the ultimate perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage.
“Don’t forget that six US nationals have died in the Mumbai attacks and several have been injured. We have often told the Pakistanis that the killing of US citizens at the hands of the Taliban will not be tolerated. We share India’s outrage, but this is something we are doing on our own behalf as well,” the official added. He pointed out that the national debate in India, in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, was focusing on cleaning up the system just like the US had done after 9/11.
“Rice’s offer of assistance to revamp India’s homeland security is an offer to create a structural organization of government to fight terror,” the official said.
Rice’s visit, he added, would be followed up in the following few weeks by visits by other senior officials. “Her visit signals the starting point for the rolling up of the terror infrastructure in Pakistan, a message that will be constantly reiterated. India and the US are now on the same page,” he said.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, speaking in a televised address, repeated the Pakistani offer of cooperation, saying it was not the time for “blame game, taunts (and) finger-pointing”. “The government of Pakistan has offered a joint investigating mechanism and a joint commission to India. We are ready to jointly go into the depth of this issue and we are ready to compose a team that could help you,” Qureshi said.
Earlier, Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters that India was demanding the handover of about 20 fugitives it believes are in Pakistan. The demand was contained in a protest note handed to Pakistan’s ambassador in New Delhi on Monday, he said.
Mukherjee also told reporters that India was not considering military action in response to the Mumbai attacks.
Qureshi did not refer to the Indian list of fugitives but information minister Sherry Rehman told reporters the government would respond: “We have to look at it formally once we get it and we will frame a response.”
US’ bipartisan support on the Mumbai terror attacks was also evident Tuesday evening when senators John McCain, a Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat, stopped over at New Delhi, en route from Iraq to Bangladesh.
In meetings with Rice tomorrow, the government is likely to emphasize that its “restraint should not be mistaken for passivity”, an Indian government official who did not want to be identified said.
The US’ message to New Delhi, two Western diplomats who declined to be identified said, was that “while the terror attacks in Mumbai were terrible, both countries (India and Pakistan) were also victims of terror, and that unless they cooperated, it would give terrorists the easy opportunity to drive a wedge between them”.
The message to Pakistan, on the other hand, was that “the world is watching your responses with interest and it is important you cooperate with India”.
Reuters contributed to this story.