ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- For the first time in its history, Pakistan plans on prosecuting militants once supported by the country's powerful spy agency -- a group of as many as 125 people who a Pakistani investigation has concluded might be connected to the November attacks on Mumbai.
The group, which includes anyone who made any suspicious contacts inside India as the attacks began, will be charged under the country's cyber crimes laws because suspects used Internet phones to communicate, a senior intelligence official tells ABC News.
But few if any of the major militant leaders India is asking Pakistan to prosecute are included on this list, the official said. That reflects the delicate balance Pakistan is trying to achieve: appeasing international pressure to crack down on militants who have operated from its soil, and at the same time not completely dismantling groups that the intelligence agencies still see as assets.
Indian and U.S. authorities have accused the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and its charity arm, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, of planning the attacks that killed 165 people in India's financial center. For months Pakistan's politicians have been promising to crackdown on militants, but until now there has been no indication that Pakistan's government had planned the prosecution of anyone related to the November attacks, as it is required to by a United Nations Security Council resolution passed in early December.
The attacks forced Pakistan to choose between continuing to support, or at least shelter, a group created by its powerful spy agency almost 20 years ago, or shutting it following massive international pressure. That debate has played out inside the government and military for weeks, officials tell ABC News, with some in the government initially arguing for the extradition of some suspects to India.
"We assure India if somebody is found guilty, we'll proceed according to our own laws of Pakistan," Prime Minsiter Yusuf Gilani said on Sunday in response to an ABC News question.
Lashkar-e-Taiba was created with the backing of the Pakistani Inter Services Agency, or ISI, in the early 1990s, though its scope has expanded to include all of India. Lashkar fighters have also been found fighting U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. The group is one of a handful set up with the help of the military-controlled spy agency to fight in India, Kashmir, or in Afghanistan.
"The military strategically saw these groups as really the front line to keep India at bay, to keep the Kashmir struggle going, and to keep all the neighborhood in a very tense situation," says Ahmed Rashid, the author of "Descent into Chaos." "There is a great reluctance to give up on these guys."
Asked if plans to prosecute were evidence of Pakistani leaders' suspecting the Obama administration will be tougher on them than was the Bush administration, an Obama administration official told ABC News, "I see this as evidence that Pakistan recognizes these extremists threaten Pakistan as well as the U.S. We need an alliance against the extremists, and I believe that is what you will see us work to build."