Friday, November 28, 2008

Pakistan condemns Mumbai attack, offers cooperation

Zeeshan Haider
Reuters North American News Service

Nov 27, 2008 12:53 EST

ISLAMABAD, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Pakistan condemned on Thursday militant attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 107 people and promised full cooperation in fighting terrorism.

Relations between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have warmed in recent years and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has made moves to improve ties further.

But big militant attacks in India always fan suspicion of Pakistani involvement, either by Pakistan-based militants or even its security agents.

Pakistan bemoans what it sees as knee-jerk blame.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed militant groups based in India’s neighbours, which usually means Pakistan, for the Mumbai attacks, raising fears of renewed tension.

Zardari and his prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, deplored the attacks in separate messages earlier on Thursday.

“President Zardari stressed the need for taking strict measures to eradicate terrorism and extremism from the region,” the state-run APP news agency said. Zardari, widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, came to power after February polls that restored civilian rule.

He wants to push forward a four-year peace process with India, launched after they nearly fought a fourth war in 2002.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who arrived in India on Wednesday for a four-day visit, said he was shocked and horrified by the “barbaric” attacks in Mumbai.

Noting a spate of attacks in Pakistan, including a suicide attack on one of Islamabad’s top hotels in September, Qureshi said all civilised societies had to work to fight with terrorism.

“Pakistan offers complete support and cooperation to deal with this menace,” he said.

KASHMIR DISPUTE

The use of heavily armed “fedayeen” or suicide attackers in Mumbai bears the hallmarks of Pakistan-based militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed, blamed for a 2001 attack on India’s parliament.

Both groups are banned in Pakistan. They made their name fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir and were closely linked in the past to the Pakistani military’s Inter Services Intelligence agency, the ISI.

Lashkar-e-Taiba denied any role in the attacks, and said it had no links with any Indian group. Instead, the little-known Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility.

A militant holed up at a Jewish centre in Mumbai phoned an Indian television channel and complained about abuses in Kashmir.

Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar warned against a blame game with India.

“Nobody should blame anyone without any evidence and verification,” Mukhtar told Reuters. “We have nothing to do with these attacks. We condemn these attacks.”

The main dispute between Muslim Pakistan and mostly Hindu India is the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full but rule in part.

Pakistan for years supported militants battling Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region. It also backed the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, then military ruler Pervez Musharraf broke off support for the Taliban and reined in the Kashmiri militants.

Pakistan says it offers political support for what it sees as a freedom struggle by the Muslims of Indian-controlled Kashmir, where troops have been battling an insurgency since 1989. (Writing by Robert Birsel)

Source: Reuters North American News Service

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