ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan will "strongly contest" two U.S lawsuits that link its spy chief and his agency to the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai, the government said Thursday.
The statement shows how sensitive Pakistan is to allegations that its agents were involved in the assault that killed 166 people in India. It could also 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 lawsuits have already 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 City in November. The plaintiffs include relatives of victims of the Mumbai attacks.
The bloody, coordinated attacks on several sites in India's financial capital, including luxury hotels, a cafe, a train station, and a Jewish center, have been attributed to the Pakistani Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, a defendant in the suits.
The 60-hour siege by 10 Pakistanis - an event that has been called India's 9/11 - paralyzed Mumbai 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.
"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 Pasha cannot be made to testify in a U.S. civil court and that the cases should be dismissed.
The Foreign Ministry's statement Thursday indicated that Pakistan, through its embassy in Washington, would seek the dismissal of the lawsuits. It declared that Pasha, the ISI, and other Pakistani officials named would be "fully and properly" defended and noted the prime minister's view against pursuing the court cases.
Pakistan has denied that 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 suits such as the ones filed in federal court in Brooklyn rarely succeed beyond being symbolic.
Even if a judge orders damages, the chances of collecting are slim.