MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistan warned India on Thursday not to launch a strike against it and vowed to respond to any attack, a sign that the relationship between the two nuclear powers remains strained in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.
Though the South Asian rivals have engaged in tit-for-tat accusations in recent weeks, both sides have repeatedly said they hope to avoid conflict. But India has not ruled out the use of force in response to the attacks, which it blames on a Pakistan-based militant group.
“We want peace, but should not be complacent about India,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters in his hometown of Multan in central Pakistan. “We should hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since they were created in the bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent at independence from Britain in 1947.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani echoed Qureshi’s sentiments Thursday and urged the international community to pressure India to defuse the current tension. He also repeated Pakistan’s demand that India provide evidence to support its claim that the 10 gunmen who killed at least 164 people in Mumbai last month were Pakistani and had links to the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
“Whenever we receive evidence, we will examine it and investigate it, and we will share it with our people,” Gilani told reporters at the tomb of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in southern Pakistan, ahead of the first anniversary of her assassination on Dec. 27.
India has given Pakistan a letter from the lone surviving gunman involved in the attacks, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, reportedly saying he and the nine others were Pakistani. He also asked to meet with Pakistani envoys, but newspapers in Pakistan reported Thursday that the government has rejected the request because it has no record of Kasab as a Pakistani citizen.
“How can we give him consular access without having knowledge about his nationality?” Dawn newspaper quoted the head of Pakistan’s Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, as saying.
India has said it has provided Pakistan with sufficient evidence and wants the government to crack down on Lashkar and other militants operating out of Pakistan.
Pakistan has arrested several senior members of the banned group and moved against a charity that India and others say is a front for Lashkar. But many in India are skeptical Pakistan will follow through on its crack down against Lashkar, which was created in the 1980s with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence service.
Gilani said he understands Indian officials are under tremendous pressure to take action but sought to assure them that Pakistan was committed to cracking down on terrorists. “We do not want our land to be used for terrorism,” said Gilani.
At the same time, Qureshi said Pakistan’s military is “alert and vigilant” in case it needs to respond to Indian action. Pakistani fighter aircraft have flown over several of the country’s major cities in recent days, but Qureshi said the military has not mobilized its ground forces.
“India should refrain from any surgical strike,” said Qureshi. “It should not commit this mistake, but if it does, Pakistan will be compelled to respond.”
Also Thursday, police said they recovered 880 pounds (400 kilograms) of explosives and more than 500 detonators from a house in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
Police arrested 10 people inside the house during Wednesday’s raid but were still looking for the owner of the explosives, said Asghar Raza Gardaizi, Islamabad’s police chief.
Pakistani officials have expressed concern about the spread of violence in the country outside the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where al-Qaida and Taliban militants have sought sanctuary.
Militants attacked the Marriott hotel in Islamabad in September with a truck bomb, killing more than 50 people.