- Associated Press - Thursday, December 30, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan will “strongly contest” two U.S lawsuits that link its spy chief and his agency to the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, the government said Thursday.

The statement shows how sensitive Pakistan is to claims that its agents were involved in the assault that killed 166 people. It also could be evidence of pressure on the weak civilian government by the powerful spy service.

It appeared that the goal of the tough Pakistani stance was to get the lawsuits dismissed.

The suits already have caused tensions between the United States and Pakistan. The United States depends on Pakistani cooperation to fight Taliban fighters in its border area with Afghanistan, and friction over other issues could harm the alliance.

The lawsuits were filed in New York in November. The plaintiffs include relatives of victims in the Mumbai attacks.

The bloody, coordinated attacks on several sites in Mumbai — including luxury hotels, a cafe, a train station and a Jewish center — have been blamed on the Pakistani Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, a defendant in the suits.

The 60-hour siege by 10 Pakistani militants, which has been called India’s 9/11, paralyzed the country’s financial capital and deeply wounded the national psyche.

The court papers repeat long-standing allegations that Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence has “nurtured and used international terrorist groups,” including Lashkar.

“Defendant ISI provided critical planning, material support, control and coordination of the attacks,” the lawsuits allege, pressing wrongful death and additional claims against the ISI; its chief, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha; and others.

The ISI is a powerful military institution that operates largely independently, with little oversight by the civilian government.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said Gen. Pasha cannot be made to testify in a U.S. civil court and that the New York cases should be dismissed.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement Thursday indicated that Pakistan, through its embassy in Washington, will seek to get the lawsuits tossed out. It declared that Gen. Pasha, the ISI and other Pakistani officials named will be “fully and properly” defended and noted the prime minister’s view against pursuing the court cases.

Pakistan has denied any government agency was involved in the attacks in India, its archrival. The two countries have fought three wars since 1947. Pakistani security has detained seven suspects in the case, but their trials have stalled.

Experts say civil lawsuits such as the ones filed in the Brooklyn federal court rarely succeed beyond being symbolic.

A U.S. court could find that Gen. Pasha is protected by sovereign immunity. International defendants who aren’t protected often don’t respond to summonses and, as a result, never enter a U.S. courthouse.

Even if a judge orders damages, the chances of collecting are slim. Sometimes, judges have dismissed cases after the U.S. government indicated its opposition to them on diplomatic grounds.

Because of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. diplomats have a keen interest in maintaining Pakistan’s cooperation, but tensions frequently emerge.

After the name of the CIA station chief was made public in connection with a potential Pakistani lawsuit over U.S. missile strikes, there were claims that ISI was responsible for the leak in retaliation for the New York lawsuits. ISI denied leaking the name.

The station chief was pulled out of Pakistan earlier this month after receiving threats to his life.

The United States has pushed Pakistan, with limited success, to fight Taliban and al Qaeda fighters sheltering in its tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan also is widely believed to cooperate secretly in the U.S. drone campaign by providing intelligence to help pinpoint missile targets.

On Monday, Pakistani helicopter gunships pounded a militant hideout in the Kurram tribal region near Afghanistan, killing at least 20 suspected insurgents, local government official Jamil Khan said. Many Taliban militants escaping a Pakistan army operation in the nearby Orakzai tribal region are believed to have fled to Kurram.

In Larkana, a southern city that is a power base of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a car on Monday, killing two intelligence officers, local police Chief Irfan Baloch said.

Chief Baloch would not name the intelligence agency the victims worked for or suggest a motive, saying that a police investigation was in progress.

Associated Press writers Hussain Afzal in Parachinar, Pakistan, and Ashraf Khan in Karachi, Pakistan, contributed to this report.


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