Pakistan acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that parts of the Mumbai terrorist attacks were planned on its soil and said that six suspects were being held and awaiting prosecution.
The admission amounted to a significant about-face for the Pakistani government, which has long denied that any terrorist attacks against India, its longtime enemy, have originated in Pakistan.
Officials said as recently as Monday that they did not have enough evidence to link the Mumbai assault to Pakistan, and there have been signs of internal tensions in Pakistan over cracking down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group that India and the United States have deemed responsible for the Nov. 26 attack on India’s financial capital.
Pakistani officials did not explicitly name Lashkar as the organizer of the attacks on Thursday, but they did single out as suspects two people who are known to be connected to the group.
The formal acknowledgment of a Pakistani role came on the final day of a visit to the country by Richard C. Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the region, who raised the issue with top Pakistani government officials, according to an official familiar with the conversations.
Though Pakistani officials denied the announcement was linked to Holbrooke’s visit, the Obama administration has made clear that lowering hostilities between India and Pakistan is a key part of a regional solution to the war in Afghanistan, which Holbrooke is in the region to assess.
India called Pakistan’s admission a “positive development,” but said that Pakistan must still take steps to dismantle the “infrastructure of terrorism.” In Washington, the State Department spokesman, Robert A. Wood, said: “I think it shows that Pakistan is serious about doing what it can to deal with the people that may have perpetrated these attacks.”
Both India and the United States have put strong pressure on Pakistan for some concession regarding the Mumbai attacks, which American officials feared were distracting Pakistan from the task of battling Taliban and Qaida militants who have bases inside Pakistani territory.
Despite seemingly overwhelming evidence presented by India, with the help of American and British investigators, top Pakistani officials had repeatedly raised doubts about the identity of the attackers and the links to Pakistan-based militant leaders.
Finally, on Thursday, as Holbrooke left Pakistan for Afghanistan, Rehman Malik, the senior security official in the Interior Ministry, gave the fullest public account so far of Pakistan’s investigation.
“Some part of the conspiracy has taken place in Pakistani,” he said in a televised news briefing. “I want to assure our nation, I want to assure the international community, that we mean business.”
He emphasized Pakistan’s commitment to prosecuting the attackers and, unusually for a government official here, expressed solidarity with India.