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Pakistanis wary of Mumbai claims

By Barbara Plett
BBC News, Islamabad

Pakistans rally in support of the army, following allegations from India over the Mumbai attacks
Some Pakistanis have rallied against claims of links to the Mumbai attackers

Indian media reports detailing Pakistani links to the audacious Mumbai attacks have been met with deep scepticism in Pakistan.

"Why do they always blame us?" said an airline worker in the port city of Karachi, from where some of the gunmen are alleged to have set off for Indian shores.

"Any time something happens in India, they say Pakistan is behind it, but they don't come up with any proof."

A boutique owner agreed. "Everybody's out to get us," he said as his customers expressed fear that Indian agents would retaliate by striking Karachi.

Such blanket dismissals fail to acknowledge Pakistan's history of using Islamist militant groups to fight proxy wars against India in the disputed region of Kashmir.

One of these, Lashkar-i-Taiba, was blamed for the attack on India's parliament in 2001 that brought the two countries to the brink of war.

However, it denied that, as well as any involvement in the Mumbai atrocities ,which lasted three days and left over 170 people dead and hundreds injured.

Indian 'denial'

Whatever the case, Pakistanis say Indian accusations have become reflex actions that don't take changing realities into account.

"It is interesting that Indian security agencies failed to detect such a massive operation during its planning stage, but wasted little time in fixing the blame on some Pakistani group," wrote defence analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi in the local Daily Times newspaper.

"If they knew who was responsible, why could they not pre-empt it? India needs to face the reality of home-grown radicalism, and realize the futility of blaming Pakistan for its troubles."

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi
Foreign Minister Qureshi had hoped for a "warming" with India

Mr Rizvi expressed a widely held conviction here that India is in denial about its problems with indigenous Islamist groups that have surfaced in recent years - rooted, it's believed, in state discrimination and communal violence against Muslims.

And, say Pakistanis, India has got it wrong before.

The fire-bombing of the Samjhauta Express train between New Delhi and Lahore in February 2007 was first blamed on Pakistan, but later linked to Hindu extremists supported by an Indian army colonel.

'Brisk escalation'

At the official level, both the government and the military have also warned India against jumping to hasty conclusions, but otherwise their responses have differed.

Political leaders have gone out of their way to condemn the attacks and offer "unconditional support" in the investigation, promising to take action if any Pakistani link is established.

A conflict with India is the last thing they want after succeeding the military-led government of retired General Pervez Musharraf last year.

"I'm concerned because I could see forward movement, India warming up to Pakistan, constructive engagement," said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the weekend.

"Let us not fool ourselves, the situation is serious when people in India are calling this their 9/11," adding that he hoped the "hiccup" in relations would be overcome soon.

Pakistan's powerful security establishment, however, is more cynical.

Mumbai residents grieve near Nariman House, the scene of one of the battles with gunmen
As India grieves, Pakistan has offered "unconditional support"
Despite a peace process which began in 2004 it sees India as stalling on Kashmir, and it is convinced Delhi's allegations are aimed at trying to discredit Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI).

"The Indians are taking the escalation level up at a very brisk pace," a senior security official said on Saturday.

He too pledged co-operation but said if India began to mobilise troops, Pakistan would respond in kind, even if that meant pulling soldiers away from fighting Taleban and al-Qaeda militants on its border with Afghanistan.

The different attitudes towards India were publicly exposed when political leaders were forced to retract a promise to send the intelligence chief to Delhi.

While President Asif Zardari described this as a "miscommunication," others blamed the government for failing to consult the military before making the unprecedented announcement.

Already the army's been taken aback by overtures to India made by Mr Zardari.

Most recently the president offered no first-use of nuclear weapons, ignoring decades of established policy.

The apparently off-the-cuff remark in an interview with Indian media astonished Pakistanis as much as Indians.

It remains to be seen whether this rift will grow under mounting pressure from India and the US, which fears that souring relations between the two rivals will hinder its attempts to encourage regional co-operation against Islamist militancy in Afghanistan.

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