Rice pleased with Pakistan's anti-terror stance

December 4, 2008 5:39:16 AM PST
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she is satisfied with Pakistan's commitment to fight terrorism and its readiness to pursue any lead in the attacks in India that have sharply raised tensions between the two nuclear powers. Pakistan's young civilian government, she said after talks with Pakistani leaders, is very committed to the war on terror and does not want to be associated with terrorist elements.

The United States is increasing pressure on Pakistan's shaky government, sending two top officials to Islamabad in as many days to insist that Pakistan hide nothing about the origins of a terrorist attack in Mumbai that India has blamed squarely on Pakistani militants. The nearly three-day assault that killed 171 was carried out by 10 suspected Muslim militants against upscale hotels, a restaurant and other sites across Mumbai.

She said that in her meetings "I have found a Pakistani government that is focused on the threat and understands its responsibilities to respond to terrorism and extremism" wherever it is found.

Rice said it is critical that various countries, including India, the United States, Britain and Pakistan, work cooperatively and the countries must avoid taking any actions that will make the situation worse. She noted that India-Pakistan relations had improved considerably when the attacks happened.

"It was a sophisticated attack at a level of sophistication that we haven't seen here on the subcontinent before," she said.

"That means there is urgency to getting to the bottom of it. There is urgency to bringing the pepetrators to justice and there is urgency to using the information to disrupt and prevent further attacks."

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari told Rice he will take "strong action" against elements in his country that were involved in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. A presidential statement said Zardari also repeated a promise to help investigate the attacks and said Pakistan was determined to ensure its territory is not used for any act of terrorism.

Zardari's office said in a statement that he "reiterated that the government will not only assist in (the) investigation but also take strong action against any Pakistani elements found involved in the attack." He said Pakistan was "determined to ensure that its territory is not used for any act of terrorism," the statement said.

Rice talked about the importance of Pakistan dealing with those "who may use Pakistani territory even if they are not state actors. And I found a Pakistani leadership that is very focused and I think very committed for its own reasons."

She said Pakistan would investigate the situation with Mumbai "because the Pakistani government, I was told and I fully believe, is very commmitted to this war on terror, does not in any way want to be associated with terrorist elements and is indeed fighting to root them out wherever they find them." She said her talks in Pakistan have been "quite satisfactory."

After expressing U.S. condolences for the more than 170 deaths in India, Rice flew to Pakistan for the meetings with civilian and military leaders. The U.S. wants broader sharing of intelligence and a commitment by Pakistan to root out terror groups that have found a comfortable perch in the Muslim country.

Zardari, who has vowed full cooperation with India, told Rice in Islamabad that the attacks were a chance to strengthen efforts against terrorism. "We are looking at this as an opportunity and I intend to do everything in my power," Zardari said.

"I think it's clear that Pakistan is fighting this fight against terrorists ... We are all of one group, all of us," Rice said.

Zardari, who has pointed to the slaying a year ago of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to underline his antiterror credentials, briefly allowed his daughter to greet Rice in the presidential palace. Rice told the girl her mother was an inspiration.

With Pakistan complaining that India has shared no evidence linking it to the attacks, Rice spent Wednesday urging cooperation between the rivals.

But the tension between the countries appeared only to rise.

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday said there was "no doubt" the assailants were Pakistani and that their handlers were in Pakistan.

"The government of India is determined to act decisively to protect Indian territorial integrity and the right of our citizens to a peaceful life, with all the means at our disposal," he said, a turnaround from earlier statements that ruled out military action.

Rice said Pakistan bore a "special responsibility" to help get to the bottom of the attacks, but declined to finger Pakistani militants outright.

Her visit to the region to urge a common response to the crisis was complemented by that of the top American military officer.

During a stopover in Pakistan on Wednesday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged Zardari and his army and spy chiefs to "investigate aggressively any and all possible ties to groups based in Pakistan," the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said. Mullen was in India on Thursday.

Zardari has made a series of peace overtures to India.

However, he indicated on Wednesday he would not hand over 20 suspects wanted by India and said they would be tried in Pakistan if there was evidence of wrongdoing. His new civilian administration would likely face a backlash from Muslim groups and nationalists if it simply handed over the suspects to Pakistan's old foe India.

Thousands of Indians - many calling for war with Pakistan - gathered in Mumbai on Wednesday for a vigil to mark one week since the beginning of the deadly rampage. In Pakistan, more than 2,000 students marched through Islamabad shouting anti-U.S. and anti-Indian slogans.