ISLAMABAD, Feb 13, 2009 (AFP) - Pressure mounted Friday on Pakistan to dismantle radical Islamist groups and bring to justice plotters of the Mumbai attacks after Islamabad admitted the assault was planned partly on its soil.
Washington and New Delhi, which blamed the 60-hour siege on Pakistan's banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Islamist group, welcomed the arrest of six suspects, including the alleged mastermind, but demanded that Islamabad wipe out militants.
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Pakistan should move to "dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism" on its territory.
"We hope that the matter will be taken to its logical conclusion and the perpetrators are penalised," he told reporters.
Pakistan has thrown the ball back to India, submitting a list of 30 questions for more information from New Delhi, stressing that convictions in court will need "tenable evidence" and insisting it "means business".
"There is no time frame. We have sent questions to India and once we get something concrete from them, the trial will start," said a government official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Two of those in Pakistani custody are senior LeT leaders.
But US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said the key to defusing tensions between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars, lay with Islamabad clamping down seriously on Islamic militants.
The best Indian-Pakistani efforts to improve relations "could unravel unless Islamabad takes sustained, concrete, meaningful steps to allay Indian concerns about Islamabad's support to anti-Indian militant groups," Blair said.
Otherwise, he warned that emerging giant India could feel compelled to ignite a wider conflict in a region which Washington considers a frontline in the war on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
"In the absence of a military response against Islamabad, the Indian public will look for visible signs that Pakistan is actively working to punish those involved and eliminate its domestic terrorist organisations," Blair said.
Pakistan's intelligence agency, with US support, bankrolled jihad groups fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, convinced that shoring up a western support base would counter the premier perceived threat from India.
In 2002, then military ruler Pervez Musharraf banned the LeT and other groups fighting against Indian-rule in Kashmir, under pressure from the United States, after an attack on the Indian parliament.
But the extremist presence has mushroomed in Pakistan, with an expanding network of thousands of madrassas believed to be recruiting for militants, and Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters who fled the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Pakistan has come under massive Western pressure to clamp down against Al-Qaeda militants along its border with Afghanistan, where its under-equipped military has waged multiple offensives against Taliban fighters but with no imminent sign of success.
Blair said the Pakistani government was "losing authority" in parts of the North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan, and had "less control" of its semi-autonomous tribal areas, which have become Islamist strongholds.
Commentators drew a link between the announcement about the arrests and this week's regional tour by US envoy Richard Holbrooke as Washington seeks to bind Islamabad into a new strategy to turn around the war against militants.
"It is obviously linked with Holbrooke's visit and the registration of cases was made public before he reached New Delhi," Islamabad-based analyst Anees Jillani told AFP.
"They had sufficient time to complete this work and almost took 80 days, which shows their slackness. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth to see that things are always done under American pressure here," he added.