The statement made Tuesday before a group of retired bureaucrats in Islamabad comes only days after Zardari's June 22 op-ed piece in The Washington Post saying: "If the Taliban and al-Qaida are allowed to triumph in our region, their destabilizing alliance will spread across the continents."
In Tuesday's comments in Islamabad, Zardari said the extremist groups did not come about because of government weakness but were deliberately "created and nurtured" as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives, London's Daily Telegraph reported.
"Let us be truthful to ourselves and make a candid admission of the realities. The terrorists of today were the heroes of yesteryears until 9/11 occurred and they began to haunt us as well," the Telegraph report quoted the president as saying.
Newspapers in neighboring India gave wide coverage to the remarks as New Delhi for years has said Pakistan has been supplying arms, ammunition and providing training to militants to stage cross-border attacks on Kashmir, a charge Pakistan has always denied. These militant groups also are seen using their sanctuaries in Pakistan for cross-border attacks on U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The Times of India, calling Zardari's comments an astonishingly candid admission and the first such by a Pakistani president, published the story on its front page headlined: "Terror is Pak baby: Zardari."
"Militants and extremists emerged on the national scene and challenged the state not because the civil bureaucracy was weakened and demoralized but because they were deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve short-term tactical objectives," the Indian newspaper quoted Zardari as saying.
The newspaper wondered about the remarks' impact on the powerful Pakistani military, which was described as historically setting the tone of Pakistan's India policy.
The Daily Telegraph report said Zardari's remarks echoed similar ones he had made in an interview with the newspaper. In the interview, Zardari also was quoted as saying no one in the Pakistani establishment now supports these extremist assets. The report said groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have long been regarded as Pakistan proxy forces by diplomats and intelligence services but that Pakistan in the past had always denied any links.
An editorial in Dawn, Pakistan's leading English-language newspaper, referred to Zardari's reported remarks and said: "The president is right, and we would add the policy was wrong then and it is wrong now. It cannot be any other way. How is it possible to rationally explain to the people of Pakistan that the heroes of yesteryear are the arch-enemies of today? The militants' religious justifications remain the same; what's changed is that the militants were fighting the state's 'enemies' yesterday but have turned their guns on the state and its allies today."
The editorial said it is the Pakistani security establishment's inability to admit grave mistakes were made in the past that more than anything else is impeding the defeat of the militants today.
"Should we have ever used jihadi proxies to fight the Russians in Afghanistan? Should we have ever supported the idea of armed jihad in Kashmir? Should we have ever sought to retain our influence in Afghanistan through the Taliban? If any of those choices ever made sense, then we should have no complaints about the rise of Talibanization in Pakistan because we created the climate and opportunity for them to run amok," the editorial said.
Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly sought to clarify Zardari's remarks, saying the president was only referring to the period prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
But for India, no clarification was needed.
Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told both houses of Parliament Thursday that Zardari's admission had validated India's stand about state-sponsored terrorism from Pakistan.
"As regards Pakistan, we have got some kind of confession from the highest authority of Pakistan. To that extent, India's stand has been vindicated in the eyes of the world," Krishna said, adding, "I hope, hereafter, Pakistan will make a determined bid to curb terrorism," media reports said.
The London Daily Telegraph quoted India's Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor as saying that Zardari's statement had clarified what India had long believed -- that Islamabad had armed and trained terrorists to launch cross-border attacks.