(CNSNews.com) – As Pakistan bows to pressure from India and the U.S. and moves against militants allegedly linked to last month’s Mumbai attacks, it has given no sign of willingness to send the suspects to India to stand trial.
More than a week after the 60-hour ordeal in India’s commercial capital ended, security agencies launched a crackdown on the outlawed Islamist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and a closely linked legal organization called Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD), focusing on facilities in the Pakistan-controlled part of disputed Kashmir and elsewhere in the country.
Security officials told Pakistani media that around two dozen people had been arrested, among them LeT chief of operations Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. He reportedly was on a list of around 20 wanted individuals that India handed to Pakistani diplomats after the attacks.
In a brief statement, an army press office spokesman said an operation by law enforcement agencies was underway. “This is an intelligence-led operation against banned militant outfits and organizations,” it said. “There have been arrest[s] and investigations are on[going]. Further details will be available on completion of preliminary inquiries.”
Six Americans were among the more than 170 victims in Mumbai. Pakistan came under pressure both from the Indian government and from the U.S., with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visiting Islamabad to push for action.
After the visit, Rice told Fox News that she had made it clear the U.S. expected “full and complete cooperation” and that the bilateral relationship was at stake.
The U.S. government has not said publicly whether it supports India’s request for a handover of the suspects.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called steps taken so far “positive,” telling a press briefing “what’s important here is that those responsible for the attacks in Mumbai be brought to justice, that they not be allowed to in any way plan further or participate further in any violent actions.”
“Also, there needs to be a focus on prevention,” he added. “What we don’t want to see are future attacks … emanating from Pakistani soil.”
Pakistani officials have been playing down India’s handover request, stressing instead offers of joint investigations, and urging India to make more information available.
Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said India’s high commissioner (ambassador) was informed on Monday that Pakistan has “initiated investigations on its own into the allegations that have surfaced concerning involvement of any individual or entity in Pakistan in the Mumbai attacks.”
“To carry forward these investigations, detailed information and evidence is required,” Sadiq added.
Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari said that anyone arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of involvement in the attacks would be tried in that country.
The regional rivals do not have an extradition treaty and, according to Indian security analyst Bahukutumbi Raman, Pakistan has not cooperated with India in one single legal case involving a Muslim suspect since independence in 1947 – “whether it was a case of terrorism, robbery, cattle-lifting, narcotics smuggling, rape or even child sex.”
Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist political party in Pakistan, declared on Friday that the handover of any Pakistani – including “any Kashmiri freedom fighter or soldier or [LeT founder] Hafiz Saeed” – to India would be “the worst kind of betrayal.” The nation would never accept it, warned Jamaat-e-Islami’s leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmad.
Links to al-Qaeda go back to the beginning
After an armed attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in late 2001, the U.S. designated LeT a foreign terrorist organization.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf subsequently outlawed LeT and other jihadist groups, declaring their activities illegal in most of Pakistan – but excluding the tribal belt and Kashmir. Many of the groups’ militants then relocated to those exempted areas.
LeT founder and spiritual ideologue Hafiz Saeed then shifted his attention to heading JuD, an Islamist group that had escaped Musharraf’s banning orders and continues to operate freely, ostensibly focusing on charitable and educational work.
JuD insists it has nothing to do with LeT, but South Asian terrorism specialists say it serves a recruitment and indoctrination function, preparing would-be jihadists to enter the ranks of militant organizations.
The State Department describes JuD as the LeT’s “front organization,” and the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control lists both LeT and JuD – as well as Saeed and Lakhvi as individuals – as specially designated terrorists.
According to a U.S. Treasury Department document issued last May, Lakhvi directed LeT’s military operations not just in South Asia but also in Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and South-East Asia.
In 2004, he sent operatives and funds to attack U.S. forces in Iraq, the department said. He had “also played an important role in LeT fundraising activities, reportedly receiving al-Qaeda-affiliated donations on behalf of LeT.”
LeT’s links to al-Qaeda go back to their respective roots, according to some experts.
Wilson John, a senior fellow with the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, said LeT was launched as an armed wing of a precursor to the JuD, first set up in 1987 by Saeed and two other Islamic scholars, one of whom was Abdullah Azzam.
Azzam, who taught at Islamabad’s International Islamic University, was a Palestinian religious scholar who together with Osama bin Laden ran a center in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan, during the 1980s. Known as the Afghan Bureau, the center facilitated the mujahideen campaign against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan (After Azzam died in a 1989 bomb blast, bin Laden took over the bureau and developed what would become known as al-Qaeda.)
John said the Afghan Bureau provided $200,000 in seed money for LeT to set up headquarters in Muridke, near Lahore. He said its armed operations in 1987-8 focused on Afghanistan, but with the campaign there waning it began to turn its attention towards the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir, and India itself.
“This focus has now expanded beyond India. Inspired by al-Qaeda in large measure, LeT today sees itself as a savior of Islam.”
Raman, who is a former counter terrorism official, said the Pakistani group is a member of the so-called International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews, formed by bin Laden in 1998.
Evidence of an ongoing link with al-Qaeda emerged in March 2002, when Abu Zubayda, a top-ranking al-Qaeda figure, was captured at an LeT safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Al-Qaeda had months earlier been routed by the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, launched as a response to 9/11.
Whether or not al-Qaeda had a direct hand, analysts say the Mumbai attacks held obvious benefits for bin Laden’s network.
Raman, like others, notes that an apparent key goal of the attack planners was to exacerbate regional tensions and give the Pakistan Army a pretext to shift its focus from its western border with Afghanistan to its eastern one with India, thus easing the pressure off al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal belt.
It was precisely such a shift of military focus that both Rice and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen sought to discourage during their recent visits to Islamabad.