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Hoax call put Pakistan and India on brink of war - WikiLeaks

Dean Nelson in Delhi

Published 24/03/2011 | 05:00

A hoax phone call and a diplomatic gaffe by a senior Indian official brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war shortly after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, according to diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks.

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In the days after 10 Pakistani terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba group killed 166 people in Mumbai, a man pretending to be Pranab Mukherjee, India's then external affairs minister, called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to warn it was about to launch a military response.

Mr Zardari immediately contacted the country's military leadership and ordered its air force to be put on high alert to confront a possible attack. He began a diplomatic campaign to put pressure on India to withdraw its "threat".

Crisis

According to the cables, published in 'The Hindu' newspaper yesterday, Condoleezza Rice, then US secretary of state, was so alarmed that she abandoned her programme and flew to Islamabad and New Delhi to calm the crisis.

American officials in New Delhi contacted India's ministry of external affairs and were alarmed when one senior figure mistakenly confirmed that Mr Mukherjee had phoned the Pakistani president.

Ms Rice telephoned the external affairs minister in the middle of the night to ask why he had made the threat and was told he had not called Mr Zardari.

In a cable on Dec 4, 2008, David Mulford, US ambassador to India, explained how the mix-up may have occurred.

Pakistan's 'Dawn' newspaper claimed the hoax call had been made from jail on a mobile phone by Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the British al-Qa'ida terrorist held for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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