- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2008

NEW DELHI

Pakistani authorities put the air force on high alert after their president received a “threatening” late-night call they said came straight from the Indian government as gunmen rampaged across Mumbai.

India dismissed the call as a hoax, and its foreign minister flatly denied Sunday that he was involved.

The circumstances surrounding the call are unclear, but it underscores the high tensions and deep mistrust between the nuclear-armed rivals, which have fought three wars against each other.

Indian authorities believe a banned Pakistani-based militant group trained the gunmen on Pakistani soil and plotted the Mumbai siege that left 171 people dead.



India has demanded that Pakistan take action against the group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, but Pakistani authorities have asked India for clear evidence first.

If the phone call to President Asif Ali Zardari came from India’s Foreign Ministry, as senior Pakistani officials claim, it would be another tense episode in one of the world’s most volatile relationships.

In 2001, after suspected Pakistani militants attacked India’s parliament, both countries rushed troops to the disputed Kashmir region in preparation for a fourth war. Tensions cooled, and relations have improved since peace talks began in 2004, but enmity has remained.

There have been no known major troop movements since the three-day Mumbai siege ended Nov. 29, but Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said India will “act decisively … with all the means at our disposal.”

A senior Pakistani diplomat said Saturday that he had “circumstantial evidence” that India’s military had been preparing to attack Pakistan.

Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman said a “threatening” call to Mr. Zardari on Nov. 28, when the attacks were still under way, definitely came from India’s External Affairs Ministry.

She did not explicitly say the call was from Mr. Mukherjee, but two other government officials said it was. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Mr. Mukherjee flatly denied that Sunday, saying, “I had made no such telephone call.”

It was “worrying that a neighboring state might even consider acting on the basis of such a hoax call,” he said.

“I can only ascribe this series of events to those in Pakistan who wish to divert attention from the fact of an attack on India from Pakistani territory by elements in Pakistan,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

The statement said that India found out about the call from another country - apparently from the United States, which has been seeking to lower tensions in the region - and had sent messages to Pakistan saying that no such call was made.

The call was reported in the Pakistani media as a hoax, and one newspaper said Indian officials believed the caller ID could have been manipulated to make it look like a New Delhi number.

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