Pakistan begins crackdown on Lashkar-e-Taiba

December 9, 2008

Pakistan has begun a crackdown on Lashkar-e-Taiba following intense pressure from India and the United States to take action against the militant group blamed by New Delhi for the Mumbai attacks. According to intelligence officials and local residents,  Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, was arrested following a raid on a camp near Muzaffarabad in Pakistani-held Kashmir.

As discussed in an earlier post, India has long complained about what it saw as Pakistan’s failure to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, another Pakistan-based militant group, which it says were nurtured by the Pakistan spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, to attack Indian targets in Kashmir and elsewhere. 

So would the raid signal a major change of heart? And would it be enough to satisfy India?

The Economist calls it “a small sop” and much less than India had demanded of Pakistan. India’s Livemint condemns it as a “cheap” action to buy legitimacy. It complains that Pakistan took similar steps in 2002, banning Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) after it was blamed, along with Jaish-e-Mohammed, by New Delhi for a raid on India’s parliament in December 2001 that brought the two countries close to a fourth war. 

However, the Islamabad-based correspondent of Indian newspaper The Hindu quotes Indian officials as saying that if Lakhvi, suspected of masterminding the Mumbai attacks, had indeed been arrested, it would be “an important first step” by Pakistan. “What we want is that the entire operation of the LeT and other militant groups that exist here and carry out actions against India should be shut down,” the correspondent quotes a senior Indian diplomat in Pakistan as saying.

Pakistan has denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and the raid, if confirmed, could be a sign of a renewed willingness to crack down on militant groups.  But the problem for Pakistan is that even as it does so, it is facing more and more questions about the role of the ISI in supporting them.

India has argued for years that Pakistan, through the ISI, has deliberately used Islamist militant groups as an instrument of state policy to pursue its goals in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This viewpoint is reiterated in this analysis of the Mumbai attacks by B.Raman, a former head of India’s own spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). 

What is new, however, is the extent to which Indian complaints about the ISI are now being echoed in the U.S. media.

In the latest of what appear to be deliberate leaks by the U.S. administration,  the New York Times quotes American intelligence and counter-intelligence officials as linking the ISI to Lashkar-e-Taiba.  Though it says there was no hard evidence to link the ISI to the Mumbai attacks, it says the Lashkar-e-Taiba had gained strength in recent years with the help of the spy agency, assistance that had allowed the group to train and raise money while other militants on the border with Afghanistan had been under siege.

So who is the real target here of Indian and American pressure? Lashkar-e-Taiba, or the ISI?

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