Pakistan offers to share intelligence

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The Independent Online

India has claimed that preliminary "evidence" pointed to Pakistani involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks, prompting an unprecedented offer from Islamabad to share intelligence with Delhi.

The Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, risked inflaming tense relations with Pakistan when he told a news conference that "preliminary evidence, prima facie evidence, indicates elements with links to Pakistan are involved". The information may have been obtained from the interrogation of the eight attackers who were confirmed to be in Indian custody yesterday.

The diplomatic vocabulary was forceful, but left room for the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to differentiate between the actions of militants within Pakistan and the anti-terrorist stance of its civilian government and people. Mr Zardari moved quickly to distance the government from involvement, agreeing to send his military intelligence chief to take part in the Indian investigation. The head of the shadowy ISI, Lt-Gen Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, is to travel to India "at the earliest", a Pakistani government statement said. But the statement also said that the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, yesterday that "preliminary reports" about the attacks "point to Karachi", Pakistan's main port and financial hub. The attackers arrived in rubber dinghies to mount their attack from the sea.

Mr Zardari called Mr Singh to pass on his condolences and said that the two nations, which have enjoyed increasingly close relations over recent months, "should not fall into the trap of the militants".

The Pakistani information minister, Sherry Rehman, said: "Pakistan is itself a victim of terrorism and this episode should not be allowed to become an obstacle in the path to vitally needed regional peace."

The urgent diplomatic scrambling reflects the critical nature of Indo-Pakistani relations on regional stability, said Samina Ahmad, South Asia project director for the International Crisis Group. "The people who would benefit the most [from the attacks] would be the ones who want to damage the very fragile rapprochement between New Delhi and the democratically elected government in Islamabad," she said. "The problem is that when something as horrendous as Mumbai happens, it undermines that positive perception that has been built by Pakistan's elections and the confidence-building measures."

Pakistan has long been in denial about its home-grown terrorists, and the role of the ISI remains murky. US intelligence has accused the ISI of direct involvement in last July's bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan. Yesterday an editorial in The News said that while Pakistan had been used as "a convenient scapegoat" in the past, "the awful reality of our time is that Pakistan has become a world centre for terrorism".