Pakistan-India Tensions Mount Over Mumbai Terror

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Fayyaz Ahmed / EPA

Pakistani policemen shut down a Jamaat ud Dawa office on December 12, 2008 in Quetta.

Nearly a month since the Mumbai terror attacks that killed 163 people, India and Pakistan remain locked in a war of words, and cross-border tensions are rising. New Delhi is growing increasingly frustrated over what it sees as Pakistan's failure to act more decisively against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group blamed for the attacks, and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), its affiliate charity. But Islamabad bristles at such criticism, noting that it has cracked down on JuD in line with a U.N. Security Council designation of the group as a terrorist organization, and arguing that unless India provides credible evidence to prosecute particular invididuals, Pakistan's hands are tied.

Tensions escalated Monday as Pakistani air force jets patrolled the skies over major cities while, across the border, the Indian Foreign Minister accused Pakistan of shifting "blame and responsibility." Residents in Islamabad and Lahore, the eastern capital of Punjab province near the Indian border, were alarmed by the sight of the jets swooping low over them. In a brief explanatory statement that made an opaque reference to India's alleged incursions into Pakistani air space last week, the Pakistan air force said that "in view of the current environment," it had, "enhanced its vigilance." (See pictures of the Mumbai massacre)

"[Pakistan's military] is trying to show to the Indians that it will not let incursions take place without being challenged," says analyst and retired general Talat Masood. Pakistani fears of a potential Indian military strike, which have simmered since the Mumbai massacre, were heightened Monday after Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian Foreign Minister, said that his country was keeping all its options open. While Mukherjee denied any intent to launch military action, he issued the latest in a series of stern salvos, demanding of Pakistan that "much more needs to be done," echoing remarks made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in recent days. "We have highlighted that the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan has to be dismantled permanently," Mukherjee told a gathering of Indian diplomats in New Delhi, adding that India has provided Pakistan evidence of the culprits, including satellite phone intercepts and a letter from Ajmal Amir Kasab, the sole surviving suspect, Reuters reported.

But Rehman Malik, the Interior Ministry chief who has been leading Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts, told TIME from Islamabad that his government was still awaiting concrete evidence from India. "Whatever action has been desired by the United Nations, we have taken," Malik said, referring to the crackdown on JuD and two other charities. The government on Sunday froze all bank accounts belonging to JuD, Malik said. Earlier this month, it moved to arrest 60 members of the group, barred 11 of its members from leaving the country and banned its publications (although the group's website is still active). It also claims to have sealed 109 of the group's offices and placed 16 schools and five clinics under government control, according to government documents seen by TIME. The arrested men include five members of JuD's "central leadership," listed as the group's founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed; the head of its legal wing, Mufti Abdul Rehman; its head of public relations, retired Colonel Nazir Ahmed; the editor of its newspaper "Ghazwa" Ameer Hamza; and the alleged chief of operations of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhwi.

The documents also reveal that orders have been issued to prevent JuD from resurfacing under a different name, as occurred when Lashkar-e-Taiba members moved into its fold following the outlawing of the militant organization in 2002. JuD had been placed under surveillance that same year, when it stopped openly displaying its weapons, but amplified its criticism of the Pakistan government and began operating schools and clinics, according to the documents.

Malik insists that no further action will be taken until Pakistan receives evidence from India, adding that without it his government could be forced to release the men it has arrested. "They have been detained under the MPO [the Maintenance of Public Order Act, a Pakistani law that allows authorities to detain people for up to 90 days]. Tomorrow if they go to the court, they will say our action is mala fide, and the court is bound to listen to them. How can you restrict somebody's movement unless you have evidence?"

Although top British and U.S. officials have demanded that Pakistan act on evidence provided of Pakistani involvement in the Mumbai attacks, Malik insists that his government has received no "material evidence" that would allow it to prosecute individuals. "Providing somebody's name and to say that he is a criminal, that is no evidence," he says. Despite the recent anti-terror pact between the British and Pakistani governments announced during Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to the region earlier this month, Malik signaled that there is little prospect of British authorities being allowed to interview the suspects Pakistan has detained. "There are certain procedures and laws of this country, they do not give access to investigators... But we have said, give us a list of questions and if they want, we can do it for them."

Malik did confirm that on Monday he received a letter from Ajmal Amir Kasab, the surviving Mumbai attacker currently in Indian custody. "We have received a letter written by Ajmal to the Pakistani High Commission in Delhi asking for legal help," he says. As recently as last week, President Zardari had expressed doubts in a BBC interview that Kasab was even Pakistani, but Malik says that although the suspect's name doesn't appear in Pakistani records, "the father and the mother's names mentioned" do exist.

The Pakistani government's position, which will likely be deemed intransigent by New Delhi and by Washington and London, may be a measure of the contending pressures bearing down on President Asif Ali Zardari and his shaky civilian government. As Indian demands and Western concerns have grown more vocal, Zardari's government has struggled to simultaneously respond and keep in check a restive army hard-wired for conflict with India, and also to contain rising domestic hostility toward a neighbor with which it had been keen to cement peace.

The Zardari government had prided itself on its efforts to reconcile with its counterparts in Afghanistan and India, inviting Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Zardari's inauguration, opening trade across Kashmir's Line of Control, and announcing that Pakistan would stand down on its first-strike nuclear capability. But over recent weeks, as the government's disapproval rating has soared to 76% according to a poll conducted by the International Republican Institute, broad sections of the media and political opposition have accused it of bowing too easily to foreign demands. And angry supporters of JuD, which remains popular for its relief work following the Kashmir earthquake, have taken to the streets to protest its banning.

"We are worried about a backlash," Malik concedes, citing mounting pressure from Pakistan's small but vocal religious parties. In the face of such local anger, many Pakistani analysts fear that greater Indian pressure could play into the hand of hawks in Pakistan. "The hype that is being generated by hawks on both sides, although they are a minority, has a momentum of its own," says Masood, the retired general and analyst. "It feeds into military action. What are these elements trying to achieve? There has to be joint cooperation if you want to achieve anything against the terrorists. The war is against them, not each other."