The Mumbai attacks threaten to chill improving ties between the nuclear rivals India and Pakistan just as the West is trying to get Islamabad to focus on al-Qaeda and Taliban close to the Afghan border.
India has not singled out Pakistan as being linked to the strikes, but Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said militants based outside his country carried them out.
That was widely understood in Pakistan to be an accusation of its involvement.
Pakistan condemned the militant attacks on Thursday and promised full cooperation in fighting terrorism.
Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said Pakistan “should not be blamed like in the past.”
“This will destroy all the goodwill we created together after years of bitterness,” he said late on Thursday. “I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents.”
Deteriorating relations between Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since 1947, would greatly complicate US foreign policy in South Asia.
Incoming US president-elect Barack Obama has said normalizing ties between the two countries would be a major plank of his broader campaign to stabilize Afghanistan and beat al-Qaeda in the region.
“You can’t cozy up to a country that is accusing you of complicity in terrorism,” said Shaun Gregory, an expert on South Asian terrorism at the University of Bradford in Britain. “Any sign of Pakistani involvement would be extraordinarily damaging.”
Relations between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have warmed in recent years and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has made moves to improve ties further.
Militant attacks in India always fan suspicion of Pakistani involvement, either by Pakistan-based militants or even its security agents.
In 2001, militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir attacked the parliament in New Delhi, helping push the countries to the brink of war a year later.
More recently, India accused Pakistan’s intelligence services of helping the Taliban bomb its embassy in the Afghan capital in July, killing 58 people. Pakistani officials said there was no evidence to support the allegation.
Some analysts speculated that the goal of the attack may have been to trigger a collapse in India-Pakistan ties possibly to the levels of 2002, when New Delhi deployed tens of thousands of troops to the border.
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