Pakistanis Crack Down, Nab Accused Mumbai Plotter

Twelve days after an attack by Pakistani gunmen on the Indian city of Mumbai killed more than 170 people, Pakistan launched raids across the country today targeting the group that India and the United States blames for the attacks.

During one raid on a camp in Pakistani Kashmir, "intelligence-led" forces arrested Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, an operational commander for Lashkar-e-Taiba and one of the alleged ringleaders of the Mumbai attack, government officials tell ABC News.

The crackdown -- which extends from Pakistani Kashmir to the Malakand district of the Northwest Frontier, according to government officials -- comes after considerable pressure from both the United States and India to crack down on terrorists they hold responsible for what has been widely described in India as its 9/11.

The crackdown also came one week after a caller from inside India threatened to attack the terrorist camps if Pakistan itself did not crack down on them. Later described as a "hoax" call by India's foreign minister, Pakistanis maintain it was legitimate and admit they raised their military alert level because of it.

Today's actions are the first concerted effort by Pakistan to respond to the Mumbai attacks, and were twinned with diplomatic overtures.

After a meeting in Islamabad between Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and Indian High Commissioner Satyabrata Pal, the Pakistani foreign ministry released a statement declaring that Pakistan "had initiated investigations on its own into the allegations that have surfaced concerning involvement of any individual or entity in Pakistan in the Mumbai attacks."

The statement also proposed that a "high-level delegation" visit New Delhi to share information and evidence.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the raids "positive steps" and said Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to brief her. Just 24 earlier, Rice said on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" that "this is a time when Pakistan must act."

McCormack also made clear that the United States believes Pakistan understands what is expected of it.

"It's also incumbent upon the Pakistani government to act to prevent any future terrorist attacks, to break up those networks that may be responsible for perpetrating acts of violent extremism," he said. "The Pakistani government understands this."

India and Pakistan seem to have come a long way from last weekend, following what Pakistani officials have described as an aggressive call made by India's foreign minister on the night of Nov. 28.

Over the next two days, Pakistani officials spoke to the press about "an aggressive phone call" from India and reportedly put their air force on high alert. And a senior intelligence official went so far as to say that troops stationed along the western border with Afghanistan -- who are fighting the Taliban and have been credited by American commanders as saving U.S. lives -- could be shifted to the Indian border.

While Pakistani officials continue to insist that the call was verified as coming from Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Indian officials have pointed out that communication to Zardari would not have been made by the external affairs minister directly.

Mukherjee himself has denied making the call.

"I can only ascribe this series of events to those in Pakistan who wish to divert attention from the fact that a terrorist group operating from the Pakistani territory planned and launched a ghastly attack on Mumbai," Mukherjee said.

Indian officials quickly pointed to Lashkar-e-Taiba and its parent organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, as the group responsible for the attack.

Indian investigators in Mumbai say the sole gunmen who survived the attack admitted to being a Lashkar-e-Taiba member.

Created in eastern Afghanistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba was originally designed to fight Indian security forces in Kashmir, the only majority Muslim state in India. But U.S. and Indian officials say that years ago the group started targeting all of India, including an attack on the parliament in New Delhi in 2001 that almost brought the two countries to war.

Indian and U.S. officials say Lashkar-e-Taiba has had ties to Pakistan's powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. But neither American nor Indian officials have claimed current members of the ISI were involved in the attack.

"Lashkar-e-Taiba certainly does have some connection to the Pakistani intelligence service. They have ... in the past offered training and weapons and other sorts of aid from the Pakistanis," said Michael Scheuer, a former CIA agent. "But they are not the Pakistani surrogates for example. These people are fighting off their own hook. Pakistanis certainly help. But the Lashkar-e-Taiba is an independent organization."

Pakistan banned the group in 2002 after pressure by the Untied States. But it has reconstituted itself as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity that operates a religious school 25 miles from the eastern city of Lahore. Just last week, JuD officials invited reporters into their camp, declaring they had nothing to do with the attacks.

"We have always followed the laws and regulations of Pakistan, and we believe the government will protect us in the face of these false accusations," a spokesman for JuD, Abdullah Muntazir, told journalists.

Pakistan has a delicate balancing act between pleasing Indian and American demands and not angering groups it has sheltered in the past. But the raids today should also help ease pressure on the Indian government to respond aggressively against Pakistan.

In the days after the Mumbai attack, a groundswell of anger erupted among India's elite, demanding the government improve its act.

During the siege, residents in five states actually voted in local elections. Indian political commentators quickly suggested that the ruling Congress Party, which had been severely criticized for what many Indians saw as an intelligence failure, would lose elections in Delhi and Rajasthan.

But preliminary results released today suggest that Congress will maintain control over both states, further easing the pressure on the party to respond quickly against Pakistan, commentators say. National elections in India will be held in approximately four months.