Is Pakistan Serious About Arresting Terrorists?

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed i

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is seen at a rally in Islamabad on Aug. 31. Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is seen at a rally in Islamabad on Aug. 31.

Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, 55, is leader of Jama'at-ud-Da'wa, which describes itself as an educational and charity group but has recently been added to the United Nations terrorist watch list. The U.N. Security Council says Jama'at-ud-Da'wa is a front for the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Pakistani government has placed Saeed under house arrest.

Saeed taught Islamic studies at a university in Lahore, Pakistan, and reportedly came into contact with fundamentalist Muslim ideas while doing graduate work in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. He co-founded a predecessor group to Jama'at-ud-Da'wa in 1987 and helped found Lashkar-e-Taiba in 1990.

The Pakistani government arrested Saeed in August 2006 for alleged involvement in a series of training bombings that killed more than 200 people in Mumbai. He was released that October for lack of evidence.

Saeed has strongly protested the U.N. decision to designate Jama'at-ud-Da'wa as a terrorist group and said he would challenge the ban in court.

Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi

Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, 48, was arrested Dec. 7 during a Pakistani government raid on a compound in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Lakhvi is known as the operations chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group he helped found in 1990.

Indian government officials have said Lakhvi was involved in the planning of the November attacks in Mumbai. They say the only surviving gunman from those attacks has identified Lakhvi as one of his contacts. The gunman, Ajmal Amir Kasab, said Lakhvi helped train and indoctrinate the men who attacked Mumbai and that he was know to them as "Uncle." Indian intelligence officials said Lakhvi kept in touch with the 10 attackers by satellite phone as they killed civilians.

Lakhvi has reportedly been involved in key jihadi attacks in several parts of the world, including Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and Southeast Asia. Indian officials say he also played a part in the bombings of the Mumbai rail system in 2006, an attack that left more than 200 people dead.

Security officials in Pakistan say they have arrested more than 20 militants who are part of groups linked to the commando attacks that killed more than 170 people in Mumbai, India. It is not clear whether the arrests will placate India, which has accused Pakistan of offering a safe haven to terrorist groups.

The latest to be detained is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of a group that the United Nations Security Council has just designated as a terrorist group. Saeed has been placed under house arrest at his home in Lahore, Pakistan.

Others arrested include senior members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT, a group suspected of organizing the Mumbai attacks. But analysts say the arrests may be little more than a gesture to ease pressure from the United States and other nations.

Pakistani officials said they arrested about a dozen men at a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp in Pakistani Kashmir. Those detained included Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, named by India as a possible planner of the attacks.

Pakistani officials have not produced any of the arrestees. They have said that the suspects would be tried in Pakistan if charges were brought against them and that they wouldn't hand any Pakistani citizens over to Indian authorities.

Some Key Arrests

Christine Fair, a senior analyst with the Rand Corp., says three of the LeT members arrested are important figures, especially Lakhvi, who is considered the group's operations commander in Kashmir.

"But these are replaceable guys," she said, in an interview earlier this week. "The real story is who they didn't arrest."

Fair was referring to Saeed, who was not arrested until several days after the initial raids. Saeed is known as a fiery orator who frequently denounces the United States, India and Jews in widely circulated speeches. Saeed helped start LeT in 1990, allegedly with the help of officers from Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, who used LeT as a surrogate in the struggles with India over Kashmir.

Fair says she thinks Pakistan only arrested Saeed in response to a U.N. Security Council resolution on Dec. 10, designating Jama'at-ud-Da'wa as a terrorist group. She said she'll remain skeptical until she sees whether Pakistan will actually bring Saeed to court and charge him. Fair also notes that Jama'at-ud-Da'wa only came into being in 2002, after Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Taiba. She says it remains to be seen whether Jama'at-ud-Da'wa will now reconstitute itself under some other name.

Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar at the Middle East Institute, agrees that Saeed is a key figure but says it would be difficult to prosecute him in the Mumbai case because he is unlikely to have been one of the operational figures. Saeed has to keep some distance, Weinbaum says, because he serves a better purpose as the public face of Jama'at-ud-Da'wa, which describes itself as a charitable group and raises millions of dollars in private funding for its schools, mosques and humanitarian efforts.

"What we're seeing now," says Weinbaum, "is [Pakistan's] familiar pattern of giving up just enough to satisfy international pressure, but not too much."

He notes that the Pakistani government arrested Saeed in August 2006 because of alleged involvement in the bombings of the Mumbai train system, a series of attacks that killed more than 200 people just the month before. Saeed was detained until mid-October of that year, but finally released for lack of evidence.

This time around, Pakistan has arrested Saeed, Lakhvi, and Massoud Azhar, a Muslim cleric and the leader of another militant group called The Army of Muhammad.

"That's meant to satisfy the Indians," says Weinbaum, who points out that Azhar was freed from an Indian jail in 2002, after militants hijacked an Indian jetliner and traded the hostages for his release. The latest arrest is "the kind of gesture they can make at this moment," Weinbaum adds. "They always let these people go in 60 or 90 days because they're never able to bring charges."

Fair of the Rand Corp. says the Pakistani government can always claim it is impossible to prosecute the militants using information from intelligence channels because to do so would reveal sources and means of gathering information.

Disturbing Possibilities

Fair says the alleged participation of Lashkar-e-Taiba in the Mumbai attacks raises some disturbing possibilities.

"Lashkar-e-Taiba has been different from the other militant groups operating in Pakistan," she says, "because it remained close to the ISI and didn't take part in attacks against the Pakistani state."

One extreme possibility, Fair says, is that Lashkar-e-Taiba may have launched the Mumbai attacks in connivance with Pakistan's military in an effort to provoke a crisis between India and Pakistan. Fair says that could draw Pakistani troops away from the border with Afghanistan, where they have been fighting Pakistani militants, an effort that is not popular with the Pakistani public. The move could restore the army to its popular role of protecting Pakistan from India.

Another possibility, Fair says, is that LeT has gotten strong enough to shake off Pakistani government strings and act on its own.

"If so," she says, "this is a truly terrifying development, because of all the South Asian terror groups, this is by far the most competent."

Fair notes that LeT's strength has reportedly grown with the help of private money from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states.

Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute says Lashkar-e-Taiba is a real problem for Pakistan's military, which doesn't want to destroy the group, because it might still be of use against India in Kashmir. As to Pakistan's civilian government, he says "I think they have reason to think twice before they take on Lashkar-e-Taiba. This is a weak government, after all. If they don't have public support, there's not much they can do."

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