The head of the party which leads India's governing coalition has begun unofficial election campaigning, with harsh words directed at Pakistan.  It is an early indication the Congress Party intends to portray itself as tough on defense and terrorism, in a bid to remain in power this year. 

Although it is still at least a couple of months before serious campaigning gets underway, the head of India's Congress Party is wasting no time touting government successes and talking tough on terrorism.

Sonia Gandhi told a rally in Silvassa, western India, the coalition government has made major progress in empowering women, providing basic services to the rural poor and cutting fuel prices.

But Gandhi, the widow of a slain prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, says tackling terrorism is also one of the major challenges now facing India.

The Congress Party president says India's neighbors are trying to destroy the unity and integrity of the country.  She says they need to be aware that India will give them a befitting reply.

Harsh rhetoric about Pakistan is not uncommon here.  The two nuclear-armed neighbors have fought several wars.  But such comments take on a new resonance, in wake of the November 26 attack on Mumbai, which left more than 160 people dead.

India blames well-armed and skilled terrorists who it says were trained in and came from Pakistan.  Relations had been gradually warming between the two traditional rivals.  They quickly chilled again, following the 60-hour siege of India's commercial capital.

Congress' political foe, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), traditionally paints itself as the nationalist party and, in local elections since November, has attempted to portray the Congress Party as weak on terrorism.  So far, that strategy has not given the opposition a groundswell of support.

In recent weeks, New Delhi has placed intense pressure on Islamabad to respond to its dossier of evidence allegedly linking the Mumbai attackers to elements in Pakistan. Top government figures here have expressed impatience with a lack of a formal response.  Media here and in Pakistan are reporting that reply is expected any day.