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Pakistani Militants At Center Of Probe

After a wave of coordinated terrorist attacks turned parts of Mumbai's financial district into a combat zone, officials in New Delhi, India, and Islamabad, Pakistan, grapple with the political and diplomatic fallout of India's deadliest terror attack in 15 years.

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By Craig Whitlock and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 29, 2008

BERLIN, Nov. 28 -- Pakistani militant groups on Friday became the focus of the investigation into the attacks in Mumbai as India and its archrival Pakistan jousted over who was responsible. Both sides pledged to cooperate in the probe, but tensions remained high amid fears the conflict could escalate.

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Pakistan initially said Friday that it had agreed to send its spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, on an unprecedented visit to India to share and obtain information from investigators there. Later Friday, however, Pakistani officials changed their minds and decided to send a less senior intelligence official in Pasha's place, according to a Pakistani source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

It was unclear what prompted the reversal, but the Pakistani source said the Islamabad government was "already bending over backwards" to be cooperative and did not "want to create more opportunities for Pakistan-bashing." Pakistan's defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, told reporters in Islamabad, "I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents."

Meanwhile, Indian authorities ramped up their accusations that the plot had Pakistani connections. "Preliminary evidence, prima facie evidence, indicates elements with links to Pakistan are involved," Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said at a news conference in New Delhi. Other Indian officials echoed the statement, but none provided details.

Evidence collected by police in Mumbai, along with intelligence gathered by U.S. and British officials, has led investigators to concentrate their focus on Islamist militants in Pakistan who have long sought to spark a war over the disputed province of Kashmir. India and Pakistan have already fought two wars over Kashmir, the battleground between Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan that each country claimed soon after India's partition in 1947.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said additional evidence has emerged in the past 24 hours that points toward a Kashmiri connection. "Some of what has been learned so far does fall in that direction," the official said, declining to offer specifics.

"We have to be careful here," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "When you posit a Kashmiri connection, that puts Pakistan on the table. That is huge, enormous, but what does it mean? It can be anything from people who were [initially] in Pakistan, to maybe people who used to be associated with someone in the Pakistani government, to any gradation you could find."

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who has sought a rapprochement with New Delhi, rejected widespread suspicions in India that Pakistani intelligence services may have supported the Mumbai gunmen. "The germs of terrorist elements were not produced in security agencies' labs in Pakistan," he said Friday.

Analysts said Pakistan's pledge to assist in the investigation and send its spy chief to India was a sign of the high stakes involved. When armed Kashmiri militants tried to take over the Indian Parliament in December 2001, the fallout was immediate, as both countries responded with a massive military buildup along their shared border.

"A Pakistani link here would be so utterly damaging, all the way around, to Indo-Pakistani relations," said Shaun Gregory, a professor of international security at the University of Bradford in England and a specialist on Pakistan. The decision to dispatch Pasha to India, he said, "does signal a determination on Pakistan's part to clarify that even if there's a Pakistani link here, that it had nothing to do with the government."

A senior Pakistani official said the idea for Pasha's visit came during a telephone conversation Friday between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. Singh, who had previously blamed the Mumbai attacks on groups "based outside the country," offered to provide evidence to Gillani.

"One way to ensure that" was to send Pakistan's intelligence chief, the Pakistani official said. "If there is evidence, share it."


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