Pakistan’s Partial Crackdown Lets Imams Preach Jihad (Update1)
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By James Rupert
Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- A dozen Pakistani policemen stood watch last week outside a Lahore mosque known to be a stronghold of the Lashkar-e-Taiba guerrilla group -- while the imam inside preached jihad to thousands of worshippers.
The squad’s presence was part of Pakistan’s vow to curb Lashkar, which India blames for the Nov. 26-29 Mumbai terrorist attack that killed 164 people, and it showed how limited that effort has been. As the officers heard Saifullah Khalid’s sermon blaring over loudspeakers, he demanded more attacks on India.
“Muslims under the leadership of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat ud-Dawa will conquer all South Asia!” Khalid roared. “Nobody can stop us from fighting India!”
Pakistan’s offensive, in response to international pressure to suppress Lashkar and its civilian ally, Jamaat, is halting and partial at best, says Ahmed Rashid, a Lahore-based analyst and author of books on Pakistan and Islamic militancy. Fewer Jamaat leaders have been arrested, and fewer of its schools closed, than the national government claims, according to provincial-level figures.
Because the country’s politically dominant army has cultivated Lashkar and Jamaat to help confront India over the disputed territory of Kashmir, “there is not going to be any sudden U-turn in policy,” Rashid said. “I don’t expect a proper crackdown.”
India and the U.S. say Lashkar plotted the attack on Mumbai that killed 164 people, and President Barack Obama has vowed to step up pressure on Pakistan. At the same time, he needs the country’s help as the U.S. increases military forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week named senior diplomat Richard Holbrooke as special representative for the two countries.
Pakistan has responded with some actions against Lashkar and Jamaat. One day after a United Nations counterterrorism committee declared Jamaat a front for the Lashkar guerrillas, Rehman Malik, top security adviser to Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, announced a ban on the organization.
The order included the closure of the group’s bank accounts and offices, the takeover of its schools and the arrest of its leaders. On Jan. 15, Malik said 71 Jamaat activists were in custody. Lashkar was officially banned in 2001.
On the ground, things look a little different. In Punjab province, Lashkar and Jamaat’s main base, only six Jamaat leaders have been detained, according to documents provided by provincial government spokesman Pervez Rashid. Interior Ministry spokesman Shahidullah Baig declined to comment on the discrepancy in numbers, saying he wasn’t authorized to discuss issues related to the Mumbai attack.
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar and Jamaat, was put under house arrest on Dec. 11, yet later that month was able to attend prayers at a nearby mosque, said Amir Mir, a journalist and author of books on Pakistani militant groups. Mir lives near Saeed’s home in Lahore’s Johar Town neighborhood and cited sources in Jamaat who detailed Saeed’s movements.
While Jamaat says it runs 202 schools nationwide, authorities have taken over only 10 in Punjab, its stronghold, provincial spokesman Rashid’s documents showed. “All of the schools we know, we have taken over,” Rashid said.
On Jan. 22, a reporter found access to Jamaat’s 75-acre headquarters campus at Muridke, north of Lahore, unmonitored by government officials. Three days later, police arrived to establish a checkpoint and install a government administrator, according to local press reports.
Talking to Fighters
Indian government surveillance shows that Pakistan hasn’t prevented Lashkar’s communications with its guerrilla fighters in Indian-administered Kashmir, said Ajit Doval, a former chief of India’s domestic Intelligence Bureau. He is a security consultant and analyst and keeps in touch with former colleagues.
Pakistan’s actions so far aren’t meant to truly investigate or prosecute Pakistanis involved in the Mumbai attack, “but rather are designed to save the state from embarrassment,” Doval said in a telephone interview from New Delhi.
Almost two months after India published names and hometowns of men it said were the nine Mumbai attackers killed during the assault, Pakistan hasn’t responded. President Asif Zardari told foreign ambassadors in Islamabad yesterday his government will formally answer India this week with a report on Pakistan’s investigation, the daily newspaper Dawn reported.
Zardari’s 10-month-old civilian government is caught between economic and political vulnerabilities. Pakistan’s dependence on a bailout from the International Monetary Fund makes it sensitive to external pressures, while Jamaat ud-Dawa’s social work -- running schools and clinics that the government has failed to provide -- has won public support.
Zardari’s government “is either unwilling to comprehensively shut down” Lashkar and Jamaat “or, more likely, is seriously constrained from doing so by the military and intelligence agencies,” the Washington-based RAND Corp. said in a Jan. 19 report.
“If we had the proof, we would try them in our courts” and “we would sentence them,” Zardari said in an interview with CNN on Dec. 3.
Lashkar-e-Taiba, which in Pakistan’s Urdu language means “Army of the Pure,” arose from the Muslim guerrilla forces backed by Pakistan and the U.S. against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
In the following decade, Saeed shifted the group’s focus to Kashmir, whose territory Pakistan has disputed with India since the countries’ independence from British rule in 1947. Pakistan’s main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, gave it protection, according to a 2005 report by Husain Haqqani, a scholar who is now the country’s ambassador in Washington.
In December 2001, the U.S. declared Lashkar a terrorist organization. That month, Pakistan formally banned the group and put Saeed under house arrest. A court freed him months later, citing a lack of evidence against him.
The administration of former President George W. Bush hesitated to pressure Pakistan’s army to shut down Lashkar because it feared the military might stop offering supply lines and other aid in the war in Afghanistan, the RAND report said. Lashkar’s growing reach, shown by the Mumbai assault, includes attacks on U.S. troops in northeastern Afghanistan, it said.