Pakistani groups behind Mumbai attacks off scene but active (One Year after 26/11)

Islamabad, Nov 23 (DPA) As the families of the hundreds of victims killed or injured in last year’s terrorist attacks in the Indian financial hub of Mumbai wait for justice, the Pakistani Islamist groups believed to be behind the carnage are still alive and kicking.

India has pointed fingers at the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant outfit and its political front Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) for planning and facilitating the three-day Mumbai massacre that started Nov 26, 2008.

But due to only half-hearted action by Pakistani authorities, both entities have managed to keep their infrastructure and resources intact.

“Thank God, we are doing fine,” a JuD leader said in a recent interview with DPA. “All is working out good for us just by maintaining a low profile,” he added.

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have a controversial history of using militant groups, like the LeT and JuD, in their proxy war against India in the Himalayan region of Kashmir to which the two nuclear-armed nations lay claim.

After an initial denial that any Pakistani-based group was involved in the raids carried out by 10 gunmen at a Mumbai railway station, two luxury hotels and a Jewish centre, Islamabad started a crackdown in December only when JuD was put on the United Nations Security Council’s list of terrorist groups.

In a countrywide campaign, the police seized the headquarters of the JuD, a 30-hectare swathe in eastern Pakistan barely 60 kilometres from India’s border, arrested hundreds of its workers, sealed off dozens of its offices and banned several newspapers and magazines run by it.

All this seems reversed in less than a year.

The UN-proclaimed terrorist organisation JuD has resurfaced under a new name, the Falah-e-Insaniat (Human Welfare) Foundation (FIF).

It still controls most of the 156 dispensaries, eight hospitals, a wide network of ambulance services, and dozens of educational institutions previously run by the JuD, although a few of its offices and warehouses remain closed.

In coordination with government officials, the FIF took part in relief work for people displaced by the military operation in Pakistan’s Swat valley earlier this year.

The organisation’s weekly newspaper Ghazwah is hitting the news stands under a new title Jarrar, spreading hatred towards the West and India. Its other publications have re-emerged with new titles.

Following severe international condemnation, Pakistan eventually announced in February that it had identified seven planners and facilitators of the Mumbai carnage and arrested five of them, including the LeT’s operational head Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that a trawler transported the Mumbai attackers from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi to Indian waters and the men then used an inflatable boat to reach Mumbai.

But the process of bringing the people already in Pakistan’s custody to justice has been very slow. The state attorneys handed down a copy of the charge sheet to the defence lawyers only one week before the anniversary. The indictment of the suspects has yet to take place.

To the disappointment of the Indian authorities, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of both the LeT and JuD, enjoys immunity.

A Pakistani court recently ordered the government to free Saeed, a former Islamic Studies professor in one of Pakistan’s largest universities, due to the lack of evidence against him. He was put under house arrest following the ban on JuD.

Complaining about the lack of evidence provided by Indian authorities against Saeed, the Pakistani officials say they could do little to persuade the court not to rule in his favour.

Saeed, a 60-year-old radical preacher, remains under officially unacknowledged house arrest but he continues to give direction to his followers through his assistants.

“He is active and in full command,” said Saeed’s spokesman Yahya Mujahid.

Sipping soup in a Chinese restaurant on Islamabad’s main business boulevard, Mujahid criticised the UN for “unjustly” imposing a ban on JuD under what he called “American and Indian pressure.”

“We have challenged the decision in the UN and the UN officials are in contact with us on the issue,” Mujahid added.

Denying that the JuD was the charity wing of the LeT, Mujahid warned that Islamic terrorism in India was unlikely to stop unless the core issue of Kashmir is resolved.

“There is a very simple and easy recipe to stop violence in ‘Indian-occupied Kashmir’ … India should implement the 1948 UN resolution that recommends a plebiscite to determine the future of 15 million Kashmiri people,” said Mujahid.

“Otherwise the armed struggle will continue, I believe, though we do not take part in it.”