December 5, 2008

TERROR WITH A RETURN ADDRESS?:

Mumbai attacks put spotlight on Lashkar-e-Taiba: The evidence pointing to the Pakistan-based group's hand in the rampage in India raises the question of whether Pakistan's elite spy agencies continue to nurture militant groups. (Laura King, December 5, 2008, LA Times)

Pakistan's relatively weak civilian government, in power less than a year, has shown a degree of reluctance to forcefully confront militant groups or to assert control over the intelligence establishment -- a pattern that could bode ill as fallout from the attacks on India's financial capital poisons relations between the two nuclear-armed countries.

Lashkar-e-Taiba's alleged social wing, which gained prominence after Lashkar was officially banned in 2002, operates openly on a sprawling campus outside the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. Its head, Hafiz Saeed, was one of the founders of Lashkar and is on a list of about 20 militant suspects India has demanded be handed over. [...]

[S]ecretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Pakistani officials during a visit Thursday that the evidence gathered so far by Indian and Western investigators against Pakistan-based militants was compelling enough that Islamabad should be acting on it.

Successive Pakistani governments have tolerated and even abetted Lashkar-e-Taiba, which for much of its two-decade history was used by Pakistan's intelligence service as a proxy for fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

Pakistani officials insist that in recent years the country's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, has been purged of militant sympathizers. But as recently as four months ago, U.S. intelligence officials alleged that the ISI aided militants who struck another Indian target, its embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"You could argue that if you have 20 years of active sponsorship, it takes time for these linkages to disappear from the state apparatus," said Ishtiaq Ahmad, a professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari assured Rice that he would take "strong action" against anyone in Pakistan found to have taken part in the Mumbai attacks. But the government has largely brushed aside investigators' allegations -- some gleaned from the confessions of the sole suspect captured, some from Western intelligence -- that the assailants trained at Lashkar-e-Taiba camps in Pakistan, began their sea journey from the Pakistani port of Karachi and conferred with Pakistani handlers in the midst of the assault.

Indian officials, who are being assisted in their investigation by Scotland Yard and the FBI, also say they believe two known Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders masterminded the attack. Pakistani politicians from across the spectrum say India is motivated in its allegations by the long-standing enmity between the neighbors.

Lashkar-e-Taiba has maintained an unbroken presence in Pakistan since about 1990 -- sometimes operating clandestinely, and sometimes brazenly. Its most visible presence is through Jamaat ud-Dawa, the self-described political and religious movement that U.S. officials believe maintains active ties with Lashkar.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 5, 2008 11:10 AM
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