By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 1 -- With tensions rising between India and Pakistan after the deadly attacks in Mumbai last week, the United States on Monday increased pressure on Pakistan to cooperate in the investigation, while Indian officials lodged a formal diplomatic protest with their South Asian neighbor, demanding strong action against those behind the assault.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration is urging Pakistan's government to "follow the evidence wherever it leads," saying transparency is crucial to the investigation into the three-day siege that left at least 174 dead and nearly 300 wounded in the Indian mega-city of Mumbai. Rice, who is expected to travel to India to meet with leaders there Wednesday, said during a visit to London on Monday that the deaths of six Americans in the Mumbai attacks had heightened the U.S. stake in the outcome of the inquiry.
Rice's comments came as officials in the Indian capital, New Delhi, demanded that Pakistan take "strong action" against those who organized the assaults. Vishnu Prakash, spokesman for the Indian foreign ministry, said Pakistan's lead envoy in New Delhi had been summoned and told that "elements from Pakistan" were behind the coordinated attacks on 10 sites in Mumbai.
Other Indian officials have pointed the finger at the Pakistan-based guerrilla group Lashkar-i-Taiba. India has said the lone gunman captured in the attacks admitted to membership in Lashkar, which has origins in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria said gunman Azam Amir Kasab told investigators that he trained at a camp in Pakistan. Pakistan has rejected the claim, while Lashkar operatives have denied responsibility for the assaults.
U.S. officials on Monday largely corroborated India's assertions, with one counterterrorism official saying intelligence information showed that preparations for the attacks "were done within Pakistan." But U.S. officials also said they are convinced of the sincerity of the Pakistani government's insistence that it had no role in the assaults.
American diplomats were working Monday to dissuade India from lashing out at Pakistan or at insurgent groups based there, worried that such a strike might further inflame tensions and lead to violence. In response to a question about India at a news conference, President-elect Barack Obama reaffirmed that "sovereign nations, obviously, have a right to protect themselves." But he called for patience, saying it is "important for us to let the investigators do their jobs and make a determination in terms of who was responsible for carrying out these heinous acts."
Pakistan has said that it is willing to assist India with the investigation. But a senior Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, said the rising Indian backlash against Pakistan could derail an offer last week to send a senior official with the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) to aid India in the investigation.
"What has come back has been so negative that politically it would be very difficult -- for the National Assembly, for the military, for the Pakistani people -- to send someone," the official said. "The mood has changed so much from the first day of the attacks. We were sending our condolences, offering our cooperation, but now this backlash has made it hard for all of us."
Regional analysts and Pakistani officials say any successful collaboration between the two nuclear-armed rivals will depend as much on the Pakistani government's sway over its powerful intelligence agencies as it will on diplomatic signals from Washington and New Delhi.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, the ISI played a key role in organizing and arming militant groups such as Lashkar. Although Pakistan's government has officially banned Lashkar, military analysts say there is reason to think that elements within the ISI retain links to the group as well as to other extremist organizations, including the Taliban.
Pakistan's civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, has tried several times in recent months to bring the at-times rogue intelligence services under greater government control. Over the summer, there was an attempt to make the ISI answer to the Interior Ministry, where a key Zardari ally is in charge. That move failed. But in September, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha was named to replace Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj as head of the ISI amid suspicions in Washington that Taj supported Islamist extremists. And last month, the ISI, under government pressure, disbanded its long-feared political wing, which focused primarily on spying on Pakistani political figures.
U.S. officials have hailed Pasha's appointment as a step in the right direction, while experts say the Pakistani intelligence community as a whole has appeared in recent months less inclined to support extremist elements.
"There is no sign of confrontation between the ISI, the military and the government," said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based research organization. "Overall the institution is working with the government's agenda. But it's important to keep in mind that there might be a few members of the intelligence services that will resist this kind of change."
Yet some Pakistani defense experts said there are still indications that the ISI is not entirely under the government's command. "There is a communication gap between the civilian government and the military," said Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani defense analyst. "Just because the faces have changed doesn't mean you control the whole machine."
India has been carrying out its own reshuffling of top officials amid widespread anger over perceived intelligence lapses and poor response times during last week's attacks. India's home minister resigned over the weekend, and there were more resignations Monday, including that of Vilasrao Deshmukh, the top official in Maharashtra state, which includes Mumbai.
India's newly appointed home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, vowed Monday to take action to ward off future attacks. "I want to assure the people on behalf of the government that we will respond with determination and resolve to the grave threat posed to the Indian nation," he told reporters. "I recognize that there is a sense of anguish and deep shock among the people of India. This is a threat to the very idea of India, very soul of India."
Staff writers Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung in Washington and correspondents Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi and Emily Wax in Mumbai contributed to this report.