NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – India accused Pakistan on Monday of trying to shift blame for the Mumbai attacks and demanded it do more to dismantle militant networks, while a top U.S. commander landed in Islamabad for more talks.
As tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours simmered, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said the armed forces were fully capable of defending the country and the people would be united if war was imposed.
India and the United States have blamed Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for last month’s attacks which have provoked a sharp rise in rhetoric between the nuclear-armed neighbours who have fought three wars since 1947.
Pakistan denies any links to the assault on India’s financial heart, which killed 179 people, blaming “non-state actors”, and has promised to cooperate in investigations. However, Pakistan says India has provided no evidence for it to investigate.
“Pakistan’s response so far has demonstrated their earlier tendency to resort to a policy of denial and to seek to deflect and shift the blame and responsibility,” Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.
Mukherjee reiterated that India was keeping all its options open after the Mumbai attacks, comments the Indian media have widely interpreted to mean that a military response was still possible. Mukherjee said that was not his intent.
Amid the war of words, the Pakistani air force conducted an exercise, causing delay to two civilian flights in the eastern city of Lahore, said Muhammad Latif, a spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines.
A Pakistani air force spokesman would only say the air force had “enhanced its vigilance” in view of the situation.
Gilani said Pakistan’s desire for peaceful coexistence should not be taken as weakness. “However, if war is imposed upon us the whole nation would be united and the armed forces are fully capable of safeguarding and defending the territorial integrity,” Gilani’s office quoted him as telling Pakistan’s high commissioner to India.
On Sunday, Mukherjee said India had given Pakistan specific evidence about who was behind the Mumbai attacks, including intercepted satellite telephone conversations and an account given by the lone surviving gunman, Ajmal Amir Kasab.
A Pakistani spokesman said India had provided no evidence and the only information it was getting was through the media. “We are doing our own investigation but it can go only so far because we do not have anything from the scene of the crime, we do not have anything from India,” said Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.
The Indian foreign ministry later said it had handed a letter written by Kasab to Pakistan’s acting high commissioner in New Delhi in which Kasab said he and the nine gunmen killed in the siege were all from Pakistan.
Kasab had also asked to meet Pakistani diplomats.
Some Indian analysts said they feared the stridency of the Indian reaction might be painting Pakistan into a corner. “We should have given Pakistan more time and by making the kind of remarks we have made, we have taken away any other option. We have spoken too soon and too loosely,” New Delhi political commentator Prem Shankar Jha told Reuters.
The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, arrived in Pakistan for his second visit since the attacks for talks on “regional issues”, a U.S. embassy spokesman said.
Early this month, Mullen urged Pakistan to investigate all links to Mumbai and to broaden its campaign against militants.
Sadiq said Pakistan was doing everything possible: “We have done more than what is required by the U.N. Security Council.”
A U.N. Security Council committee this month added four Lashkar leaders to a list of people and groups facing sanctions for ties to al Qaeda or the Taliban.
LeT was set up to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and has been linked by U.S. officials and analysts to Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence military spy agency, who they say use it as a tool to destabilise India.
The U.N. sanctions also covered what the committee said was a new alias for Lashkar-e-Taiba — the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). Lashkar was banned in Pakistan in 2002.
Pakistan has detained scores of militants and shut offices and frozen the assets of the JuD which says it is an Islamic charity with no Lashkar connection.
In response to the attack, India has imposed a “pause” on a nearly five-year old peace process, that had brought better ties, and cancelled a cricket tour of Pakistan.