Indian minister denies calling Pakistani president
By SAM DOLNICK,Associated Press Writer AP - 1 hour 51 minutes ago
NEW DELHI - Pakistani authorities put the air force on high alert after their president received a "threatening" late-night call they said came straight from the Indian government as gunmen rampaged across Mumbai. India dismissed the call as a hoax and its foreign minister flatly denied that he was involved.
The circumstances surrounding the call are unclear but underscore the high tensions and deep mistrust between the nuclear-armed rivals, which have fought three wars against each other.
Indian authorities believe a banned Pakistani-based militant group trained the gunmen and plotted the Mumbai siege that left 171 people dead. India has demanded Pakistan take action against the group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, but Pakistani authorities have asked India for clear evidence first.
If the phone call to President Asif Ali Zardari came from India's foreign ministry, as senior Pakistani officials claim, it would be another tense episode in one of the world's most volatile relationships.
In 2001, after suspected Pakistani militants attacked India's parliament, both countries rushed troops to the disputed Kashmir region in preparations for a fourth war. Tensions cooled, and relations have improved since peace talks began in 2004, but enmity has remained.
There have been no known major troop movements since the three-day Mumbai siege ended Nov. 29, but India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said India will "act decisively ... with all the means at our disposal."
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told ABC's "This Week" that India had a right to make an "effective response" to the attacks, but stressed New Delhi should not do anything that could cause a crisis in the region.
"We don't need something that will set off unintended consequences and a more difficult situation," she said.
A senior Pakistani diplomat said Saturday that he had "circumstantial evidence" that India's military had been preparing to attack Pakistan.
Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman said a "threatening" call to Zardari on Nov. 28, when the attacks were still under way, definitely came from India's External Affairs Ministry. She did not explicitly say the call was from Mukherjee, but two other government officials said it was him. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Mukherjee flatly denied that Sunday, saying, "I had made no such telephone call."
It was "worrying that a neighboring state might even consider acting on the basis of such a hoax call," he said in a statement.
"I can only ascribe this series of events to those in Pakistan who wish to divert attention from the fact of an attack on India from Pakistani territory by elements in Pakistan," Mukherjee said.
The statement said India found out about the call from another country _ apparently from the United States, which has been seeking to lower tensions in the region _ and had sent messages to Pakistan saying that no such call was made.
The call was reported in the Pakistani media as a hoax, and one newspaper said Indian officials believed the caller ID could have been manipulated to make it look like a New Delhi number.
Pakistan has said it is prepared to cooperate with India if authorities prove the attacks came from Pakistani soil. It has denied any of its state agencies were involved, noting it too is a victim of terrorism, and pointed to "non-state actors."
Rice said she has pressed Pakistan to hold accountable anyone behind the attacks who is living in the country.
"I did say to the Pakistanis that the argument that these are non-state actors is not acceptable," Rice told ABC. "In fact, non-state actors acting from your territory is still your responsibility."
Meanwhile, uncertainty surrounded India's investigation into the attacks, with security officials in Indian Kashmir demanding the release of a suspect arrested Friday, saying he was a counterinsurgency police officer who may have been on an undercover mission.
India is also holding the lone surviving gunman, 21-year-old Mohammed Ajmal Kasab.
Associated Press writers Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, Ashok Sharma and Gavin Rabinowitz in New Delhi, Manik Banerjee in Calcutta and Raphael G. Satter in London contributed to this report.
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