New Delhi: Pakistan placed the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief under house arrest, two senior Pakistani officials told AFP on Thursday.
“The order has been issued to place Hafiz Saeed and eight other leaders of the group under house arrest,” a Pakistan government official who did not want to be identified told AFP. A senior police official also confirmed the order.
The move comes after India and the US kept up the pressure on Pakistan to act against terrorist groups operating from within that country.
Late on Wednesday, the United Nations (UN) decided to declare Islamic charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) a terrorist organization because it is a front for the LeT, the group India and the US say trained and steered the terrorists behind the late November terror attacks in Mumbai that left at least 183 dead. Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Thursday that his country would comply with the UN decision.
Also See Tough Talk (Graphic)
Meanwhile, India’s Parliament passed a unanimous resolution condemning the “heinous terrorist attacks in Mumbai by terrorist elements from Pakistan”. The resolution, moved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Lok Sabha (Lower House) , said the country will not cease efforts until the terrorists and their patrons were brought to justice.
External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee said during his address to Parliament on Thursday that the country expected decisive action from Pakistan to crack down on militants operating on its soil and had given Islamabad a list of 40 suspects it wanted handed over.
Also keeping up the pressure on Pakistan was the US, whose deputy secretary of state John Negroponte arrived in Islamabad on Thursday to discuss “regional issues” a US embassy spokesman said.
He was expected to meet Pakistan’s President and foreign minister, following up after US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice visited both India and Pakistan last week.
Washington has engaged in intensive diplomacy to stop tensions from mounting between Pakistan and India and keep Islamabad focused on fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Even as India’s government and opposition parties closed ranks and asked for Pakistan to act against terrorist groups, Mukherjee said that war was not an option.
“I am making it quite clear that it (war) is not a solution.”
A person familiar with the matter, who did not want to be identified, said the minister had conveyed India’s dissatisfaction at the initiatives taken by Pakistan to Rice and asked her to continue to exert pressure on Islamabad “till a logical conclusion is reached”.
Earlier, home minister P. Chidambaram said in Parliament that the government would seek to create an FBI-style national investigative agency, beef up coastal security, better train local police, strengthen anti-terror laws and increase intelligence sharing.
“Given the nature of the threat, we can’t go back to business as usual,” Chidambaram said in his speech, adding he would “take certain hard decisions to prepare the country and people to face the challenge of terrorism.”
The revamp represents the government’s first detailed response to widespread public anger over security and intelligence failures in the attacks. Chidambaram has previously apologized for government “lapses” in the assault.
On Wednesday, the UN ban came at the prompting of India and the US. A UN Security Council panel also declared as terrorists JuD chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the suspected Mumbai attacks mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, and two other top leaders of LeT, Haji Muhammad Ashraf and Zaki-ur-Bahaziq, both financiers of the JuD. Saeed founded the LeT but is now head of JuD.
The UN asked all member states to freeze the assets of these individuals and the group, and imposed a travel ban and arms embargo against them. Since 2005, the UN has considered LeT to be a terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda. The US and the European Union have already banned LeT.
JuD chief Saeed told reporters in Lahore that the move was an attempt to target religious groups. Shahidullah Baig, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s interior ministry said instructions had been issued to “seal Jamaat-ud-Dawa offices in all the four provinces as well as Azad Kashmir (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir)”.
Till late Wednesday, in response to diplomatic and other efforts by India and the US, Pakistan had arrested two senior leaders of the LeT, Lakhvi and Zarar Shah. Its security forces had arrested around 20 militants in raids, an intelligence official said.
On Thursday, before Pakistan moved to arrest Saeed and close offices of JuD, Mukherjee had called for it to do more.
“If it is not followed to the logical conclusion—complete dismantling of the infrastructure facilities available from that side to facilitate terrorist attacks, of banning the organizations—how does it help us?”
Handle with care
An expert said India would have to be careful about pushing Pakistan’s government too much.
“I feel that it is not in the interest of India if we put extra pressure on the civilian government of Pakistan because it will be counter productive. The Pakistan army may come to power saying that the civilian government is not capable of handling the issue,” said Uday Bhaskar, a defence expert and former director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, or Idsa.
Another expert, however, said chances of that happening were remote because “a climate for a coup is not there.”
“Although the situation is likely, I do not think it will happen with the present man —Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani,” said intelligence expert Ajit Doval.
Both Doval and Bhaskar said they were not satisfied with the government’s assurances.
“You have to use the pressure from different sources to make it very expensive for Pakistan,” said Doval, the former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau.
Bhaskar termed the government’s proposal to overhaul its security and intelligence agencies a “decorative statement” and called for a “total revamp of the entire security system.” .
Earlier, in a rare gesture of unity in Parliament L.K. Advani, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha and the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party, announced that his party and its allies assured their support for the government. “A message should be sent out to the world that the government, opposition and the country, irrespective of caste, religion and creed, are united,” Advani said amidst loud thumping of desks from opposition and treasury benches.
Krittivas Mukherjee is with Reuters and Liz Mathew is with Mint. AP, AFP and PTI also contributed to this story.