Indian minister denies calling Pakistani president
By SAM DOLNICK,Associated Press Writer AP - 1 hour 56 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 Sunday that he was involved.
The circumstances surrounding the call are unclear but it underscores 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."
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.
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," Rice said.
She declined to comment on a report that the United States had asked Islamabad to arrest and turn over the former head of Pakistani intelligence.
Pakistan's ambassador to London, Wajid Hassan, said Saturday that he had "circumstantial evidence" that India's military had been preparing to attack Pakistan, and that he warned his government and British officials about it.
Hassan declined to identify who tipped him off, on the same night Zardari received the call, saying, "I am satisfied that they were credible, and they were rather in a panic to inform me that something drastic is happening."
Meanwhile, uncertainty surrounded India's investigation into the attacks, with security officials demanding the release of a suspect arrested Friday, saying he was a counterinsurgency police officer who may have been on an undercover mission.
Senior police officers in Indian Kashmir, which has been at the heart of tensions between India and Pakistan, demanded the release of the arrested officer, Mukhtar Ahmed, saying he was one of their own and had been involved in infiltrating Kashmiri militant groups.
Police in the eastern city of Calcutta, where the arrests were announced, denied the claims from Srinagar. The disagreement added to the growing list of problems among India's ill-trained security forces, which are widely blamed for not thwarting the attacks.
India is also holding the lone surviving gunman, 21-year-old Mohammed Ajmal Kasab.
Based on Kasab's interrogation, Indian authorities believe Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has links to the disputed Kashmir region, trained the gunmen and masterminded the attacks across India's financial capital.
About a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting in Kashmir since 1989, seeking independence from mainly Hindu India or a union with Muslim-majority Pakistan.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region, which is divided between them and claimed by both.
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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