Why India Is Still Skeptical of Pakistan's Anti-Terror Efforts

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The raid by Pakistan's security forces on a camp used by the militants blamed for the Mumbai massacre is not the first time Islambad has moved against Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). But a previous crackdown that came, like this one, under strong pressure from Washington after a LeT terror strike in India, did little to stop the militant group from operating in Pakistan. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed over the weekend that the U.S. believes the attack on Mumbai was planned from Pakistani soil, and LeT has been named by U.S. and Indian officials as the prime suspect. Indian officials have also made clear that they believe elements of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), longtime sponsor of the LeT, were involved in the Mumbai attack. So, from India's perspective, Pakistan's 2002 crackdown on LeT has not stopped terror attacks from Pakistani soil. And India will likely remain skeptical about Pakistan's bona fides over anti-Indian militants operating on its turf until it is satisfied that such groups have been properly accounted for, dismantled and destroyed.

The men held by Pakistan on Sunday reportedly include Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, whom India accuses of being one of the key organizers of the massacre (based on the interrogation of the sole surviving militant). But India wants the suspects handed over, and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said last week that Pakistan has no intention of extraditing any suspects to India; those against whom there is sufficient evidence to prosecute will stand trial on Pakistani soil, he told CNN. Zardari is under strong pressure to avoid being seen to buckle to Indian demands, and the Pakistani military, which continues to exercise strong control over national security decisions, is equally leery of bowing to Indian pressure. (See pictures here of Mumbai picking up the pieces.)

In 2002, the government of then President Pervez Musharraf, acting under pressure from Washington, banned LeT after its terror attack on India's parliament had brought the nuclear-armed neighbors to the brink of war. There were arrests of hundreds of members of LeT and other organizations also nurtured by the ISI to wage proxy warfare on India in Kashmir. But many of those arrested were later released, and LeT is widely believed to have have continued to operate politically through the Islamist charity organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa — a charge the Jamaat-ud-Dawa denies. LeT's military arm is also believed to have continued to operate on a clandestine basis in Pakistan, possibly with ongoing ties to elements in (or recently retired from) the ISI, the militant group's original patron.

It also emerged over the weekend that Pakistan had been concerned at the height of the massacre that India might launch air strikes or special forces raids on militant camps in Pakistani-administered Kashmir — and that option remains on the table in India's internal debate over how to respond to Mumbai. While the Pakistani authorities have been able to turn a blind eye, or at least restrict themselves to ritual denunciation, to U.S. missile strikes on suspected militant targets in Pakistani territory along the Afghan border, the Pakistani military would find it extremely difficult to remain passive in the face of an incursion onto its territory by what it has long regarded as the existential enemy next door. By preemptively raiding the LeT camp at Muzaffarabad, Pakistan may be doing two things: one, demonstrating a readiness (prompted by Washington) to be accountable for the actions of even "non-state actors" working from its soil; two, forestalling an Indian attack on the same facility that would put the Pakistani military in a far more difficult position.

Yet acting against members of LeT may carry it's own price domestically, as Islamists threaten to take to the streets in protest. Islamabad is caught between mounting pressure from the U.S. and India to act against those deemed responsible for the Mumbai massacre, and a Pakistani public and military more reluctant to be seen as acting at the behest of either Washington or New Delhi. The raid is a first step, then, but it's the series of steps that follow that will determine whether the Muzaffarabad arrests help cool the cross-border tensions raised by the Mumbai massacre.

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