India lashes out at old enemy

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Concern grows of military build-up on border between India and Pakistan

Military tensions flared up yesterday between India and Pakistan as the nuclear-armed neighbours engaged in a display of sabre-rattling in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks that have left at least 170 people dead.

With bodies still being recovered from the battle-scarred interior of the Taj Mahal hotel and with the Indian authorities saying that most, if not all, of the 10 gunmen responsible came from Pakistan, Delhi announced that it was raising security to a "war level". In response, Pakistan said that any escalation would force it to redeploy troops battling militants in tribal areas to positions along its eastern border with India.

Although the dispute shows no signs of reaching the level it was in 2002, when the two countries came perilously close to conflict, the statements reflect the anger and a sense of helplessness in India about the attacks that struck at its soft underbelly.

The Indian government, which faces elections within months, will be keen to use criticism of Pakistan to divert attention from its own failure to prevent the attacks. Yesterday, the Congress Party-led administration announced that the Home Minister and the national security advisor were to be replaced. It was also claimed that the authorities had failed to act on a number of intelligence warnings that an attack in Mumbai might be imminent.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who chaired an all-party meeting to discuss the situation, said there would be an overhaul of India's counter-terrorism capabilities. Addressing criticism that the National Security Group elite commandos took almost 10 hours to get to Mumbai from Delhi, he said that, from now on, the strength of the so-called Black Cats would be boosted and they would be stationed in four cities. He also said that air and sea security would be improved.

"We share the hurt of the people and their sense of anger and outrage," he said in Delhi. "Several measures are already in place. But clearly much more needs to be done and we are determined to take all necessary measures to overhaul the system."

US officials are attempting to ease the tensions between India and Pakistan. The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, flies to Europe for talks in London with the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, today and will travel to India on Wednesday.

Washington will particularly want to prevent Pakistan being distracted from the military operations it is carrying out against militants in the north-west of the country. Under pressure from the Bush administration, the Pakistani military has been engaged in major operations against militants that are blamed for carrying out cross-border attacks against Western troops in Afghanistan. The US will do all it can to ensure those operations continue.

While India has not accused the Pakistani government of direct involvement in the attacks, it has said it believes the 10 gunmen involved – including the sole militant taken alive, Azam Amir Qasab – belonged to the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has previously been linked to elements within Pakistan's ISI military intelligence agency.

Last night, a senior Mumbai police officer, the Joint Crime Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria,said the militants involved were from a "a hardcore group in the LeT".

Earlier a US counter-terrorism official said that some "signatures of the attack" were consistent with the organisation and another militant group that has been active in the disputed Kashmir region.

Amid such apparent evidence, some officials have used the opportunity to rally against India's neighbour. "We will increase security and strengthen it at a war level like we have never done it before," said Sriprakash Jaiswal, India's Minister of State for Home Affairs. "They can say what they want, but we have no doubt that the terrorists had come from Pakistan."

Pakistani officials have continued to offer support to India. A senior ISI official is due to visit the country. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's US Ambassador, said: "Pakistan is a victim of terrorism. India is a victim of terrorism. The victims need to get together. Forget about our bitter history."

Reports suggest that interrogation of Qasab had revealed extensive planning and preparation for the attacks and that the militants had hoped to "kill up to 5,000 people".

As police continued to retrieve bodies from the Taj hotel, the Trident-Oberoi remained sealed off.

But another site of an attack by militants – the Cafe Leopold – briefly reopened. The famous tourist restaurant was one of the first attacked and was opened for the first time since the violence but was then quickly closed by police who said it had not obtained the required permission.

"I want [the attackers] to feel we have won, they have lost," said the restaurant's manager Farzad Jehani. "We're back in action."

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