In the spring of 1999, as Pakistani special forces crossed the snow covered Line of Control to take up positions they would hold through the Kargil war, the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s top military commander proclaimed the opening of a second front. “To set up mujahideen networks across India is our one target,” Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi told The Nation on April 9, 1999. “We are preparing the Muslims of India,” he said about his plans, “and when they are ready, it will be the start of the disintegration of India.”
Lakhvi never achieved his dream of sparking off an Islamist insurgency against India—but on November 26, 2008, staged the most brutal terrorist attack the country has ever seen. Now, seven years after his arrest, a court in Pakistan has ordered that he be freed on bail.
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The evidence against Lakhvi is impressive: Indian investigators submitted hours of audiotape of his conversations with the 26/11 assault team, from the Lashkar’s control room in Karachi. The same audiotape is being used in the trial of Zabiuddin Ansari, a Maharashtra-born former Students Islamic Movement of India activist alleged to have also helped at the control station.
In 2009, this evidence—as well as separate material gathered by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, led former President Asif Ali Zardari’s internal security czar, Rahman Malik, to admit Lakhvi was the mastermind of the 26/11 plot.
[Listen to audio clip that nails Lakhvi’s role in 26/11 attacks]
However, the evidence has proved useless, as Lakhvi refused to provide voice samples to investigators. Thus, there is no proof before judges that the voice is his.
Ever since he was arrested on December 7, 2008, there has been mounting evidence that Lakhvi has enjoyed special privileges inside the maximum-security Adiala jail in Rawalpindi. In a statement announcing sanctions against eight key Lashkar operatives on Thursday, the United States Treasury Department said that top Lashkar operative Sajid Mir had been made “responsible for Lakhvi’s security as of 2010.”
Mir, who was indicted as one of the top conspirators in the 26/11 case after he was named by convicted Lashkar operative David Headley, is claimed to be a fugitive in Pakistan. Indian and western officials, however, insist he lives in plain sight in Lahore.
The investigative online journal ProPublica reported that Pakistan’s Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had declined to confiscate Lakhvi’s cellphone, allowing the Lashkar commander to coordinate the group’s operations from inside the Adiala jail. The journal said then-Pakistan army chief General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani “rejected a US request that authorities take away the cellphone Lakhvi was using in jail, according to the memo to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the National Security Council.”
In prison, Lakhvi met with Lashkar leaders, conferred with top Pakistani intelligence officials—and even produced a son. New Delhi-based Indian intelligence officials say they have evidence Lakhvi still continues to use a cellphone in the prison. In addition, Lashkar personnel stand outside the jail, screening visitors.
Born on December 30, 1960, Lakhvi — sometimes referred to by those he has trained as “uncle” — has long served as the Lashkar’s overall military chief and is a member of its powerful general council. He is alleged to have directed operations targeting the Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir, and routed dozens of Lashkar operatives to Chechnya, Bosnia and Iraq.
In a speech at the Lashkar’s headquarters at Muridke in 1999, Lakhvi claimed credit for several suicide attacks in Kashmir, and threatened to stage one in New Delhi “to teach India a lesson.”
Sajid Mir, Lakhvi’s one-time secretary, was responsible for recruiting western nationals to the Lashkar — the most famous among them being David Headley, Pakistani-American jihadist, who carried out the reconnaissance operation which guided the 26/11 assault team.