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U.S. Military Chief Urges India, Pakistan To Work Together

U.S. Admiral Michael Mullen
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- The top U.S. military officer has sought to defuse tensions between Pakistan and India, urging Islamabad to use the Mumbai attacks as an opportunity to work with India to fight extremism.

India and the United States have blamed Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for the attacks, which have provoked a sharp rise in rhetoric between the countries, who have fought three wars since 1947.

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen arrived in Pakistan on December 22 on his second visit since last month's attacks and met army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and the head of the military's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, the embassy said.

"Mullen encouraged the Pakistani leaders to use this tragic event as an opportunity to forge more productive ties with India and to seek ways in which both nations can combat the common threat of extremism together," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

Tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan has simmered since last month's assault on India's financial heart, which killed 179 people, and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on December 22 that the armed forces were fully capable of defending the country if war occurred.

Pakistan denies any links to the assault, blaming "nonstate actors", and has promised to cooperate in investigations.

"He thanked both men for their efforts -- and the efforts of the Pakistani government -- to arrest members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and other extremist groups involved in the attacks," the embassy said in release on December 23.

Pakistan has detained scores of militants, including several top leaders, and shut offices and frozen the assets of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) group, which the United Nations says is an alias for the LeT.

LeT was set up to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and has been linked by U.S. officials and analysts to Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence military spy agency, who they say use it as a tool to destabilize India.

'Infrastructure Of Terrorism'

In response to the attack, India has put on hold a 5-year-old peace process that had brought better ties. It has also canceled a cricket tour of Pakistan.

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told a meeting of Indian envoys from 120 countries on December 22 that the "infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan" had to be dismantled permanently.

Mukherjee reiterated that India was keeping all its options open after the Mumbai attacks, comments the Indian media have widely interpreted to mean that a military response was still possible. Mukherjee said that was not his intent.

Amid the war of words, the Pakistani Air Force said it had "enhanced its vigilance" and Gilani said Pakistan's desire for peaceful coexistence should not be taken as weakness.

"If war is imposed upon us, the whole nation would be united and the armed forces are fully capable of safeguarding and defending the territorial integrity," Gilani's office quoted him as telling Pakistan's high commissioner to India.

Army chief Kayani said Pakistan would give an equal response within minutes if India carried out a strike in Pakistan, the "News" newspaper reported.