United States and Britain are urging India and Pakistan to act with
restraint and do nothing that could set back the recent thaw in their
relations in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks. But a direct public
accusation by India yesterday that the perpetrators were linked to
Pakistan risked rekindling tensions.
With signs of a growing
rapprochement between the nuclear-armed neighbours linked to hopes for
a more effective US and Nato-led military effort against al-Qaida and
the Taliban in Afghanistan, the stakes for the south Asian region could
hardly be higher, diplomats and analysts said.
"We are privately encouraging them not to do anything that could derail this process," a senior British official said.
Rice, the US secretary of state, is to discuss the crisis with foreign
secretary David Miliband in London before a Nato ministerial meeting on
Whether by chance or design - some experts believe it was
a goal of the terrorists - the Mumbai attacks came days after Ali Asif
Zardari, the Pakistani president, made striking overtures: to withdraw
his country's first-strike nuclear threat, sign the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty, create an EU-style economic zone with India
and allow visa-free travel.
Illustrating this progress,
Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, had just finished
talks in Delhi with his Indian counterpart on terrorism, trade and
visas when the terrorists struck.
But the fragility of the
rapprochement was underlined too when Manmohan Singh, India's prime
minister, said the attacks were probably masterminded by a group based
in an unnamed "neighbouring country" - usually code for Pakistan.
foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, went further yesterday by saying
that "initial evidence" showed "elements with links to Pakistan are
International alarm at this finger-pointing was
tempered by relief that Pakistan is behaving so helpfully. Zardari
condemned the attacks and agreed yesterday to send the head of the
powerful ISI intelligence agency, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shujaa
Pasha, to India to review evidence on the Mumbai atrocities.
said this suggested the Pakistan military was confident that no direct
links will be revealed by India. Pakistan is keen to avoid a repeat of
the near-war situation following the assault on the Indian parliament
in December 2001.
But there were hints that the Pakistani
authorities might acknowledge the existence of indirect links with
terrorist groups: when Zardari telephoned Singh yesterday to again
condemn the attacks, he said that "non-state actors" were responsible.
"Non-state actors wanted to force upon the governments their own agenda
but they must not be allowed to succeed," Zardari's office cited him as
"Do not play politics into this issue," Qureshi warned.
"This is a collective issue. We are facing a common enemy. We have to
join hands to defeat this enemy."
The US state department said
it, like Britain, was sending investigators to Mumbai to help the
Indian authorities.The wider US concern, however, is about what one
diplomat predicted could be "significant deterioration" in the process
of Indo-Pakistani reconciliation. That has been boosted since Zardari,
widower of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto, replaced Pervez Musharaf to
become Pakistan's first civilian president since 1999.
Obama, the US president-elect, has signalled that this will be a
priority for him and for General David Petraeus, head of US central
command. The aim is to persuade Pakistan to pay less attention to India
and more to the al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the border tribal
On a visit to Afghanistan in July, Obama highlighted the
regional aspect of the fight against the Taliban in that country and,
increasingly, inside Pakistan. "A lot of what drives motivations on the
Pakistan side of the border still has to do with their concerns and
suspicions about India," he said. Pakistan continues to station the
larger part of its army not on the Afghan border but along the line of
control in Kashmir.
The two countries have fought three wars
since independence in 1947 and nearly did so again in 2002 after the
attack on India's parliament. Pakistan for years supported militants
battling Indian forces in Kashmir but reined them in after the 9/11
attacks on the US. While seeking Pakistani cooperation in the "war on
terror," the Bush administration also drew closer to India.