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Singh dodges Malik invite with 26/11 prod

New Delhi, Dec. 15: Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik today said he had invited Manmohan Singh for a visit but the Indian Prime Minister had countered by bringing up Islamabad’s probe into the 2008 Mumbai attack.

Malik, who used the word “monkeys” while lashing out at militant organisations during an interaction with lawyers, also called on national security adviser Shivshankar Menon and the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj.

The Pakistani minister extended the invite from President Asif Ali Zardari when he met the Prime Minister, saying the people of Pakistan, particularly those in Singh’s birthplace Chakwal in Punjab province, would be “disappointed” if he didn’t come.

“When I invited him… unhone kaha ki mere log mujhe poochhte hain ki aapne Bombay (attack) ke bare mein kya kiya (he told me ‘my people ask me what has Pakistan done in the case of the Mumbai attack’),” Malik said.

Pakistan watchers in the government said the fresh invitation — Zardari had earlier too invited Singh to visit Pakistan — had a lot to do with the ruling PPP’s delicate position ahead of elections next year. “A prime ministerial visit from India would help the PPP,” said a home ministry source.

Sushma also brought up the slow pace of the 26/11 investigations in Pakistan when Malik met the BJP leader.

Malik, however, claimed the “trust deficit in sharing information” on the probe had been removed in the course of today’s meetings. He said the decks had been cleared for the visit of a judicial commission to India while daily hearings would be held in Pakistan on cases related to 26/11.

If Pakistan has “hard evidence” against Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind, the Lashkar-e-Toiba leader would be arrested, he added.

Malik lashed out at two outfits — the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistan Taliban, and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — as he called for a joint campaign against militancy.

“Poverty and religion when mixed together by certain monkeys is bad for society…. TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are together and are going all out… terrorism has become a business. Let us fight together,” he told a gathering of the Confederation of Indian Bar.

Militant organisations posed a danger to both Pakistan and India, he said, but did not mention the Lashkar.

He also announced the formation of an India-Pakistan Friendship Society and named a senior Indian lawyer as its head.

Malik said he had never “compared” the demolition of the Babri Masjid with the Mumbai attack, clarifying a comment he made yesterday when he had mentioned the 1992 assault on the mosque in the same breath as the 26/11 siege, the 9/11 attacks in America and the Samjhauta Express blast.

“I never compared 26/11 to Babri Mosque…” he said. “I want inter-faith interaction.”

In a balancing act today, Malik hugged Acharya Pramod Krishnam, of the Kalki ashram in Uttar Pradesh, who was present at the interaction with the lawyers.

Krishnam recited an Urdu couplet, encouraging understanding between India and Pakistan.

Malik has invited Krishnam to lead a nine-member team of “Hindu saints” from the Bharatiya Sant Samiti to Pakistan in January.

When Sushma asked Malik about the alleged persecution of Hindus in Pakistan, he denied the charge but said action had been taken against some people.

At least 2,000 Hindus have sought refuge in India in the past three years following attacks, mainly in Sindh province, sources said.