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India points finger of blame at Pakistan

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - India pointed a finger on Friday at Pakistani-linked “elements” for the attacks in Mumbai, raising the prospect of a breakdown in the nuclear-armed rivals’ peace efforts.

Smoke and fire billows out of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai November 27, 2008. REUTERS/Peter Keep

An estimated 25 men armed with assault rifles and grenades, at least some of whom arrived by sea, fanned out across Mumbai on Wednesday night to attack sites popular with tourists and businessmen, including the city’s top two luxury hotels.

Police said at least 121 people were killed.

The attack came after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated last year, had made bold moves to improve ties with India.

In an unprecedented move, India said on Friday the head of the Pakistani military’s Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) had agreed to go to India to share information about the attacks, at the request of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

On Thursday, Singh pinned blame on militant groups based in India’s neighbours, usually an allusion to old rival Pakistan.

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee was more explicit on Friday. “Preliminary evidence, prima facie evidence, indicates elements with links to Pakistan are involved,” Mukherjee told a news conference in New Delhi.

He urged Pakistan to dismantle the infrastructure that supports militants.

PAKISTAN DENIAL

Pakistan has denied involvement and condemned the attacks. It has also offered full cooperation in fighting terrorism.

Zardari telephoned Singh earlier on Friday to again condemn the attacks, saying “non-state actors” were responsible.

“Non-state actors wanted to force upon the governments their own agenda but they must not be allowed to succeed,” Zardari’s office cited him as telling Singh.

The president’s office did not mention Singh’s reference to an external link or to his warning of “a cost” if India’s neighbours did not stop their territory being used to launch attacks.

The two countries have fought three wars since their independence in 1947 and nearly went to war again in 2002 in the weeks after a militant attack on India’s parliament that India also linked to Pakistan.

Pakistan for years supported militants battling Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region but reined them in after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

“COMMON ENEMY”

Relations between India and Pakistan have warmed in recent years, despite no progress on Kashmir.

Zardari has stressed the importance of good ties with India and he told a conference in India via a video link last weekend Pakistan was willing to commit to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and suggested a pact to prevent their use.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who arrived in India on Wednesday for a four-day visit, said on Thursday he was shocked and horrified by the “barbaric” attacks in Mumbai.

Qureshi called on Friday for India not to play politics.

“We are facing a common enemy and we should join hands to defeat the enemy,” he told reporters in the town of Ajmer.

The use of heavily armed “fedayeen” or suicide attackers in Mumbai bears the hallmarks of Pakistan-based militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed, blamed for a 2001 attack on India’s parliament.

Both groups are outlawed in Pakistan. They made their name fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir and were closely linked in the past to the ISI.

Lashkar-e-Taiba denied any role in the attacks, and said it had no links with any Indian group. Instead, the little-known Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility.

But analysts said a link to Pakistan-based militants was plausible.

“There is no definitive evidence so far,” said London-based political analyst and author, Farzana Shaikh. “But it wouldn’t be entirely implausible, given that sections of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have in the past been linked to terrorist attacks.

“There’s obviously going to be, for the next few weeks, a climate of tension, which I think will be an enormous set back to the rapprochement that both India and Pakistan are keen to pursue,” Shaikh said.

Additional reporting by Luke Baker in London

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