After mounting pressure from the United States and India, Pakistani authorities raided a camp run by the militant group suspected of carrying out the Mumbai attacks, Pakistani and U.S. officials said Monday.
The operation appeared to be Pakistan’s first concrete response to the demands from India and the United States to take action against the militants suspected in the attacks, which have raised tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors to their highest point in years.
The Pakistani authorities said that among those arrested was Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who Indian and U.S. officials say masterminded the attacks for the militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to a State Department official in Washington.
U.S. Embassy officials could not verify the claim independently, he said. Neither would Pakistani officials in Islamabad.
A senior Pakistani security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said about a dozen people had been arrested in the raid, which took place in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
The official at first said that Lakhvi, an operational commander for Lashkar, was among them, but later backed away from the assertion.
Lashkar-e-Taiba was founded 20 years ago with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies as a proxy force to challenge Indian control of part of Muslim-dominated Kashmir.
U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials told The New York Times that Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, has continued nurturing the group, even after 9/11, when the Pakistani government pledged to sever its ties with militant groups.
While they say there is no hard evidence linking the ISI to the Mumbai attacks, investigators and intelligence officials have pointed to Lashkar as the likely culprit.
The Pakistani government has resisted the notion that Pakistani citizens may have been involved in the Mumbai attacks, and it has so far refused to hand over 20 criminal and terrorist suspects long demanded by the Indians.
The raid Sunday appeared to be the first step by the Pakistanis that at least tacitly recognized the U.S. and Indian claims.
Counterterrorism experts familiar with the behavior of the Pakistani security services said there was a need by Pakistan to be seen to be doing something to alleviate the U.S. and Indian pressure, as well to avert the possibility of an Indian military strike.
Still, the effectiveness of that action might be less than India or the United States would like, they said. In the past, Pakistan had detained militants under pressure from the United States and Britain, and then quietly let them go, said Sajjan Gohel, the director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation in London said.
A senior Pakistani official said the operation was part of a gradual effort to bring the militants under control. This comports with the general view among civilian politicians that Pakistan cannot afford to appear as though it is being coerced into shutting down militant groups that have been created to fight India.