Pakistan may, at last, be taking purposeful steps against the killers of Mumbai
Feb 5th 2009 | ISLAMABAD
UNUSUALLY, Pakistan may be about to give the world a pleasant surprise. Speaking to The Economist, a senior Pakistani official reinforced a recent impression that Pakistan has at last launched a serious investigation into last November’s devastating terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which India and Western governments have blamed on a banned Pakistani Islamist militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET).
The official said that Pakistani investigators had found new evidence to substantiate claims made in a dossier provided to them by India last month. India—as well as America and Britain—claims that the commando-style attacks on two hotels, a railway station and a Jewish centre in southern Mumbai, which lasted for three days and claimed over 170 lives, was plotted in Pakistan and launched from there.
Based largely on testimony from the sole surviving attacker, a young Pakistani called Muhammad Ajmal Qasab, India claims that he and nine other Pakistani militants set out from Pakistan’s Indus delta region in a small craft, and boarded an LET-owned vessel, al-Hussaini, registered in Karachi.
On entering Indian waters, the militants are alleged to have captured an Indian trawler, the Kuber, killed its crew and forced its captain to take them to within striking distance of Mumbai. There they killed him, abandoned the trawler, and used an inflatable dinghy for the final stage of their voyage
Pakistan admitted that Mr Qasab is Pakistani—after a British journalist interviewed his family in their village in Pakistan’s province of Punjab. But it has not officially accepted that his accomplices were Pakistani, or that the plot was hatched in Pakistan. On January 30th Pakistan’s high commissioner to London, Wajed Shamsul Hasan, declared that the attack was not planned in Pakistan, and accused India of making allegations based on “fabricated” or “flimsy” evidence.
The senior Pakistani official, who is involved in Pakistan’s investigation, suggested that this was nonsense. He said that Pakistani investigators had established that al-Hussaini was owned by LET or its front organisation, a Muslim charity called Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD). Of ten sailors registered with the vessel, one had been killed a year previously, fighting with the banned militant group against Indian security forces in Kashmir. The official said that Pakistani investigators have traced the families of the remaining nine sailors, but failed to apprehend the men. The families had claimed that the men “had gone away a year before, maybe two years ago, and they hadn’t heard from them.”
The official also said that Pakistani investigators had failed to trace the other nine attackers—all of whom were killed by Indian security forces—even though Mr Qasab had provided a list of their names. He thought this might be because LET militants often go by false names.
The official said he had no doubt that the attack was plotted and executed by members of LET, more or less as the Indians allege. But he did not believe that the group’s senior leaders had necessarily known of it. He also suggested that Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which formerly supported LET’s operations in Kashmir, had not been involved in the attack. “ISI thinks this has hurt Pakistan. Why would they do something to damage Pakistan?”
LET’s founder, an engineering professor called Hafiz Saeed, officially left the Islamist group after it was banned in 2002. However, he and his lieutenants remained in command of JUD, which runs hundreds of schools and clinics in Pakistan, and is alleged to have raised funds for its banned sister organisation. Shortly after the Mumbai attacks, at the instigation of the UN, Pakistan also banned JUD and placed Mr Saeed and a dozen other of its leaders under house arrest. It also raided an alleged LET training-camp in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir, and arrested an LET commander who is alleged to have plotted the Mumbai attack, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.
The Pakistani official said he expected Pakistan to prosecute and convict those principally responsible—“perhaps 20” people—for the attack in Mumbai, including Mr Lakhvi. This would be a better outcome than Pakistan’s denials have led India to expect. Perhaps signalling this, India’s hawkish national security adviser, M.K. Narayanan, said on February 1st that he had detected an improvement in Pakistan’s response to the matter, suggesting that “they appear to be taking things seriously and at least they are proceeding in a manner that one would expect an investigative agency to proceed.”
This is encouraging. But it is still much less than India has demanded, which is that Pakistan should wholly dismantle the anti-Indian militant networks that it has supported, or suffered, for so long.