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Rice In India In Effort To Ease South Asia Tensions

  • Ron Synovitz

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in New Delhi.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in New Delhi.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in New Delhi for talks aimed at defusing tensions between Pakistan and India over last week's terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Speaking after talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Rice said her top priority is to improve cooperation and intelligence sharing to prevent similar terrorist attacks in the future.

"Any work that I hope to do with Indian officials is to talk about what we can contribute in terms of knowing how to use information, how to use leads toward prevention," she said. "That now has to be [the] No. 1 [priority]. Yes, these people have to be brought to justice for the terrible things they did. But No. 1 has to be to try to prevent another attack."

Although New Delhi says there is no evidence directly linking Pakistan's eight-month-old civilian government to the Mumbai attacks, Indian officials have accused "elements in Pakistan" of being behind the violence that killed at least 171 people.

Indian officials say the one gunman captured alive in Mumbai has told investigators that he belonged to the Lashkar-e Taiba Islamist militant group. They say the captured gunman confessed that he and other attackers had received training in Pakistan from ex-Pakistani Army officers -- some for up to 18 months -- and had set out by boat from the Pakistani port of Karachi.

Refused Handover

India is demanding that Pakistan take action against those responsible and has asked for the handover of 20 suspected terrorists thought to be living in Pakistan.

But although Pakistan's President Asif Zardari has said he would examine evidence against those suspects, he has refused to hand them over to India, saying they should be dealt with under Pakistani law.

It was amid these accusations from India -- and concerns that Pakistan may shift troops away from the fight against Islamic militants in its tribal regions near the Afghan border -- that Rice cut short a visit to Europe in order to fly to New Delhi.

Meanwhile, with Rice in the Indian capital, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived in Islamabad as another part of Washington's diplomatic effort to defuse tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Admiral Mike Mullen was meeting with Pakistan's civilian government as well as senior military officials.

Rice says Pakistan's government has promised "unequivocally" to cooperate with investigators from India and a team of U.S. investigators that already has arrived in India.

Rice also welcomed promises from Zardari to follow the leads that investigators turn up. But she refused to comment on Zardari's refusal to hand over terrorist suspects to India.

"I should refrain from speculation about what the Pakistani government might do in response to specific requests [from India], because what has to happen here is that there has to be a real sense of transparency, a real sense of action, a real sense of urgency," Rice said.

The U.S. investigators in India have already begun to work with Indian officials to see what can be determined about the identities of the militants and origins of their attack plan.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters it is critical that Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan all cooperate with the United States in that investigation.

"Pakistan is on the front lines of terrorism, as India is, as Afghanistan is. And the Pakistanis understand the threat," Wood said. "And what we need to do is to ratchet up our cooperation. We need Pakistan first and foremost to be a part of this investigation of the attacks; as I said, follow any lead no matter where it goes; and to work with the international community."

Security Complaints

India has complained for years that Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act against anti-India militant groups on its soil.

The Mumbai attacks have led to complaints from Indian opposition officials, and in the Indian press, that the government in New Delhi is weak on security. That puts Singh's government under election-year pressure to show a robust response.

But Antonio Giustozzi, an expert on South Asia at the London School of Economics, tells RFE/RL that any rash response by India against Pakistan would play into the hands of the terrorists.

"Of course, it was a serious terrorist attack. But the kind of overreaction that is taking place now in the media and in diplomatic circles [in India] is exactly what the terrorists want," Giustozzi says. "Therefore, I think one should not overplay these kinds of things. It is certainly not the last terrorist attack we will see. And if the reaction is what the terrorists are trying to get, they will have an incentive to repeat these kinds of acts to make the relationship between Pakistan and India even more complex to manage."

with agency reports