KARACHI, Pakistan—Amid fears of a military confrontation between Pakistan and India, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is attempting to defuse dangerous tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals in the aftermath of the deadly Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Rice, who air-dashed to Islamabad on Thursday after a day-long visit to India, met with new President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and the chief of the country's powerful army, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kyani in a bid to persuade them to cooperate with India in an investigation into the suspected role of a Pakistan-based terrorist group.
Zardari reportedly told Rice that Pakistan was ready to arrest and try those in Pakistan who are on India's list of 20 most wanted militants, including outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar of defunct group Jaish-e-Muhammed.
But top Pakistan officials also told Rice that any signs of military retaliation by India would prompt Pakistan to reinforce its eastern border by moving troops now in the western provinces fighting against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The U.S. administration is fully aware of the fact that if the two countries are engaged in a military standoff, it would be disastrous for the war on terror, says former Pakistani foreign minister Gohar Ayub.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, flew to Islamabad a day ahead of Rice as part of the concerted American effort to avert a military showdown between India and Pakistan. There are fears that any major military clash between the two nations risks escalating to the use of nuclear weapons.
Indian officials say their investigation so far points to Lashkar-e-Taiba ("the Army of the Pius") as having a key role in the Mumbai attacks that killed 171 people, including Americans and other foreigners. According to Indian authorities, the one gunman captured in Mumbai said he belonged to the militant group and had been trained in Pakistan.
Lashkar, which has links to al Qaeda, is blamed for past terrorist attacks in India—including a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 that killed 12 people—partly in support of Pakistan's struggle with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. India also said the militant group was behind the 2001 train bombings that killed 180 in Mumbai in 2006. The group reportedly has also trained Islamic fighters who joined in other conflicts, such as in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
In the latest attack, Indian police said the militants reached Mumbai on a boat from Pakistan. Officials said evidence points to two members of the outlawed Pakistani group as masterminds in the attacks. The two, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Yusuf Muzammil, are believed to be in Pakistan, officials said. Lakhvi was identified as the group's operations chief and Muzammil as its operations chief in Kashmir and other parts of India.
The lone surviving gunman in the assault told police, according to the Associated Press, that Lakhvi recruited him for the operation, and that the assailants called Muzammil on a satellite phone after hijacking an Indian vessel en route to Mumbai. During the attacks, the gunmen used mobile phones taken from hotel guests to place calls to the Pakistani city of Lahore.
Lashkar, now based in the Kashmir region split between India and Pakistan, was officially banned in Pakistan in 2002 under pressure from the United States. Lashkar was founded in 1987 by Hafiz Saeed, a former university professor who is now one of the India's most wanted men. Its armed operations began against Soviet occupation forces in eastern Afghanistan in 1987 and 1988 and, following the Soviet withdrawal, the group turned its attention toward Indian-ruled Kashmir. Both Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed ("The Army of Mohammad") ran training camps in Afghanistan during the Taliban period, allegedly cooperating with al Qaeda.
In the past, there have been allegations that members of Pakistan's shadowy intelligence service have had a role in supporting Lashkar and other groups in a proxy war with India over control of Kashmir.
At the top of India's most wanted list is Maulana Masood Azhar, the Pakistani who leads Jaish-e-Mohammed. He was freed from Indian prison in 1999 after a group of militants hijacked an Indian plane from a Nepal airport and took it to Kandahar, Afghanistan, demanding that he and three others be released in exchange for the plane's passengers. He formed his new group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, after his release.
In 2002, Jaish-e-Mohammed was banned by then Pakistani military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Azhar was imprisoned. He was released later the same year and placed under house arrest until the Lahore High Court ordered that lifted in December 2002, much to the fury of India. The group later started functioning under a new name, Tanzeem-ul-Furqan.
Pakistan has its own most-wanted list of 35 Indians allegedly involved in bombings and terrorist attacks in Pakistan.