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Mumbai attacker’s confession could heighten pressure on Pakistan

The lone surviving gunman from November's assault testified that Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba's was involved.

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent / July 21, 2009



NEW DELHI – The stunning confession by the surviving gunman from the gruesome Mumbai attacks last November could give India a new tool in its effort to pressure Pakistan to rein in militant groups, analysts say.

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On Monday Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, one of 10 gunmen who launched the assault on India‘s financial capital that killed more than 170 people, stood up during his trial in a high-security prison in Mumbai and reversed his previous plea of not guilty. He said he had been recruited by the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and provided details of his instruction and training.

“This will push relations between India and Pakistan into a tight corner,” says Ayesha Siddiqa, an Islamabad-based security analyst.

India is likely now to renew its calls for Pakistan to clamp down on LeT and extradite its leaders. “But it has been made very clear to the international community that Pakistan is not going to hand over LeT leaders to India,” Ms. Siddiqa continues. “It’s very clear that if they are tried, they have to be tried in Pakistan. It’s going to cause a lot of internal frustration in India.”

Court adjourned after provocative testimony

On Tuesday Mr. Kasab apparently tried to send a message to his former handlers through the media before the presiding judge adjourned the trial and issued a gag order on reporting some of the details of the day’s testimony. The Judge, M.L. Tahiliyani, said full release of the testimony could cause trouble between religious groups in India.

The trial is adjourned until Wednesday while the court works out whether to accept the confession or carry on with the trial.

On Monday Kasab gave a detailed – and chilling – account of his part in the attack, from his decision to join the LeT because he was poverty-stricken, to his group’s journey from Karachi in an inflatable dinghy, and the rampage that followed.

More fingers point at Lashkar-e-Taiba

Kasab’s testimony may complicate India-Pakistan relations. The November attack caused India to pull out of a promising peace process with its nuclear-armed neighbor. Though Kasab’s testimony adds little to claims of Pakistani involvement made so far, open confirmation of the involvement of the LeT could inflame public sentiment in India and threaten renewed peace efforts.

LeT was originally formed to contest India’s presence in Kashmir and has for much of its 20-year existence been supported by Pakistan as a proxy in its contest for control of the disputed mountain region.

Kasab’s confession came days after Pakistani authorities acknowledged that the LeT was behind the Mumbai attacks. They deny any state involvement, however.

Kasab said he changed his plea to guilty because Pakistan had begun cooperating more with India and had identified him as a participant. When asked by the judge on Tuesday how he came to know this, Kasab said he had heard the news from guards speaking outside his cell.

His Monday confession included extensive details about his training and recruitment in Karachi, Pakistan. While he was sent to Mumbai, other young men he met during his training were sent to fight in Kashmir, he told the court.

Pakistan says it is preparing to try five suspects from the Mumbai attacks, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, whom Kasab named in his testimony as the “mastermind” behind the attack.

Last month, however, a Pakistani court freed LeT leader Hafiz Saeed from house arrest – infuriating Indian leaders. An Indian court has issued arrest warrants for 22 Pakistani nationals for involvement in the attacks, including Mr. Saeed.

Seema Desai, a London-based Asia analyst at the Eurasia group, a political risk consultancy, said India needed “a convincing explanation for why [Kasab] changed his story” before using it to pressure Pakistan, “because Pakistan won’t give much credence to his testimony.

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