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India puts pressure on Pakistan, stays alert

India puts pressure on Pakistan, stays alert

New Delhi: India on Monday sought to use the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces in Pakistan as another diplomatic opportunity to exert pressure on its neighbour to eliminate safe havens used by terror groups hostile to it.

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It believes that the terror threat to the country, especially from groups based out of Pakistan, will not abate with the killing of Osama.

“(We) hope that it will deal a decisive blow to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The international community and Pakistan, in particular, must work comprehensively to end the activities of all such groups, who threaten civilized behaviour and kill innocent men, women and children," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a press statement.

At the same time, the government struck a cautious note and put its law enforcement agencies on high alert against possible backlash after the killing of the Al Qaeda ideologue. Al Qaeda has not been directly involved in any of the attacks against India, but senior intelligence officials said it has inspired terror strikes in the country.

Intelligence reports recently claimed that Al Qaeda and another banned terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba tried to target the Commonwealth Games last year and the recently concluded cricket World Cup.

“All security apparatus have been asked to remain vigilant in the backdrop of Osama’s death," said a senior government official on condition of anonymity.

The Indian government has also increased security at all buildings housing US government offices and Jewish centres in the country.

According to senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, there were two instances of Al Qaeda’s direct operations in India. The first was between February and April 2007, when a 10-member team of Al Qaeda surveyed Bangalore, Mumbai and Goa. This came to light only after they were caught in Algeria. A year later, a group of students from Saudi Arabia formed the Islamic Students Congregation in Pune, where Osama’s speeches and teachings were preached by a visiting Sudanese national, who was suspected to be with Al Qaeda.

S.D. Pradhan, who was then the chairman joint intelligence committee under the Prime Minister’s Office, independently confirmed both.

Meanwhile, home minister P. Chidambaram reiterated India’s stand that Pakistan was a safe sanctuary for terrorists and said that the perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks should be brought to book.

“We believe that the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks, including the controllers and handlers of the terrorists who actually carried out the attacks, continue to be sheltered in Pakistan. We once again call upon the government of Pakistan to arrest the persons whose names have been handed over to the interior minister of Pakistan, as well as provide voice samples of certain persons who are suspected to be among the controllers and handlers of the terrorists (involved in Mumbai attacks)," he added.

Pakistan is yet to take concrete action against the accused.

External affairs minister S.M. Krishna and defence minister A.K. Antony echoed similar sentiments.

The strong message delivered by the government, comes within a week after the two countries agreed on an ambitious agenda to deepen trade ties as a confidence-building measure.

India had suspended peace talks with Pakistan after the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008.

Lalit Mansingh, former Indian foreign secretary, said Osama’s death could polarize sentiments in Pakistan. “This uncertainty could impede dialogue between India and Pakistan. The ball is now in Pakistan’s court," he said.

Appu Esthose Suresh and Anuja contributed to this story.

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