Pakistani security forces have conduced a raid on a major Laskhar-e-Taiba training camp and captured a dozen terrorists, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, allegedly the mastermind of last month’s Mumbai massacre. It remains to be seen whether these are in fact the responsible parties and what follow-up action will be taken.
Zahid Hussain and Jeremy Page report for the Times of London:
The raid last night near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, was Pakistan’s first attempt to respond to mounting pressure from India and the United States to take action against LeT after the Mumbai strike. It is unlikely to satisfy either Delhi or Washington unless Islamabad follows up by prosecuting those arrested and taking further action against other militant groups linked to attacks on Indian soil. “We’ve seen before how Pakistan will arrest some militants, keep them for a couple of months and then release them when the world’s not paying attention,” said B. Raman, a former head of the Pakistan desk at the Research and Analysis Wing (India’s MI6). “It must not be allowed to do that this time. They have to prosecute these people and dismantle the whole terrorist infrastructure,” he told The Times.
Indeed, LeT has been officially outlawed for years with little impact:
LeT was banned in Pakistan in 2002 after its militants attacked the Indian Parliament, prompting India and Pakistan to mass troops on their common border and almost sparking a fourth war between the nuclear-armed neighbours. However, security analysts and officials said that LeT had continued to operate freely under the banner of JuD, which is led by LeT’s founder, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. Mr Saeed, who has denied any part in the Mumbai attacks, condemned yesterday’s raid on his organisation’s compound.
Abu Arkam Naqash, reporting for Reuters, adds:
Lakhvi, one of Lashkar’s operations chiefs, was named as a ringleader in the Mumbai plot by the lone surviving gunman captured in India, according to Indian officials. He and Yusuf Muzammil, the head of Lashkar’s anti-India operations, gave orders by telephone to the 10 militants who killed at least 171 people in the attack on Mumbai, Indian officials say.
Munir Ahmad of the AP reports,
Analysts say Lashkar-e-Taiba was created with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in the 1980s to act as a proxy fighting force in Indian Kashmir. The United States says the group has links to al-Qaida. In May, the U.S. Department of the Treasury alleged that Lakhvi directed Laskhar-e-Taiba operations in Chechnya, Bosnia and Southeast Asia. In 2004, he allegedly sent operatives and funds to attack U.S. forces in Iraq, it said.
Aside from questions as to how Pakistan will follow up here, it should be noted that the publicly evidence that LeT, let alone these captured men, were behind the Mumbai plot is thin. We have nothing more than the word of the Indian government that this is the information they obtained from a captured terrorist. We do not know with any certainty 1) whether the Indian government was in fact told this; 2) under what conditions the information was obtained and therefore how reliable it is; 3) whether the captured terrorist was intentionally lying to throw the Indians off the scent; or 4) much of anything. Eric Schmitt, Mark Mazzetti, and Jane Perlez of the New York Times note that,
American officials say there is no hard evidence to link the spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, to the Mumbai attacks. But the ISI has shared intelligence with Lashkar and provided protection for it, the officials said, and investigators are focusing on one Lashkar leader they believe is a main liaison with the spy service and a mastermind of the attacks. As a result of the assault on Mumbai, India’s financial hub, American counterterrorism and military officials say they are reassessing their view of Lashkar and believe it to be more capable and a greater threat than they had previously recognized. “People are having to go back and relook at all the connections,” said one American counterterrorism official, who was among several officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still progressing.
While Al Qaeda has provided financing and other support to Lashkar in the past, their links today remain murky. Senior Qaeda figures have used Lashkar safe houses as hide-outs, but Lashkar has not merged its operations with Al Qaeda or adopted the Qaeda brand, as did an Algerian terrorist group that changed its name to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, American officials said. Unlike Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, who have been forced to retreat to mountain redoubts in western Pakistan’s tribal areas, Lashkar commanders have been able to operate more or less in the open, behind the public face of a popular charity, with the implicit support of official Pakistani patrons, American officials said.
We (the public) still know virtually nothing for sure about the incident aside from the fact that a lot of people are dead, the India government is under extraordinary pressure to react, and that Pakistan is the most convenient and likely suspect. Indeed, the U.S. Government position seems to be that, even if it’s not Pakistan’s fault, it’s Pakistan’s problem:
Still, officials in Washington said they had yet to unearth any direct link between the Pakistan spy agency and the Mumbai attacks. “I don’t think that there is compelling evidence of involvement of Pakistani officials,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on CNN’s “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer” on Sunday. “But I do think that Pakistan has a responsibility to act.” She said evidence showed “that the terrorists did use territory in Pakistan.” An American counterterrorism official said: “It’s one thing to say the ISI is tied to Lashkar and quite another to say the ISI was behind the Mumbai attacks. The evidence at this point doesn’t get you there.”
Regardless, Rice is right: The mere fact that terrorist groups are operating with near impunity on Pakistani soil — albeit in territory not under the operational control of the Pakistani central government — puts the onus on them to act.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.