ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff urged Pakistan on Wednesday to investigate all possible links between the Mumbai attacks and Pakistani groups and to broaden its campaign against militants.
Admiral Mike Mullen flew in for talks with Pakistan’s 8-month-old civilian government and military commanders earlier on Wednesday, as part of U.S. diplomatic efforts to defuse tension between Pakistan and India after the Mumbai attacks.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in New Delhi to consult the Indian government.
Mullen urged Pakistani officials to “investigate aggressively any and all possible ties to groups based in Pakistan,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement.
Mullen noted the recent success of Pakistani offensives against militants on the Afghan border and “also encouraged Pakistani leaders to take more, and more concerted, action against militant extremists elsewhere in the country.”
Rice urged Pakistan to cooperate “fully and transparently” in the investigation. She is due in Islamabad on Thursday, the prime minister’s office said.
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the attacks on Mumbai that killed 171 people, including Americans and other foreigners, were led from inside Pakistan, and said India would act decisively to protect its territorial integrity.
“I informed Dr Rice there is no doubt that the terrorist attacks in Mumbai were perpetrated by individuals who came from Pakistan and whose controllers are in Pakistan,” Mukherjee told a joint news conference with Rice.
Pakistan has condemned the assault, denied any involvement by state agencies and vowed to work with India in the investigation.
Nevertheless, the attack has sparked fears that the nuclear-armed neighbors could slide toward a fourth war since independence from Britain in 1947 unless cool heads prevail.
A confrontation would undermine U.S.-led efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan and defeat al Qaeda.
“VACATING GROUND TO AL QAEDA”
Pakistani security officials have said they could feel forced to abandon the campaign against militancy and take forces away from the Afghan border, where they are fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban, and move them to the Indian border if tension increased.
That would raise alarm in Kabul and among Western governments with troops in Afghanistan.
“The pull-out of Pakistan’s army and dispatching them to India’s frontiers (would be) tantamount to vacating the ground to al Qaeda,” Afghanistan’s state-run Anis Daily said.
Pakistan is struggling with an economic crisis and its own bloody campaign against militants.
Pakistan killed up to 30 Islamist militants in an air strike and three soldiers and a civilian were killed in a suicide attack in the northwest near the Afghan border on Wednesday, officials said.
The Pakistani military says more than 1,500 militants have been killed in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border since August. There has been no independent verification of that casualty estimate but fighting has been heavy.
The one gunman captured in Mumbai has told investigators he belonged to the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group and had been trained in Pakistan, Indian officials have said. Indian police said the militants reached Mumbai on a boat from Pakistan.
Pakistan has banned the Lashkar but its leaders have not been driven underground. Group activists operate a big complex to spread their teachings near Lahore.
Pakistan rejects suggestions its security agencies support militants fighting Indian forces in disputed Kashmir. They did back Kashmiri militants through the 1990s but began to rein them in after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Additional reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore and Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul; Editing by Charles Dick