Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mystery phone call put Pakistan and India on the brink of war

Mystery phone call put Pakistan and India on the brink of war
McClatchy Newspapers
A mysterious night-time phone call brought nuclear India and Pakistan close to the brink of war at the height of the crisis over the Mumbai terror attacks last week, Pakistani officials said Sunday.

They said the "threatening" call was made, ostensibly by India's foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, to Pakistan's president, Asif Zardari, on Friday, November 28, two days into the Mumbai assaults, in which some 170 people died. India had, by then, declared that the militants who had stormed Mumbai were all from Pakistan.

The heated conversation left Zardari believing that India was about to mount an attack on Pakistan and led him to place Pakistan's armed forces onto "high alert," according to Wajid Hasan, Pakistan's ambassador to London, a close associate of Zardari.

Given Pakistan's inferiority in conventional forces, it might not have been able to respond except with nuclear weapons to an Indian attack, analysts said. India, however, did not put its forces on the alert.

Zardari quickly mobilized Western leaders in an attempt to avert war, telephoning Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, and British foreign minister David Miliband, among others, who in turn frantically called India, Hasan said. Pakistani reporters who were briefed by the Indian Embassy in Islamabad said they were told that Rice telephoned Mukherjee in the middle of the night and demanded: "Why have you threatened war?"

According to those same sources, Mukherjee told Rice he made no such call or threat. Nevertheless, Rice, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates rushed to the region.

Indian officials in New Delhi, who like other sources could not be identified by name because they were unauthorized to speak to the public, said they suspected the call had its origin in the Pakistan's own Inter Services Intelligence agency - suggesting a deliberate attempt to foment war between the two neighbors.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's growing internal security crisis spilled over into U.S. military operations in Afghanistan when as many as 200 armed assailants overran a depot housing military supplies for U.S. and coalition forces in Peshawar, Pakistan, capital of the North-West Frontier province. The assailants, believed to be Pakistani Taliban, set the depot on fire and destroyed around 100 trucks carrying equipment, food and other supplies. About 70 Humvee vehicles were turned into smoldering hulks of metal.

Around 70 percent of the supplies to international forces in landlocked Afghanistan are trucked through Pakistan, and Pakistani militants have mounted a campaign to try and choke off the route.

The news of the tension created by the mysterious "Indian" telephone call emerged as the Bush administration, in the face of growing pressures from India, put Islamabad on notice that it must clamp down on the Islamic militant groups accused of targeting India.

According to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who flew to Pakistan after a visit to New Delhi, Indian officials are now threatening the use of force if Pakistan does not move swiftly to act against those responsible for the Mumbai assaults.

"I did say to the Pakistanis that the argument that these are non-state actors is not acceptable," Condolezza Rice said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" program. "Non-state actors in your territory are still your responsibility."

In a separate appearance on Fox News, Rice added: "The United States expects the full and complete cooperation of Pakistan, and Pakistani action. And that yes, it is a matter for our relationship."

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