India accuses Pakistan of 'dodging blame' over Mumbai attacks

 

India's foreign minister accused Pakistan today of trying to dodge blame over the Mumbai attacks' Pakistani origins by leaking a story about a hoax call to Pakistan's president that set off diplomatic panic.

Pakistan's Dawnnewspaper reported yesterday that Pakistan had put its forces on high alert after a caller pretending to be Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee threatened president Asif Ali Zardari while the attacks were still going on.

"I can only ascribe this series of events to those in Pakistan who wish to divert attention from the fact that a terrorist group, operating from the Pakistani territory, planned and launched a ghastly attack on Mumbai," Mr Mukherjee said in a statement released today.

Pakistan insisted the call came from an official and verified phone number in India's foreign ministry.

New Delhi has demanded Islamabad take swift action over what it says is the latest anti-India militant attack emanating from Pakistani soil.

At least 171 people were killed during the three-day assault last week across India's financial capital, which has imperilled the improving ties between the south Asian nuclear rivals.

Officials from "third countries" called to inform Mr Mukherjee of the hoax call, he said. He did not name them, but Dawnsaid the caller was a worried US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in both capitals last week to ease tensions.

"It is, however, worrying that a neighbouring state might even consider acting on the basis of such a hoax call," he said.

Mumbai police have said the gunmen were controlled by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group blamed for earlier attacks including a 2001 assault on India's parliament that nearly sparked a fourth war between India and Pakistan.

LeT was formed with the help of Pakistan's intelligence agencies to fight Indian rule in Kashmir, but analysts say it is now part of a global jihadi network sympathetic to al Qaeda and may have direct ties with the al Qaeda network.

In Mumbai, hundreds of Muslims wearing black ribbons held silent vigils outside some of the attack sites. They carried placards with messages like: "Enemies of our motherland are our enemies" or "Killers of the innocent are enemies of Islam."

Last week, Muslim clerics refused to give burial rites to the nine dead gunmen. Most of India's 1.1 billion people are Hindus, but about 13 per cent are Muslims. Muslims and Hindus have clashed in the past, spurred by hardliners on either side.

India's main opposition party capitalised on public anger at the authorities' failure to prevent the 60-hour Mumbai rampage. Elections are due by May 2009.

Reuters