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Pakistan admits extremists' involvement in Mumbai attacks

In a dossier shared with Indian officials, Pakistani investigators acknowledge that militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba organized the November 2008 attacks that killed 166 people.

July 19, 2009|Alex Rodriguez and Anshul Rana

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN, AND NEW DELHI — A dossier compiled by Pakistani investigators acknowledging that a Pakistani extremist group was behind last year's Mumbai attacks could help set the stage for the beginnings of a thaw in relations with India.

The dossier, which Pakistani officials handed over to their Indian counterparts during talks in Egypt last week, concludes that the militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba organized the attacks on luxury hotels, a railway station and other targets in Mumbai in November that killed 166 people.

India had blamed the attacks on Lashkar-e-Taiba and urged Pakistan to clamp down on the group. But until now, Pakistan had not directly tied the group to the Mumbai violence.

Meeting in Sharm el Sheik last week on the sidelines of a summit, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani met with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, and pledged to resume dialogue between the two countries, a significant step toward reconciliation.

At a news conference in Islamabad on Saturday evening, Gillani said his talks with Singh were a good first step, but added that it would take time to chip away at the deep mistrust built up between the two nations for decades.

"Dialogue is not the problem. A trust deficit, that's the problem," Gillani said. "But with more interaction, that will be taken care of."

Relations between India and Pakistan, nuclear-armed countries that historically have regarded each other as archenemies, froze in the wake of the attacks, as New Delhi accused Islamabad of dragging its feet in tracking down Lashkar-e-Taiba members involved in the rampage.

Lashkar-e-Taiba was formed about 20 years ago to fight Indian rule in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. It was founded by firebrand Islamic cleric Hafiz Saeed with what many say was support from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. A Pakistani court freed Saeed from house arrest last month, angering Indian leaders.

Indian diplomats quoted anonymously in an Indian newspaper and on television said the dossier's acknowledgment of Lashkar-e-Taiba's involvement in the Mumbai attacks played a role in India's decision to open the door toward a resumption of dialogue with Islamabad.

Former Indian Foreign Secretary Salman Haider said Gillani and Singh wanted to "convey that some progress was being made, and in Pakistan's case, this progress could be seen in admitting to Lashkar-e-Taiba involvement."

Opposition parties in India have been critical of Singh's efforts to warm relations with Pakistan, saying he was giving in to pressure from Washington to resume dialogue with Islamabad.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in India on a three-day visit, told reporters in Mumbai that Washington had not put any pressure on Singh's government to strike a more conciliatory tone with Pakistan.

"We are supportive of any action taken by the Indian and Pakistani governments," Clinton said, "but are not directly involved in any way in promoting any particular position."

Pakistani authorities have charged several men in the attacks, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the man they said masterminded the three-day siege.

"Pakistan has been trying hard to convince India that it is taking steps to deal with those groups accused of [being] involved in Mumbai," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political analyst. "That may have facilitated the kind of declaration that came out of Sharm el Sheik."

Still, India is unlikely to seek stronger ties with Islamabad while Saeed remains free. A court in Lahore released the 59-year-old cleric on the grounds that the government had not provided enough evidence to warrant his detention. The government has appealed that ruling.

India regards Saeed as one of its most wanted men. Pakistani authorities have arrested him twice before in connection with terrorist attacks on Indian soil -- in 2001 for an attack on the Indian Parliament, and in 2006 after train bombings in Mumbai that killed about 200 people.

In both instances, Pakistani authorities held him under house arrest for a short period before releasing him.

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alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

Rana is a special correspondent.

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