ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan will send its spy chief to India to help probe the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the government said Friday, scrambling to avoid a crisis with its South Asian neighbor after India linked the atrocity to Pakistan's largest city.
Clear Pakistani fingerprints on the attacks would chill relations between the nuclear-armed rivals and could wreck U.S. hopes of persuading Islamabad to focus on battling the Taliban and al Qaeda near the Afghan border.
According to a Pakistani government statement, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his Pakistani counterpart in a telephone conversation on Friday that "preliminary reports" about the attacks "point to Karachi," Pakistan's main port and financial hub.
The statement provided no details of the purported link to the city, a chaotic metropolis on the Arabia Sea coast in which a host of Islamic militant groups have a presence.
Pakistani premier Yousuf Raza Gilani agreed to Singh's request for the head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency to travel to India to share information, the statement said.
ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha will head to India "at the earliest," the statement said.
Deteriorating relations between Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since 1947, would greatly complicate U.S. foreign policy in the region.
Incoming President-elect Barack Obama has said normalizing ties between the two South Asian countries will be a major plank of his broader campaign to stabilize Afghanistan and beat al Qaeda in the region.
India has charged Pakistan of complicity in past terrorist attacks on its soil, and Singh on Thursday said militants based outside his country carried them out — a statement understood in Pakistan as a veiled accusation.
Still, Friday's agreement and a series of Pakistani pledges of assistance and solidarity, suggest a crisis might be averted. It also remains unclear if any Pakistani link to the attack exists.
Gilani on Friday "extended his government's full support for jointly combating extremism and terrorism" as well as offering help with the investigation in Mumbai, his office said.
It is widely believed that Pakistan used to provide material and tactical support to militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.
Moreover, Kashmiri militants were blamed for attacking the parliament in New Delhi in 2001, a strike that brought the countries close to their fourth war since 1947.
There has been less cross-border infiltration in recent years into Kashmir, the divided Himalayan territory at the core of their dispute. Still, India accused Pakistan's intelligence services of helping Taliban militants bomb its embassy in the Afghan capital in July, killing 58 people.
Pakistani leaders say there is no evidence to support the allegation.
However, they have taken some steps to reform, including installing Pasha in place of a general appointed by former Pakistani president and army chief Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf's successor, Asif Ali Zardari, has upheld Pakistan's close alliance with Washington in defiance of public hostility. He has also pressed on with a peace process that has eased tensions with India.
Zardari declared over the weekend that India posed no threat to Pakistan and called for their heavily militarized border to be opened for trade.