Crime and no punishment


That Pakistan has failed to charge 26/11 mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi despite the available evidence is outrageous

April 22, 2015:

Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who was released from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi on April 10, is a household name in India. The 46-year-old has been the operations commander and member of the decision-making general council of the Lashkar-e-Taiba for nearly a decade.

He rose rapidly in the LeT after the Kargil conflict and has organised terrorist operations not only against India but also in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia. He is known to have masterminded not just the 26/11 Mumbai attack but also the Mumbai train bombings in 2006 in which around 200 people perished.

During his trial, Syed Yousuf Gilani aka David Coleman Headley, and his Canadian buddy Tahawur Rana in Chicago, Headley testified how he was tasked by Lakhvi to identify and photograph targets for the 26/11 attack. Lakhvi’s pernicious role has been exposed by an Indian national from Maharashtra, Syed Zabiuddin Ansari aka Abu Jundul.

Just a charade

Ansari was a member of the ISI-backed Indian Mujahideen; he became an active Lashkar member after finding his way to Karachi. He was tasked by Lakhvi to teach the 10 terrorists to speak Hindi. Ansari was extradited from Saudi Arabia to India in 2012 on the basis of information provided by India and the US. He has confirmed that he was in the operations room near Karachi where Lakhvi was giving minute-to-minute instructions to the terrorists in Mumbai. Voice samples of VOIP communications by Lakhvi with the terrorists have been provided to Pakistan. They have not been used as evidence by Pakistan. Ajmal Kasab, who referred to Lakhvi as chacha (uncle), also gave a sworn testimony on Lakhvi’s role.

Forced to act because of the international outrage sparked by the 26/11 attack in which 28 of the 166 persons killed were foreign nationals, including citizens of the US, UK, Israel, Australia, Singapore and Canada, the Zardari government charged Lakhvi and six of his associates with planning and executing the attack. What has transpired thereafter has been a charade.

It is evident that the prosecution has no intention of utilising evidence like the testimonies of Kasab, Headley, Ansari and others, or acting on voice samples provided, to seriously prosecute the accused.

World outraged

Lakhvi and his co-accused have been provided five-star comforts in the Adiala jail. His daily stream of visitors has included luminaries such as the former ISI chief Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha. He was permitted conjugal rights in jail, with daily visits by his wife. He even fathered a child while in prison!

In a recent broadcast, after Lakhvi was granted bail, the BBC’s Islamabad correspondent Ilyas Khan observed: “Six years ago, then Interior Minister Rehman Malik revealed how part of the Mumbai attacks conspiracy was hatched in Pakistan. Most of this evidence has not been made part of the record. Jail officers said he (Lakhvi) along with six of his comrades, had several rooms at their disposal. They had access to television, mobile phones and the internet, as well as dozens of visitors daily. These privileges enabled him to remain in effective contact with the Lashkar-e-Taiba rank and file. Elements of the Pakistani establishment are known to have provided such facilities to jailed militant commanders, whom they believe they may need in future.”

Reaction to Lakhvi’s release has been sharp. New Delhi labelled the development an “insult” to the memory of the 166 victims of the Mumbai carnage. The US State Department denounced the decision. Stating that the US was “gravely concerned” at Lakhvi’s release, Washington announced that it had communicated its serious concern to senior Pakistani officials “over the course of many months and as recently as yesterday”.

The American spokesperson noted: “Terrorist attacks are an insult to the collective security and safety of all countries.” French President Francois Hollande thanked Narendra Modi for the “solidarity” shown by India during the Paris terrorist attacks.

He added: “In the same vein I express to you my indignation each time a terrorist is freed, while he still has responsibility for an abominable act of terrorism.” Expressing “surprise and disappointment” at Lakhvi’s release, Israel, whose citizens were killed during the 26/11 terror strike, termed it a “setback to international efforts in the war against terror”.

Unchanged attitude

Despite sentimental and unrealistic expressions of hope in India that Pakistan would change its ways on sponsoring terrorism abroad after the Peshawar massacre of schoolchildren, there has really been no change.

Its military operations on the borders with Afghanistan have not resulted in the capture or elimination of a single member of the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar, or of the dreaded Haqqani Network. Likewise, on its borders with India, the entire infrastructure of terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed remains intact.

Pakistan is confident that it will continue to receive military and financial support from its ‘all weather friend’, China. Moreover, the US has recently approved the supply of sophisticated weapons valued at around $1 billion to Pakistan, generously financed under the provisions of the Kerry-Lugar Act. Pakistan obviously believes it will remain a recipient of American largesse, even if it backs terrorist groups acting against India and Afghanistan.

New Delhi will now have to activate the US Congress and indeed public opinion in the US, to demand that Lakhvi and others are extradited and charged in US courts, for killing American nationals in Mumbai. The Jewish and Indian communities in the US should be motivated for doing this. Class action litigation to charge those who killed US and Israeli nationals in Mumbai should be vigorously pursued through the relatives and associates of those killed.

Moreover, none of those who live beyond our borders, who were involved in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 1993 and 2008, or the Parliament attack of 2001, should ever be allowed to feel they are safe from Indian action.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

(This article was published on April 22, 2015)


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