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Pakistan Rejects Indian Accusations, Plays Down Tension

By Pamela Constable and Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 8, 2009

KABUL, Jan. 7 -- During a visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan's foreign minister on Wednesday strongly rejected accusations by India that Pakistani government agencies had played a role in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November, insisting that his government wants to "get to the bottom" of the incident and hopes for cooperation with India, not "finger-pointing."

At the same time, Pakistan's powerful intelligence chief said in a rare public interview from Islamabad that his government has no desire to fight a war with India, Pakistan's larger neighbor and longtime rival, and that he views terrorism as the "real enemy" of his country.

But in a sign of the deep fissures within Pakistan's government over the Mumbai attacks, the country's national security adviser was fired in Islamabad on Wednesday after publicly acknowledging that the lone surviving gunman appeared to be a Pakistani citizen, an allegation previously denied by Pakistani authorities.

In an interview with CNN, Mahmud Ali Durrani said there appeared to be proof that all 10 gunmen had Pakistani roots. Officials from the Foreign and Information ministries confirmed that assertion, but the Foreign Ministry later retracted its statement, and within hours, government officials and national TV channels reported that Durrani, a former intelligence chief, had been dismissed by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani.

On Tuesday, senior Indian officials all but accused Pakistani government agencies of having a hand in the three-day siege in India's financial capital that left more than 170 people dead. Indian authorities have blamed the attacks on a banned Islamist group based in Pakistan.

The contradictory statements came during a first-ever trip by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to Afghanistan, where he and President Hamid Karzai agreed to jointly combat regional terrorism and appeared eager to mend fences after years of hostility between officials in Kabul and the previous government in Islamabad.

"This is a watershed in our bilateral relations, a long journey that has overcome hurdles and suspicions," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told journalists here Wednesday. "There has been a dramatic change since a democratic government took office in Pakistan. There is a new trust and a new environment."

In a separate visit to Kabul on Wednesday after a brief stop in Pakistan, the senior State Department official for South Asia hailed the new relationship between Zardari and Karzai, saying both presidents have shown a "strong determination to fight terrorism, supported by the United States."

Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher did not discuss the allegation that Pakistani government agencies were involved in the Mumbai attacks. But he told journalists here that whether terrorists attack Mumbai or Islamabad, "these people are all a threat to Pakistan."

Pakistani and U.S. officials appeared to be trying to decrease the tensions that have developed between India and Pakistan since the attacks, raising the specter of renewed military conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors. They also sought to reinforce Pakistan's emerging positive relations with Afghanistan, another neighbor with whom it shares a long border and a challenge from Islamist extremists.

Neither Qureshi nor Boucher spoke about the new evidence that India says it has found -- and delivered to Pakistani authorities -- linking Pakistan to the Mumbai assault. Qureshi said he was "disappointed" that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made such an accusation, and he noted that on the day the Mumbai siege began, he had been in New Delhi trying to improve bilateral relations.

"Suddenly, as I returned to my hotel, Mumbai took place," he said. "I did not allow this to obstruct my vision, but unfortunately, some Indian politicians succumbed and became obsessed by it." Qureshi said he had offered "from Day One" to cooperate in the investigation into the attacks and that Pakistan's only desire was to "bring the perpetrators to justice."

Indian authorities and international experts have expressed the suspicion that the good intentions of Pakistan's civilian leaders are not necessarily shared by its military and intelligence establishments, which were forged in a decades-long rivalry with India and have sponsored armed Islamist groups in Indian Kashmir and in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet conflict there.

But Qureshi and Pakistan's intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, said Wednesday that the country's security forces are subservient to civilian authority and committed to supporting democratic rule. "It is completely clear to the army chief and I that this government must succeed," Pasha said of Zardari's administration. "I report regularly to the president and take orders from him."

Pasha also ruled out the possibility of going to war with India, telling the online edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that Pakistan is "distancing itself" from such conflict and that "we know full well that terror is our enemy, not India." He acknowledged, however, that although he had been willing to travel to India after the Mumbai attacks, some senior officials were "simply not ready" to make such a gesture to Pakistan's longtime adversary.

Qureshi, asked here whether his government was in control of the military and intelligence sectors, asserted vehemently that it was.

"Pakistan's political and military leadership is one," he said. "When the military leadership speaks, you can take it for granted they are speaking for the civilian leaders, and when the political leadership speaks, the military is behind it."

Rondeaux reported from a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

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