ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – 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.
India has blamed Islamist militants based in Pakistan for last week’s attacks in India’s financial capital 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.
Tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours over the attacks has led to fears of renewed confrontation after Pakistan’s civilian government had been trying to push forward a tentative peace process.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, speaking in a televised address, repeated a Pakistani offer of cooperation, saying it was not the time for a “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. “Pakistan wants good relations with India,” he said.
Earlier, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters 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 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.”
The tension with India comes as Pakistan’s civilian government, elected this year, is struggling with an economic crisis and its own campaign against militant violence.
Despite the tension with India, the Pakistani rupee firmed slightly, buoyed by the arrival last week of the first tranche of a $7.6 billion loan, dealers said.
As tension with India has grown, Pakistan has been trying to drum up international support and forge unity at home. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani met politicians in a national security conference on Tuesday to build a consensus.
Indian media reported the men on the list included Dawood Ibrahim, a Mumbai underworld don, and Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani Muslim cleric freed from jail in India in exchange for passengers on a hijacked plane.
The demand for the handover of about 20 fugitives was originally made in the wake of a December 2001 attack on India’s parliament that India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
Pakistan said at the time it wanted to see evidence. Then Pakistani president and army chief Pervez Musharraf said he would never extradite Pakistani citizens to India but he did not rule out sending back Indian nationals.
The 2001 attack on India’s parliament nearly set off the fourth war between the two countries since Pakistan was carved from India in 1947 at the time of independence from Britain.
Pakistan has warned that if tension with India escalates, it would have to move troops from its Afghan border — where it is battling al Qaeda and Taliban fighters responsible for violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan — to the Indian border.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will visit India on Wednesday, has played down the threat of conflict.
Pakistan’s the News newspaper said Rice was also due to visit Pakistan after India. A U.S. embassy spokesman said he was not aware of any plan by Rice to come to Pakistan.