[Image from the AFP, Rehman Malik showing reporters a picture of the boat used in the Mumbai attacks]
On Thursday, media outlets reported that Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik acknowledged that “some part of the conspiracy” behind the November attacks in Mumbai took place in Pakistan. According to CNN, “The comments…were Pakistan’s first formal acknowledgment that Islamic militants trained in his country were behind the plot.” BBC News correspondent Syed Shoaib Hasan added, “It is also the first time a serving Pakistan government official has acknowledged that a foreign terror plot was hatched in Pakistan – an admission that could hold serious implications for the country’s security establishment.” Dawn quoted the senior official, who told reporters today, “The incident happened in India and part of the conspiracy was hatched in Pakistan…This FIR [First Information Report] has been launched. I want to show all of you, I want to show our nation, I want to show the international community, I want to show all those who have been a victim of terrorism, that we mean business.”
According to Malik, six of the suspects are now in police custody, while “two others remain at large,” reported BBC News. The news agency added, “It is not clear when the suspects were arrested – Pakistan said in January that 71 suspects had been detained. Arrests began in early December.” The NY Times reported, “Sketching the international profile of the attackers’ communications, he said cellphone SIM cards were bought in Austria while calls over the Internet, using a server in Texas, were paid for in Barcelona, Spain.” Moreover, reported GEO News, another website domain name used by the attackers was registered in Russia, and a satellite phone was registered in a Middle Eastern country, which Malik declined to name. The Interior Minister noted that one conspirator in Pakistani custody, Hamman Amin Sadiq, was “basically the main operator,” adding that his interrogation “led to the raid on two hideouts, one in the port city, and one two hours outside.” Moreover, emails that claimed the responsibility for the attacks were allegedly created by Zarar Shah, the communications coordinator of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group India has long believed to be behind the attacks.
India welcomed Malik’s statements on Thursday, calling the acknowledgement, “positive,” adding, “We would expect that the government of Pakistan take credible steps to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan.” According to the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi, “There is genuine surprise in India at what is seen by some as a major turn-around by Pakistan.” Just yesterday, Hindu’s nationalist opposition called for tougher measures against Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks. According to the Financial Times, Prakash Javadekar, a senior spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata party [BJP], said “rising anger about India’s apparent helplessness in face of a threat from Pakistan would swell support for his party in coming elections.” It will be interesting to see how today’s development impacts public opinion in both India and Pakistan, and if it will alter voters’ perceptions prior to India’s elections, which are slated to take place between April and May 2009.
After reading Malik’s statements in the media today, I was also struck by the transnational nature of these attacks. In this era of technology and communication, the recruitment and organization of terrorist attacks don’t just occur within tangible boundaries – but across continents and within cyberspace. It has transformed the way we perceive or should perceive conflict – if the Mumbai attackers were Pakistani but used various networks in Europe, Asia, and the United States – does the blame fall on just one country or on several? Obviously, Pakistan should spearhead the investigation – but to what extent do other nations get involved?