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Rice Gets Pledge From Pakistan For 'Strong Action' on Mumbai Attacks

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (left) with U.S. Secretary of State Rice at the prime minister's house in Islamabad
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Pakistan's government to launch a "robust response" to last week's terrorist attacks in India.

Rice said in Islamabad that she had found Pakistan's leadership "focused and committed" to helping India investigate the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Rice's trip to Islamabad was aimed at defusing tensions between India and Pakistan over the attacks, which killed more than 170 people.

"Obviously, the best thing is that these two countries do what they can, through their own capacity, to fully investigate and to bring people to justice who perpetrated that," Rice said. "And what I heard was a commitment that that is going to be the course that is taken."

Rice also said U.S. and British investigators are prepared to work with India and Pakistan to discover who organized the violence in Mumbai.

"There is considerable capacity [for investigation] on the side of India. There's considerable capacity on the side of Pakistan. It is our intention to augment that in any way that is helpful," Rice said.

Indian officials told Rice in New Delhi on December 3 that they have evidence the attackers were trained in Pakistan by retired Pakistani Army officers.

Pakistan To 'Take Action'

Pakistan's civilian government initially denied those allegations. Islamabad also has denied New Delhi's charge that some of the attackers were Pakistani citizens.

Earlier this week, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said Islamabad would not comply with a demand by India to turn over 20 suspected terrorists that New Delhi says are sheltering in Pakistani territory.

But after talks with Rice, Zardari issued a statement saying his government would not only assist the investigation, but would also "take strong action against any Pakistani elements" found to have been involved in the attacks.

"Pakistan is determined to ensure that its territory is not used for any act of terrorism," Zardari said in a statement.

Rice, who also met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and senior army officials, told reporters before leaving Islamabad that she found Pakistan's leadership "very focused and committed" to act.

"This was a terrible attack. It was a sophisticated attack at a level of sophistication that we haven't seen here on the subcontinent before," Rice said.

"That means that there is urgency to getting to the bottom of it. There is urgency to bringing the perpetrators to justice," she added. "And there is urgency to using the information to disrupt and to prevent further attacks."

Indian Fears

In fact, New Delhi has claimed for years that Pakistan's military and intelligence services have been training Islamic militants to carry out cross-border terrorist attacks in India, the Indian-administered part of the disputed region of Kashmir, and Afghanistan in a bid to advance Islamabad's foreign-policy goals.

With elections in just two months, India's government is facing domestic political pressure to show that it is not weak on security. Street demonstrators in New Delhi and Mumbai this week have been calling for military strikes against targets in Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks.

But Pakistan has threatened to shift thousands of troops to its border with India -- withdrawing them from an offensive against Islamic militants near the border with Afghanistan -- if New Delhi increases military activity along the Pakistan-India border.

Rahul Bedi, a New Delhi-based correspondent for "Jane's Defense Weekly," says that escalating tensions between Pakistan and India is exactly what the attackers want because it would relieve pressure on militants near the Afghan-Pakistan border:

"Condoleezza Rice [has] basically come here to calm things down -- to prevent India from indulging in any adventurism. India is very agitated and is very angry over what it is calling its own 9-11," Bedi says.

"This is a problem that has the potential to escalate into something much larger. Let's not forget that both India and Pakistan are nuclear-weapons states. In [December] 2001, when the two sides had deployed their armies [along their common border] after the attack by militants on India's parliament, it almost threatened to [escalate] to a nuclear exchange," Bedi continues.

"It needed the [diplomatic] skills of the United States, the British, the Europeans and the Russians to defuse that crisis. I don't think anybody wants a repeat of that."