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India, Pakistan square off over Parliament shooting

India accused Pakistan yesterday of trying to wipe out its political leadership in last week's attack on Parliament because Islamabad could not accept a powerful and secular neighbor.

But in a speech to Parliament, Home (Interior) Minister Lal Krishna Advani stopped short of announcing retaliation against Pakistan. Soon after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told party members to prepare for a decisive battle against terrorism, Advani said Pakistan was waging a systemic campaign of "terrorism" against India.

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Pakistan denied involvement in the attack or supporting terrorism and suggested a joint investigation with India into the raid. The death toll rose to 15, including the five assailants, after an injured policeman died yesterday.

"This time, the terrorists and their mentors across the border had the temerity to try to wipe out the entire political leadership of India," Advani said, vowing to crush terrorism.

He questioned the timing of the raid amid the US-led war against terrorism.

"The only answer ... is that Pakistan ... itself a theocratic state with an extremely tenuous tradition of democracy - is unable to reconcile itself with the reality of a secular, democratic, self-confident, and steadily progressing India, whose standing in the international community is getting inexorably higher with the passage of time," he said.

Tensions between the nuclear rivals, who have fought three wars since 1947, have increased as India considers a military strike against Kashmiri separatists operating out of Pakistan, and blames its arch foe for the attack on Parliament.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the separatists. Pakistan denies this, but says it offers moral support.

Islamabad has threatened to respond if attacked.