Islamabad committed to war on terror: Rice

Tension escalates even as Zardrari pledges co-operation with India and strong action against any Pakistani element found guilty.

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ISLAMABAD // Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said yesterday she was 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 is committed to the "war on terror" and does not want to be associated with terrorist elements, she said after talks with Pakistani leaders. 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 siege was carried out by 10 suspected Muslim militants against upscale hotels, a restaurant and other sites across Mumbai. She said that in her meetings she had "found a Pakistani government that is focused on the threat and understands its responsibilities to respond to terrorism and extremism". Ms Rice said it was critical that various countries, including India, the United States, Britain and Pakistan, co-operated and that nations avoided taking any action that could make the situation worse. She noted that India-Pakistan relations had improved considerably before 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 perpetrators to justice and there is urgency to using the information to disrupt and prevent further attacks." The US 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. Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, told Ms Rice that his government "will not only assist in [the] investigation but also take strong action against any Pakistani elements found involved in the attack", according to a statement by his office.

Pakistan is "determined to ensure that its territory is not used for any act of terrorism", it said. Ms Rice said Pakistan must deal with insurgents "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 committed 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".

Mr Zardari, who has vowed full co-operation with India, told Ms Rice the attacks presented a chance to strengthen efforts against terrorism. "We are looking at this as an opportunity and I intend to do everything in my power," Mr Zardari said. Ms Rice said it was clear Pakistan would do all it can. "We are all of one group, all of us," Ms Rice said. Mr Zardari, who has pointed to the slaying a year ago of his wife, the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, to underline his antiterror credentials, briefly allowed his daughter to greet Ms Rice in the presidential palace. Ms Rice told the girl her mother was an inspiration.

With Pakistan complaining that India has shared no evidence linking it to the attacks, Ms Rice spent Wednesday in New Delhi urging co-operation between the rivals. But the tension between the countries appeared only to rise. Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian foreign minister, said on Wednesday 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 shift from earlier statements that ruled out military action. Mr Zardari has made a series of peace overtures to India, but 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 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-US and anti-Indian slogans. * AP