US Senator John McCain has said he believes that if Pakistan does not act against individuals and groups linked to the Mumbai terror attacks, it could be a "matter of days" before India carries out surgical strikes against such elements.
There is enough evidence of the involvement of former Inter-Services Intelligence officers in the planning and execution of the Mumbai attacks and terrorist training camps are still operational in Pakistan, McCain told a small group of senior Pakistani journalists at an informal lunch in Lahore yesterday.
Ejaz Haider, a senior editor with the Daily Times group, quoted McCain as saying that he believed it could be a "matter of days" before India carried out surgical air strikes if Pakistan did not act on the evidence provided to it on elements linked to the attacks.
McCain also said that the terrorist training camps were being emptied "as we speak", Haider told Dawn News channel.
Referring to the terror training camps as "red dots on the map", McCain indicated that their number had increased since the time the US launched its campaign in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
McCain, who unsuccessfully contested the US presidential election, arrived in Pakistan with two other senior Senators on Friday after a brief visit to India.
Referring to his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, McCain said the Indian leader, who is not easily ruffled, had appeared visibly angry.
In a report in the Daily Times, Haider wrote McCain had said that if "Pakistan does not act, and act fast, to arrest the involved people, India will be left with no option but to conduct aerial operations against select targets in Pakistan".
McCain has also said the devastating attacks in Mumbai must not be allowed to hinder the peace process between India and Pakistan.
Speaking at the end of a day-long visit to Pakistan, the Republican senator said a worsening of relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours would be a victory for the perpetrators of the attacks.
"One of the major goals of the outrageous attacks was to reverse the trend... and the progress that has been made in the Indian and Pakistani relations," he said late Saturday, according to Pakistan's APP news agency.
"If the terrorists succeed in confounding relations between these two great countries, they will achieve their aim. We cannot let that happen."
McCain, along with fellow US senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham, held talks with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on relations with India and the security situation in Pakistan.
Their visit came on the heels of one last week by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to keep a lid on tensions between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since 1947.
It also came as Pakistan's ambassador to Britain said officials feared India was planning a military strike after saying that all of the Mumbai attackers, who killed 172 people in a three-day siege, had come from Pakistan.
Gilani told the US senators that Pakistan was determined to maintain good relations with India, the government said in a statement.
He also called on Pakistan's allies to help with its efforts to root out extremism and terrorism.
Meanwhile, India's foreign minister on Sunday denied placing a call to Pakistan's president at the height of the Mumbai siege, which led to its air force going on high alert, saying the reports were an attempt to divert attention from the fact the attack came from Pakistan.
Pakistan said President Asif Ali Zardari received a "threatening" call during the crisis, apparently from Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The back-and-forth over the call, while appearing farcical, underscores the dangers of the poor communication and deep mistrust between the nuclear-armed rivals.
India's investigation into the attacks was running into similar theatrics, with security officials demanding the release of one of only two men arrested so far, saying he was actually a counterinsurgency police officer who may have been on an undercover mission.
Indian authorities believe the banned Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has links to the disputed Kashmir region, trained the gunmen and plotted the attacks that left 171 people dead after a three-day rampage through Mumbai that began Nov. 26.
"I had made no such telephone call," Mukherjee said in a statement Sunday, reacting for the first time to the reports.
On Saturday, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported the alleged hoax and said it prompted Pakistan to put its air force on high alert. A security official later said a man pretending to be Mukherjee had spoken in a "threatening manner.”