Pakistan Says Indian Fighter Jets Breached Its Airspace

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 14, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 14 -- Pakistan said Indian fighter jets crossed into its airspace Saturday, prompting Pakistan to place its air force on high alert two weeks after India vowed to take strong action against its nuclear-armed rival in the wake of deadly attacks in Mumbai.

Pakistan's minister of information, Sherry Rehman, said the Indian jets had "inadvertently" strayed into Pakistani airspace. Rehman said that Pakistani officials had been in contact with the Indian air force and that it had confirmed the breach.

"The Pakistani air force has made a routine response, and our forces are alert," Rehman said. "There is no need for undue alarm."

Commodore Humayun Viqar, a spokesman for Pakistan's air force, said Pakistani fighter jets were scrambled in response to the breaches near the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir and the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. Viqar said Pakistan's air force would remain on alert to "thwart any aggression" from India.

Pakistani air force officials said the incidents appeared to have occurred around midday Saturday near two areas where the militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba is thought to have planned the attacks that killed more than 170 people and injured at least 230 in Mumbai last month.

A spokesman for the Indian air force, Wing Cmdr. Mahesh Upasni, said Sunday that the "Indian air force has denied that there's been any airspace violation in its path."

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the British partitioned the subcontinent in 1947.

Enmity between the two countries deepened after India conducted its first nuclear bomb test in 1974. In May 1998, India conducted underground nuclear tests near its border with Pakistan. In response, Pakistan conducted six tests that year in the southern province of Baluchistan and tested its first long-range missile.

The escalation in the arms race drew sharp condemnation from the West, prompting the United States to cut off billions in aid under stiff sanctions against both countries.

India and Pakistan began a peace process in 2004, but tensions have remained high since July, when a suicide bomber targeted the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing 58 people, including the Indian defense attache to Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence officials later said there was evidence that Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, had sponsored the attack. Pakistan's government denied involvement.

After the Mumbai attacks, India accused the ISI of aiding and training the 10 alleged Lashkar gunmen who struck two luxury hotels, a train station, a Jewish cultural center and other sites in a three-day siege of India's financial capital. Indian officials have said that interrogations of the gunman captured during the attacks have revealed links between the gunmen and Lashkar operational commanders based in Pakistan. Pakistan has repeatedly denied any ISI involvement in the attacks.

India demanded that Pakistan arrest and extradite at least three top Lashkar leaders, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of the alleged masterminds of the Mumbai attacks, and Lashkar founder Hafiz Sayeed. Lakhvi was arrested in a raid last Sunday on a camp run by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group long said to be a front for Lashkar.

On Thursday, Pakistani authorities placed Sayeed under house arrest after closing down dozens of Jamaat-ud-Dawa offices.

Correspondent Emily Wax in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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