South Asia News
Hoax call "pushed Pakistan to brink of war with India" (2nd Roundup)
By Nadeem Sarwar Dec 6, 2008, 14:31 GMT
Islamabad - Nuclear-armed Pakistan edged to the brink of war with India when its president received a threatening call from someone posing as Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee during last week's Mumbai attacks, a media report said Saturday.
The incident has raised questions in Pakistan of how the head of a nuclear state could be fooled by an ill-wisher.
The caller, who was put through to President Asif Ali Zardari late in the day on November 28 without verification of his claimed identity, warned that India would take 'military action if Islamabad failed to immediately act against the supposed perpetrators of the Mumbai killings.'
According to The Dawn newspaper, as the phone call ended many in the president's office were convinced that the 'Indians had started beating the war drums.'
Panicked authorities put the Pakistan Air Force on 'highest alert' and jet fighters patrolled over and around the federal capital with live ammunition for the next 24 hours, the newspaper reported, citing several unnamed Pakistani political, diplomatic and security sources.
Alarming messages were sent to top officials in Washington, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as the country was eyeing India for possible signs of military aggression.
'War may not have been imminent, but it was not possible to take any chances,' one senior official told the newspaper.
But Mukherjee denied that he had made any phone call to Zardari as Rice contacted him in the middle of the night on Friday, when the Indian security forces were still battling the terrorists in Mumbai.
The situation was defused on the following day with hectic international efforts.
An official in Pakistan's foreign ministry confirmed the report to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa but declined to give his name saying only the president's office is authorized to speak on the issue.
The Mumbai slaughter that left more than 170 people dead and over 300 injured have raised tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad as the Indian police claim the 10 attackers were linked with Pakistan- based Islamic militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The same group, which was also suspected to be involved in 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, brought the two nuclear-armed South Asian nations on the verge of a war.
A source in Indian High Commission in Islamabad told Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency that a clear message was sent out to Pakistani authorities that the call was fake and 'it should not exacerbate tensions at a crucial time.'
With the situation still murky, Pakistan on November 29 threatened to withdraw more than 100,000 troops fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban along its western border if India started a military build-up on eastern border, raising even further concerns in Washington.
Investigations are under way to establish the identity of the caller. Pakistani authorities suspect the phone call came from a number in New Delhi and might have been someone in India's foreign ministry, a claim New Delhi rejected outright.
Pakistan's Information Minister, Sherry Rehman, said: 'The identity of this particular call, as evident from the CLI device, showed that the call was placed from a verified official phone number of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.'
'It is not possible for any call to come through to the President without multiple caller identity verification,' she added according a press statement released on Saturday.
The Indian government did not have many details about the call till Zardari himself mentioned the matter to a colleague in India, PTI report said.
This led to widespread cross-checking by India's External Affairs Ministry and it was clearly established that no such call had been made.
According to Dawn, the same mysterious caller also tried to speak to Rice pretending to be the Indian external affairs minister, but due to the specific checks laid down by the Americans, the call could not get through.
Criticism has mounted on Zardari's offices of why the standard procedures, including the verification of the caller and engagement of the diplomatic missions, were by-passed when the fake caller was connected to the president.
'That is an absolutely irresponsible attitude that could be very dangerous when you are heading a nuclear state,' said Ahmed Raza Kasuri, an ex-Pakistani minister and a close aide to former president Pervez Musharraf.
'Someone has to be severely punished for the security laps even if it is the president himself.'