ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The Pakistani Islamist leader accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai massacre said India was trying to destabilize Pakistan and predicted violence in the disputed region of Kashmir could get “ugly”.
“We do not want any force to be used or any military operation for this. But the Indians are opting for the other alternative,” Hafez Saeed told Reuters in a telephone interview on Friday.
Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group which India blames for the rampage in Mumbai, where gunmen killed 166 people over three days. He denies any wrongdoing and links to militants.
Saeed also denied allegations by Indian officials that he had recently visited Kashmir, potentially to incite action against India, just before the recent outbreak of the worst violence in the territory since the nuclear-armed neighbors agreed to a ceasefire nearly a decade ago.
In the third fatal attack in Kashmir this week, a Pakistani soldier was killed on Thursday by “unprovoked” Indian fire, a Pakistan army spokesman said.
He was shot while manning a post in the Battal sector of Kashmir, which is split between the two sides by a heavily fortified border known as the Line of Control (LoC), the spokesman said.
Saeed accused India of trying to disrupt the peace process with Pakistan and dragging its feet on the long-standing issue of Kashmir.
“This is their usual practice. Betraying the international community and destabilizing Pakistan,” said Saeed. “And that’s what they are doing this time.”
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since becoming independent from Britain in 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir. India considers the entire region of snow-capped mountains and fertile valleys an integral part of its territory.
Muslim Pakistan contests that and demands implementation of a 1948 U.N. Security Council resolution for a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the mostly Muslim people of Kashmir.
Relations had shown signs of improving in the past year after souring again in 2008 after the Mumbai bloodshed.
“Whenever the peace process starts between the two nations, something comes up from the Indian side to disrupt the process,” said Saeed.
Both governments have expressed anger over the latest Kashmir attacks even as senior officials sought to calm fears that right-wing groups could seize the opportunity to derail years of diplomatic rapprochement.
Tensions over Kashmir are a cause for concern in Washington, which has been pushing for an improvement in ties between the rival nations so that Pakistan can focus on helping the United States promote peace in Afghanistan.
India has repeatedly called on Pakistan to bring Saeed to justice, an issue that has stood in the way of rebuilding relations between the two sides since the carnage in Mumbai.
India is furious that Pakistan has not detained Saeed since it handed over evidence against him to Islamabad. Washington has offered a reward of $10 million for information leading to Saeed’s capture.
Pakistan supported militants fighting Indian forces in Kashmir region for years but began to rein them in after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Critics say Pakistan’s policies have created militant groups that now answer to no one and fuel instability.
Pakistan faces security challenges from an array of militant groups, from organizations capable of attacks on Indian forces in Kashmir to sectarian Sunni militants who bomb minorities such as Shi‘ites.
Saeed blamed India for this week’s wave of bombings on Shi‘ites in the city of Quetta which killed 82 people.
“Whether it’s ethnic problems, provisional unrest or religious target killings and the Sunni-Shi‘ite issue, the entire planning and execution of such attacks have been managed by the Indian intelligence agencies,” he said.
Pakistan summoned India’s High Commissioner over the Kashmir violence, a Pakistani foreign ministry official said, adding that Islamabad had expressed its “concern and frustration”.
Saeed said India was not interested in resolving the Kashmir issue.
“They want to escalate the violence in order to avoid a permanent resolution ...,” he said. “This border tension can turn to an ugly situation like a war and we want to avoid it.”
Reporting by Bushra Taskeen; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Nick Macfie