(CNSNews.com) – Ahead of a hastily-arranged visit to New Delhi by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, India is demanding that neighboring Pakistan act firmly against those behind last week’s deadly attacks in Mumbai.
Rice, speaking in London, urged Pakistan bluntly “to follow the evidence wherever it leads,” and said while she did not want to jump to conclusions “this is a time for complete, absolute, total transparency and cooperation – and that’s what we expect.”
Pakistan has denied any link to the attacks, and President Asif Ali Zardari appealed to India not to allow the deeds of “non-state actors” to cause regional hostility.
The governments of the nuclear-armed neighbors both have reasonably good relations with the U.S., which under the Bush administration has initiated a strategic partnership with India while looking to Pakistan as a vital ally against Islamic terrorism in the region.
Pakistan has warned that any security deterioration on its eastern border with India will necessitate a redeployment of forces currently battling the Taliban and allied militants on its western flank, adjacent to Afghanistan.
India’s foreign ministry called in Pakistan’s ambassador on Monday night and informed him that the Mumbai attacks -- which occurred over a 60-hour period and killed at least 172 people, including six Americans – were “carried out by elements from Pakistan.”
“[The] government expects that strong action would be taken against those elements, whosoever they may be, responsible for this outrage,” ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said in a statement afterwards.
The envoy was told “that Pakistan’s actions needed to match the sentiments expressed by its leadership that it wishes to have a qualitatively new relationship with India,” he said.
‘No association with militancy’
Indian police said the only known survivor among the gunmen, a 21-year-old Pakistani, had confessed to being a member of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based Sunni group with a history of violent attacks against India, and said the terrorists had embarked by boat from Pakistan.
Lashkar-e-Toiba (“Army of the Pure”) was established sometime between 1989 and 1991 with the backing of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) service to fight Indian control in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Its founder was Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.
Blamed for numerous terrorist attacks against India, it was formally banned by Islamabad, acting under U.S. pressure, in 2002.
But experts say it continues to operate openly under the name of an ostensibly separate “charitable” group called Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD).
In a statement released on Sunday, JuD spokesman Abdullah Muntazir slammed reports portraying LeT and JuD as “one and the same,” and insisted they were “two entirely different organizations.”
Muntazir charged that describing JuD’s leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, as the head of LeT was “completely incorrect and untruthful, and a deliberate attempt to mislead people.”
JuD “has absolutely no association with militancy” and does not approve of any action, anywhere, “in which unarmed civilians and public places are targeted,” he added.
Muntazir did not respond to emailed queries Tuesday about historical and current links between JuD and LeT.
‘If LeT is involved, Pakistan state cannot escape culpability’
The claim that JuD has nothing to do with LeT has been widely discounted. The State Department, which has designated LeT as a foreign terrorist organization, describes JuD as the LeT’s “front organization.”
In its most recent report on global terrorism, the department says that after it was outlawed in 2002, “[LeT] and its leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, continue to spread ideology advocating terrorism, as well as virulent rhetoric condemning the United States, India, Israel, and other perceived enemies.”
The report also notes that when senior al-Qaeda member Abu Zubayda was captured in Pakistan in March 2002, he was located at an LeT safe house in Faisalabad. “[This] suggested that some [LeT] members were facilitating the movement of [al-Qaeda] members in Pakistan.”
Dr. Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, said Tuesday that while preliminary evidence pointed to LeT, it remained to be seen whether any direct involvement of state agencies, especially the ISI, could be established. Doing so, he said, “will always be difficult.”
But he pointed out that LeT, “in its present avatar as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, enjoys full freedom of operation in Pakistan, and significant state support.”
“To the extent, consequently, that the Lashkar is involved, the Pakistani state cannot escape culpability.”
Sahni, who is also editor of the South Asia Intelligence Review, said Islamabad’s assertions that LeT is formally banned is no defense.
“The same institutional establishment and leadership that operated under the banner of the Lashkar is now free to act as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa.”
Noting Rice’s imminent arrival, Sahni said the Indian government’s attempts to get international pressure to bear on Pakistan have apparently been successful.
But he sounded unconvinced that outside countries, including the U.S., wielded much clout.
He recalled that after the bombing last July of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, U.S. intelligence agencies had backed Indian and Afghan assertions of an ISI hand behind the attack (The suicide bomber was allegedly an LeT member.)
There were great expectations then, as well, “that this would result in stronger action against Islamabad,” Sahni said.
“Pakistan, however, has weathered many such storms and its diplomats and proxies are quick to range across the world peddling their theories of root causes and Muslim grievance to ever-willing audiences in the West.”
‘America is bleeding’
Despite the banning of LeT in 2002, Saeed has not stopped making provocative statements.
“America is bleeding these days,” he wrote in the Urdu publication Jasrat in June 2004. “It has become a threat to peace. When a wounded animal becomes a threat to one’s life, it is shot dead. It is time to gun down the U.S.”
“Islam was spread and propagated in the world through jihad,” he said in a speech in Lahore the following month. “Through jihad, infidels were defeated in the world and infidelity crushed. Islam achieved eminence and even today, jihad will lead to similar results by the will of Allah.”
Fired up last year by the appearance of cartoons satirizing Mohammed, Saeed led public protests. After five people died when protests turned violent, Pakistani authorities placed him under house arrest for several days to prevent him from leading more demonstrations
In April of this year, he called for a jihad against Western countries for blasphemy.
“Hindus, Jews and Crusaders have risen against the Muslims by publishing cartoons and films blasphemous of Islam’s prophet,” the Roznama Express, an Urdu daily, quoted him as saying at a conference of Islamists.
On its Web site, JuD has a section providing its views on a range of issues and conflicts.
It accuses the Western world of complicity in Israeli “ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians, while “the Kashmiris are fighting a legitimate freedom struggle and the civilized world must acknowledge and support their cause.”
On Iraq, “the whole world now knows … that the U.S. twice invaded Iraq under totally false pretexts for the sake of stealing its oil.”
“The world has come to see the U.S. as a bully who will cheat, lie, and use brute force, to oppress less powerful nations and steal their natural resources,” it says. “Moreover, the people of the world, especially Muslim nations, have learned that the only way to save themselves from American state terrorism, is to resist with valor.”
JuD says the “war on terror” is a Western propaganda tool aimed at maligning Islam, paving the way to invading Muslim lands, and discouraging the spread of Islam in the West.
It denies any association with al-Qaeda and says it has never “declared jihad” against the U.S. or any other nation.
“However, [JuD] does morally support those Muslims who have been illegally subjugated by an oppressive foreign power and are struggling for their freedom.”