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Wed 10 Dec 2008 01:07 AM

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Pakistan won't hand over suspects to India

16 arrests since Saturday but while it says it wants peace, is ready for war.

Pakistan said Tuesday it would not hand over suspects in the Mumbai terror strikes to India and warned that while it wanted peace with its neighbour, it was ready for war if New Delhi decided to attack.

The remarks came as Indian police on Tuesday released the names of nine suspected gunmen killed in the carnage, reiterating that all of them came from Pakistan.

Tensions have been mounting between the nuclear-armed neighbours after India said it was keeping all options open following last month's attacks on its financial capital, where 172 people were killed and more than 300 wounded.

"We do not want to impose war but we are fully prepared in case war is imposed on us," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said."We are not oblivious to our responsibilities to defend our homeland.

But it is our desire that there should be no war." Indian officials say the hardline Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which is based in Pakistan despite being banned by the government, is behind the bloodshed, and Indian media have suggested there could be Indian strikes on militant camps.

Qureshi said he was sending "a very clear message" that his country did not want conflict with India. "We want friendship, we want peace and we want stability - but our desire for peace should not be considered Pakistan's weakness.

"The minister said India's demands for the extradition of suspects in the Mumbai attacks were out of the question and that Pakistan, which has arrested 16 people since Saturday, would keep them on home soil.

"The arrests are being made for our own investigations. Even if allegations are proved against any suspect, he will not be handed over to India," Qureshi said. "We will proceed against those arrested under Pakistani laws."

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain and nearly came to a fourth in 2001 after an attack on the Indian parliament that was blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which means Army of the Pious.

US President George W. Bush vowed Tuesday to help Pakistan fight extremists in its remote tribal areas but said he would also "do what is necessary" to blunt any threats from the region.

Under international pressure to act, Pakistan on Sunday raided a camp run by a charity, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, that many believe has close links to Lashkar-e-Taiba, and arrested 15 people. Jamaat-ud-Dawa is headed by LeT's founder Hafiz Saeed.

Pakistan has also detained LeT's operations director, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, and the head of another Islamic group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said Tuesday.

Indian media say the lone surviving attacker named Lakhvi as a key planner behind the Mumbai attacks. "Lakhvi was picked up yesterday [Monday]. Azhar has also been picked up," Mukhtar told India's CNN-IBN channel, referring to Maulana Masood Azhar, head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed rebel group.

Security officials had earlier suggested Lakhvi was arrested on Saturday. Azhar was captured by Indian security forces in Indian Kashmir in 1995 but freed by New Delhi in 1999 in return for the safe release of more than 160 passengers on board a hijacked Indian Airlines plane.

He is reported to be on a list of people India last week asked Pakistan to extradite in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

In a commentary published Tuesday in the New York Times, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said the arrests were proof that his country was committed to fighting terrorism.

The LeT has been banned by Pakistan, but India accuses Islamabad of not cracking down on the group, which was established to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and has past links to Pakistani intelligence services and Al-Qaeda.

Two of the three India-Pakistan wars were fought over disputed Kashmir, which is controlled in part but claimed in whole by both nations, and the United States in particular has urged calm after the bloodshed in Mumbai.

The attackers, some of whom arrived by boat, targeted two luxury hotels, a hospital, a Jewish centre and other sites. They managed to hold off Indian security forces for 60 hours before nine were killed and one was captured.

Meanwhile the Pentagon expressed confidence Tuesday that India and Pakistan's nuclear arsenals remained secure despite mounting tensions.

"We see no reason at this point to have any concern with regards to the security of either countries' arsenal," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

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Hussain 11 years ago

If Pakistan is unwilling to handover the suspected terrorists to India it would be interesting to know what Pakistan plans to do with them. A few years back I found some cockroaches in my house and I called for pest control and got rid of them and I also had to change my habits concerning hygiene to keep them away and I succeeded. When will we learn?