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Page last updated at 15:33 GMT, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Pakistan leader calm amid pressure

By Allan Little
BBC News, Islamabad

For a man under such intense international - and domestic - pressure, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari seems impressively relaxed.

Asif Ali Zardari on the investigation into the attacks in Mumbai

He has been in office just a hundred days and already he has faced a dramatic escalation in tension with his neighbour India, an escalation that has seemed at times to threaten the return of open war between South Asia's nuclear-armed rivals.

He is, above all, determined not to be bounced into premature judgement on the Mumbai attacks.

India has said it; Britain has said it; and America has said that there is a Pakistani link.

Even the Pakistani father of the only surviving Mumbai gunman has admitted that the man whose face is plastered across the newspapers of the world is indeed his son.

"Have you seen the evidence of a Pakistani link?" President Zardari asks me.

"I have definitely not seen any such evidence. Investigation is an evolving process. We're still investigating. Hold that judgement".

There may be no evidence yet that satisfies Pakistan that the attacks were orchestrated from its soil.

But in the aftermath of the attacks, action was taken here.

The Islamic charity Jammat-ud-Dawa was closed down and its leader, Hafez Saeed, placed under house arrest. Why, if there is no evidence?

"That is not necessarily interconnected [with Mumbai]," the president says.

'No denial'

Jammat-ud-Dawa has been closed down "in a different context, because of a UN resolution".

That resolution declared that Jammat-ud-Dawa was, in effect, a front for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been banned as a terrorist organisation in Pakistan since 2002.

"To be in denial is not the position of our government," Mr Zardari told me.

"We know that when you ban an organisation they sprout up elsewhere".

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari
We want to help. We want to co-operate
President Asif Ali Zardari

Part of the problem Mr Zardari inherits, as president, is that the Lashkar-e-Taiba, though now banned, once enjoyed the close support of Pakistan's own intelligence service, the ISI.

Many in the ISI regarded the organisation as a valuable ally in Pakistan's historic confrontation with India.

Since 2002, Pakistan has been asking its own security forces to fight an organisation they once fought alongside.

President Asif Ali Zardari says the war on terror changed that relationship.

Today, he insists, Pakistan is a victim of terrorism, Pakistan is fighting terrorism, and, since the restoration of civilian government, is ready to co-operate with the world's democracies.

Does this include allowing British and American police to come to Pakistan and question suspects held here? Does it include giving similar access to Indian police?

"We want to help. We want to co-operate," he says.

"We have been working to come together, as democracies, to face this together.

"As democracies we can sit down and make an agreement. Together let's agree the mechanisms. We need a better joint format.

"And if we get to the stage where there is tangible proof, then I assure you that our democracy will take the action laid down in our law, in our constitution".

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