Hoax put Pakistanis on alert

Caller made threats in name of the Indian foreign minister

December 07, 2008|By Laura King and Henry Chu | Laura King and Henry Chu,Los Angeles Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -

A hoax caller claiming to be India's foreign minister threatened Pakistan's president with war during the final hours of the Mumbai attacks, prompting Pakistan to put its air force on its highest alert for nearly 24 hours, a news report said yesterday.

Meanwhile, authorities in India reported the first arrests since the end of last month's siege in India's commercial and entertainment capital, which killed more than 170 people. Police in the eastern city of Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, announced that they had detained two men who owned the mobile phone cards that were later used by the attackers.

The hoax call and subsequent air force alert, reported by Pakistan's English-language Dawn newspaper, underscored the volatile atmosphere between the nuclear-armed neighbors during the 60-hour rampage by gunmen in Mumbai that began the night of Nov. 26. Relations have remained tense in the aftermath.

The report also seemed certain to raise new questions about the competence of Pakistan's civilian government, elected less than a year ago. The leadership has been criticized for initially promising to send the chief of its main spy agency to help in the Indian probe, then hastily reneging after objections from the political opposition and security establishment.

The newspaper's account said it took intercession by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other diplomats to establish that the Indian foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, had not made the call to President Asif Ali Zardari on the night of Nov. 28, threatening military action against Pakistan.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman, Lou Fintor, said he was not aware of any such incident. Pakistan's Information Ministry said in a statement that the call in question was put through because it was believed to have come from a recognized exchange within India's Foreign Ministry, but did not address whether Pakistani officials had been duped.

A Western diplomat and a Pakistani security official confirmed the broad outlines of the Dawn account.

India has blamed Pakistan-based militants in the attacks but not the Pakistani state. Pakistan has denied official involvement, and there is widespread public anger that India accused Pakistani elements even as the attacks were unfolding.

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