ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown blamed banned Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for last month’s deadly Mumbai attacks as tension between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan simmered on Sunday.
Pakistan said on Saturday Indian warplanes had inadvertently violated its airspace, but New Delhi later denied the incident and accused Islamabad of trying to divert attention.
In talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi and later with Pakistan’s Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad, Brown offered both countries help in tightening security and combatting terrorism.
In Islamabad, Brown proposed a new British-Pakistan “pact against terror”, saying “three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots investigated by the British authorities have links to al Qaeda in Pakistan”.
“The time has come for action, not words,” he said.
Brown also said he had asked Singh and Zardari for permission for British police to question suspects arrested in both countries in connection with last month’s Mumbai attacks.
India, backed by the United States, has called on Pakistan to crack down on Pakistan-based militant groups after the attacks, in which 179 people were killed during a three-day siege in India’s financial heart.
It blames Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a militant group it says was set up by Pakistan to fight Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region, for the Mumbai attacks.
“The group responsible for the attacks is LeT and they have a great deal to answer for, and I hope to convey some of the views of the Indian prime minister to the president of Pakistan when I meet him,” Brown told reporters in India’s capital.
Islamabad has blamed “non-state actors” for the attacks and has vowed to cooperate with investigations, but has also repeatedly said anyone caught in Pakistan would be tried in Pakistan.
Singh later said India wanted good relations with Pakistan but again urged Islamabad to do more to stamp out militant groups operating on its soil.
“We want to normalise our relations with Pakistan,” Singh told people at an election in the Kashmiri town of Khandroo. “There are some people in Pakistan who are always trying to launch such bloody attacks.”
Analysts say retaliatory strikes or other military action by India remain very unlikely, as New Delhi believes they would be counterproductive by strengthening the hands of hawks and extremists in Pakistan.
Pakistan has rounded up some of the 40 people India has demanded should be extradited but says that New Delhi has not provided evidence of links to the Mumbai attacks. Lashkar has denied involvement.
Brown said he had asked Singh if he would allow British police, “if they chose to do so”, to interview the lone surviving gunman held after the attacks, identified as Mohammad Ajmal Kasab. He said he had asked Zardari if the British police could interview suspects held in Pakistan in connection with the case.
“I think we all have an interest in discovering what lay behind the Mumbai outrages,” he said.
A British national and two people with dual British-Indian nationality were killed in Mumbai.
British government sources said British detectives were seeking more information on how Lashkar worked or information they could cross-reference with other intelligence, rather than any intention to launch a separate prosecution.
Brown said Britain would expand its counter-terrorism assistance programme to Pakistan, offering help with bomb disposal, bomb scanning equipment and airport security. He also announced Britain would fund a six million pound programme to tackle the causes of radicalisation, using educational materials. “Through these measures we help to do more to break the chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of the UK,” he said. He said Zardari had assured him he would take further action to clamp down on militants suspected of involvement with the Mumbai attacks.
Brown also offered India help with forensic investigation, stepping up airport security and offered to cooperate on dealing with security at major sporting events. India hosts the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and London holds the Olympics in 2012.
A British government source said Brown would pass on a number of messages from Singh to Zardari, but declined to give details.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars and went to the brink of a fourth in 2002 after an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 that New Delhi blamed on militants based in Pakistan.
In accusing Indian warplanes of entering its airspace, Pakistan said on Saturday there was no cause for alarm about an escalation of tensions between the uneasy neighbours.
An Indian air force spokesman on Sunday denied the claim but Pakistan stood by the accusation. Pakistan’s air force said two violations happened. One in the Kashmir area and the other around Lahore in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Zardari played down the incidents saying the Indian aircraft had “slightly entered” over Pakistani territory while turning at high altitude.
Pakistan shot down two Indian planes which it said had gone into its airspace during the 1999 Kargil conflict, fought on the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan both claim in full but rule in parts.