India, Pakistan trade barbs over Parliament attack

India yesterday claimed Pakistani intelligence knew of plans for Dec. 13 attack, as war of words escalates.

The rhetoric between nuclear-armed archrivals India and Pakistan is heating up once again in the wake of a deadly assault last week on the Indian Parliament.

New Delhi is demanding that Islamabad take action against two Islamic militant groups fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which it considers responsible for the attack.In addition, Delhi Police Commissioner Ajay Raj Sharma said yesterday that police had evidence the Interservices Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's intelligence agency, had "full knowledge of the conspiracy."

Pakistan's government has denied any involvement in what it condemns as a "terrorist" attack.

When five terrorists breached the security cordon around Parliament House Dec. 13, firing AK-47 rifles and hurling grenades, India's entire political leadership was still inside the building.

In the ensuing gun battle, the five terrorists, six Delhi police, and two Parliament employees were killed.

"The attack was a hit against the state at one of its most sensitive points. It is a heavy blow to [the] Indian state and its democracy," says Salman Haider, a former foreign secretary.

Saying it has credible evidence that the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba carried out the assault, India's government formally asked Islamabad to arrest the group's leadership and that of another militant outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and to freeze both organizations' assets.

While rejecting India's demand, Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf warned of retaliation against any Indian "misadventurism." Mr. Musharraf later said he would take action, however, if India could provide evidence of either group's involvement.

Mr. Sharma, the Delhi police commissioner, yesterday said a man detained in the attack has admitted that he was trained at an ISI camp in Muzzafarabad in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

As the war of words between the two South Asian powerhouses mounts, experts say it is getting more and more difficult for the two countries to engage in talks.

"The incident on Dec. 13 has put the chances of a dialogue further away," says Mr. Haider. "The attack on Parliament will have lasting impact."

"A part of their [terrorists'] objective might be to provoke a war between India and Pakistan or mount tension between the two," Haider warns. The terrorist organizations in the region, according to Indian intelligence officials, are reeling from the blow to Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. Most of the terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir received their support from them.

The intelligence agencies reportedly have warned that any action across the Line of Control - the international border between India and Pakistan - would play into the hands of terrorist organizations.

"Pakistan was, obviously, under pressure from the world powers to cut off its support to the terrorist groups," says one official, who declined to be identified. "A military action against Pakistan may force Pakistan to take up the terrorist [side] and the scenario would be changed."

Opposition political parties also feel India should show restraint. "India should collect evidences against the Pakistan-supported terrorist groups and present [it] before the international community and the country. Then we can go for action," says Kuldeep Nayyar, a lawmaker in the Rajya Sabha, or upper house of Parliament.

Meanwhile, security forces are stepping up antiterrorist efforts. There are reports the Indian Army may try to inflict damage on militants holed up across the border by using precision artillery strikes with laser-guided shells, with the support of the Air Force to identify targets.

On the home front, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government's proposed antiterrorism bill, which gives law-enforcement agencies additional powers, is expected to win new supporters. The ordinance was opposed by opposition parties and human rights organizations, who said its provisions violate human rights.

The ordinance has yet to be passed by both houses of Parliament.

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