ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered Pakistan and India help fighting militants on Sunday during a visit to the region aimed at easing tensions after last month’s attack in Mumbai.
His visit coincided with a new spat between the neighbors after Pakistan said Indian warplanes had inadvertently violated its airspace. India denied any incursion.
In talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, Brown offered both countries help in combating terrorism.
He also said he had asked them for permission for British police to question suspects arrested in both countries over the militant attack on Mumbai which killed 179 people.
India has blamed the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for the assault. The same group was also linked to one of the suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London in 2005.
“Three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots investigated by the British authorities have links to al Qaeda in Pakistan,” Brown said.
Speaking in Islamabad, Brown offered British support in fighting militants, including bomb disposal and airport security help, and a 6 million pound ($8.5 million) program to tackle the causes of radicalization through education.
These measures would help to “break the chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of the UK,” he said.
He also offered India help with forensic investigation and airport security.
India has called on Islamabad to crack down on militant groups which it says were nurtured by the Pakistan military to fight Indian rule in Kashmir -- among them the LeT.
“We want to normalize our relations with Pakistan,” Singh told a rally held during a state election in Kashmir. But he added, “There are some people in Pakistan who are always trying to launch such bloody attacks.”
Pakistan’s civilian government has blamed “non-state actors” for the Mumbai attacks.
The nuclear-armed neighbors came close to a fourth war after India blamed the LeT and another Kashmir-orientated group, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, for an attack on its parliament in 2001.
And in a reminder of how quickly tensions could escalate, Pakistan said on Saturday Indian warplanes had violated its airspace in Kashmir and in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
It said these two violations were “inadvertent” and there was no cause for alarm. An Indian Air Force spokesman denied there had been any violation.
The Indian Air Force has been particularly careful to avoid straying across the border after two of its planes were shot down in the 1999 Kargil conflict and analysts were at a loss to explain two violations at the same time.
“It could not have been a navigation error. India pilots and their systems are well aware of the exact location of the border,” said Brian Cloughley, an expert on the Pakistan military.
Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, called the incident “technical” and said had there been a serious violation Pakistan would have retaliated as it did in 1999. “Pakistan does not want to blow it out of proportion since it does not want to vitiate the current atmosphere.”
Zardari, meanwhile, assured Brown he would take more action to clamp down on suspected militants.
Brown also said he had asked Singh if he would let British police interview the lone surviving gunman held after the Mumbai attack, identified as Mohammad Ajmal Kasab. He asked Zardari if British police could interview suspects held in Pakistan.
British government sources said British detectives were seeking more information on how Lashkar-e-Taiba worked or information they could cross-reference with other intelligence.
“I think we all have an interest in discovering what lay behind the Mumbai outrages,” Brown said.
Analysts say India is unlikely to launch retaliatory strikes or other military action against Pakistan, as New Delhi believes they would be counterproductive by undermining the civilian government in Pakistan.
Reporting by New Delhi and Islamabad bureaux; Editing by Myra MacDonald
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