By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 15, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 14 -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised Sunday to provide Pakistan with more information about Pakistani links to the Mumbai attacks late last month, saying that Britain will also work to enhance Pakistan's counterterrorism capabilities.
Brown met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari here after meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. Brown's trip was one in a recent series to Islamabad by Western officials aimed at reducing tensions between India and Pakistan after the attacks on India's financial capital that killed more than 170 people. Brown, who also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the weekend, said Britain will work with Pakistan's civilian government to eliminate terrorist havens in the region.
"I hope to break the chain of terror that links the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan to the streets of Britain and other countries around the world," Brown said.
Authorities in Britain have long been concerned about possible links between extremists within its sizable Pakistani population and terrorist groups based in Pakistan, including al-Qaeda.
"Three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots investigated by the British authorities have links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan," Brown said.
Brown said he had offered Zardari help in improving Pakistan's bomb disposal and detection capabilities, scanning technology and airport security. He also said that British police agencies will step up cooperation with their Pakistani counterparts and that Britain will give Pakistan $8.9 million to help curb the growth of Islamist extremism in the country.
Brown said he had asked India to allow British police, "if they chose to do so," to interview the only surviving gunman held after the Mumbai attacks, identified as Ajmal Amir Kasab.
Kasab wrote a three-page letter to the Pakistan High Commission asking for legal assistance that is available for all citizens, Rakesh Maria, Mumbai's joint police commissioner, told reporters there Sunday. Kasab's letter, written in Urdu, is being sent to the high commission through India's External Affairs Ministry, Maria said.
Brown's visit occurred only hours after Pakistani officials announced that Indian fighter jets had breached Pakistani airspace. A Pakistani official said Indian jets had crossed about two miles into Pakistan near the city of Muzaffarabad in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. About two hours later, Indian warplanes are said to have flown over the border near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.
Pakistan said it scrambled its warplanes in response and forced the Indian jets back into Indian airspace.
But Zardari, in a news conference with Brown on Sunday, played down the incident, saying it was little more than a "technical incursion."
Indian officials have denied that their jet fighters violated Pakistani airspace.
The jet fighter incident comes four days after Pakistan staged a sweeping crackdown against the group Lashkar-i-Taiba and arrested several Pakistani men identified by India as masterminds of the Mumbai attacks. At least 80 members of an alleged front group for Lashkar were arrested in the raids, including Lashkar founder Hafiz Sayeed.
After his meeting with Brown on Sunday, Singh said he wants "normalized" relations with Pakistan even as tensions have risen between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Speaking at an election rally in Indian-held Kashmir -- a flash point of much of the tension -- the Indian prime minister added that normalization of relations cannot happen until "our neighbor stops allowing its territory to be used for acts of terrorism against India."
"There are always some people in Pakistan who are always trying to launch such bloody attacks," Singh said.
Zardari and his eight-month-old government have struggled since the attacks to strike a balance between cooperating with Indian demands to investigate and arrest Pakistani nationals implicated in the terrorist plot, and mollifying a public suspicious of India and deeply divided over the role of Islamist groups. He has repeatedly denied Indian assertions that the 10 gunmen who struck two luxury hotels, a train station, a Jewish cultural center and other sites were trained with the help of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.
Zardari has, nonetheless, faced mounting pressure to cooperate with India in the investigation amid reports that telephone intercepts by the United States, and possibly Britain, showed that the Mumbai gunmen were apparently in frequent touch with their commanders in Pakistan during the three-day siege.
Zardari said Sunday that Pakistan had mounted its own investigation into Lashkar and its alleged front group, Jamaat-ud-Dawa. But he repeated a call for India to share its evidence with Pakistani investigators. "With the Indian side investigating and the incident having happened there -- to say that we could come out with proof earlier than they can would be asking for a little much from us," Zardari said. "We are investigating. We are using all possible assistance from the international community."
Correspondent Emily Wax in New Delhi contributed to this report.