India slams Pakistan over Mumbai hoax call reports

MUMBAI, Dec 7, 2008 (AFP) - India's foreign minister said on Sunday that Pakistani reports about a hoax call made in his name during the Mumbai siege were an attempt to divert blame for the attacks.

The call, from someone claiming to be Pranab Mukherjee to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, put Pakistan on high alert of a military strike by India while militants were still fighting security forces in Mumbai.

The caller told Zardari that India would take military action if Islamabad did not hand over those behind the attacks, Pakistani newspapers reported on Saturday.

"I had made no such telephone call," Mukherjee said in a statement explaining how India rushed to clarify that the call was a hoax.

"I can only ascribe this series of events to those in Pakistan who wish to divert attention from the fact that a terrorist group operating from Pakistani territory planned and launched a ghastly attack on Mumbai."

Pakistan responded to the hoax call by putting its air force on stand-by, and the incident triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity as world leaders feared a row between the nuclear-armed rivals could lead to war.

Mukherjee said it was "worrying" that Pakistan could "even consider acting on the basis of such a hoax call".

In another sign of how high cross-border tension rose last week, Pakistan's ambassador to Britain said international diplomats also feared India was about to launch a military strike on Pakistan.

"There was circumstantial evidence that India was going to make a quick strike against Pakistan to teach her a lesson," Wajid Shamsul Hassan, Pakistan's high commissioner to London, told the BBC.

"This is what we were told by our friends -- that there could possibly be a quick strike at some of the areas they suspect to be the training camps, an air raid or something of that sort," he said on Saturday.

The US sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to India and Pakistan last week to keep a lid on tensions between the neighbors, who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

Pakistan has repeatedly called for "concrete proof" from India, which says the only gunman captured alive has admitted that all the attackers had come from across the border.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's foreign ministry on Sunday dismissed as "rubbish" reports that it had agreed to a 48-hour timetable to take action against Pakistanis accused of involvement in the attacks.

The Washington Post said Saturday that Pakistan had agreed to a deadline imposed by the United States and India to arrest three people, including the head of the Islamist Lashkar-e-Taiba group alleged to be behind the strikes.

Indian police resumed interrogation on Sunday of two men arrested on suspicion of providing mobile phone SIM cards to the attackers.

One was reported to be from Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in whole by each. Both men are said to be Indian nationals.

Suspicion in the Mumbai attacks has fallen on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has fought Indian rule in Kashmir and was blamed for a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.

Source: AFP

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