ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s president promised on Saturday to rid the country of terrorism and his prime minister said the military would not take action first in any face-off with India.
Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors have deteriorated after India blamed Islamist militants based in Pakistan for the last month’s attacks on Mumbai that killed 179 people.
In a sign of mounting tension, Pakistan has canceled army leave and shifted some troops from its western border with Afghanistan to the eastern border with India.
Pakistan has condemned the Mumbai attacks and has denied any state role, blaming “non-state actors.”
President Asif Ali Zardari, speaking at ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the assassination of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said dialogue was the best way forward.
“Yes, we have none state actors...yes, they are forcing an agenda on us. But please don’t fall victim because you will be the victim, we will be the victim, the region will be the victim,” Zardari said.
The South Asian neighbors both tested nuclear weapons in 1998. They have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 and came to the brink of a fourth after gunmen attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001.
Although many analysts say war is unlikely, international unease is growing and the United States has urged both sides not to raise tension further. China and Iran have also tried to calm things down.
Earlier, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said Pakistan did not want war but was ready for one, although it would not be the first to act in any face-off with India.
“Our armed forces are...fully prepared but at the same time I assure you, once again, that we will not act. We will only react,” Gilani told Muslim diplomats in Islamabad.
The movement of Pakistani troops off the Afghan border is likely to cause alarm in the United States which does not want to see its ally distracted from the battle against al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Zardari, in comments he said were directed at both the United States and India, vowed to change Pakistan, which India has described as an epicenter of terrorism.
“We ourselves have accepted that we have a cancer...Yes, we will cure it. We will solve this problem,” he said.
India, the United States and Britain have blamed the Mumbai attack on Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, set up by Pakistani agencies in the late 1980s to fight Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region.
Pakistan has offered to cooperate with India and promised to try any Pakistani found involved in the attacks but it says India has yet to provide evidence.
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Pakistan was creating “war hysteria” and was trying to deflect the issue rather than tackle it, the Press Trust of India reported.
“The issue is not the defense of Pakistan, the issue is not war, the issue is the terrorist attack on Mumbai,” the news agency quoted Mukherjee as saying.
The foreign ministry in New Delhi warned Indian citizens it would be unsafe to travel to, or be in, Pakistan. A bus service between the Indian capital and the Pakistani city of Lahore was running on Saturday despite the warning.
Pakistan media reported that several Indian nationals had been held in recent days after a bombing in the Lahore.
Additional reporting by Paul Tait in New Delhi; Editing by Robert Birsel