President Barack Obama is likely to ask India to resume high-level dialogue with Pakistan during his upcoming summit meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, highly-placed government sources have told The Indian Express. The push will come midst media reports that the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s parent organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, has been banned—a demand pressed by United States Secretary of State John Kerry during a recent visit to Islamabad.
There was no official confirmation of the ban, however. Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam said on Thursday that the Jamaat’s bank accounts had been frozen, and foreign travel restrictions placed on its chief, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Later, however, the Foreign Office clarified that Aslam had been referring to actions taken in 2008.
Karachi-based newspaper The Dawn was among several that reported Thursday that the Jamaat had been placed on a list of banned organisations, along with the Afghanistan-focussed Haqqani Network, but that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government was showing “reluctance to announce the curb in an official capacity”.
Local journalists The Indian Express spoke to, however, said the Jamaat’s offices in both Lahore and Karachi were open, with visitors streaming in and out. The organisation’s website was also online late on Thursday, carrying announcements for a rally scheduled for Sunday to protest what it described as blasphemous attacks on the Prophet Muhammad. The Jamaat itself said it expected to continue to report
New Delhi offered no response to the developments in Pakistan, but said they expected President Obama would provide clarity on the Pakistan army’s intentions and objectives. “Let’s wait until we know what, if anything, has actually happened”, one home ministry official said. “We’ve learned the hard way to beware of poisoned bait”, he added.
President Obama, government sources say, had pushed Prime Minister Modi to reopen dialogue with Pakistan during their summit meeting in September. Foreign Secretary-level had been called off after Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Abdul Basit, met with leaders of the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference. The United States, the sources said, argued Pakistan’s military offensive against terrorists in North Waziristan demonstrated its military had reversed its long-standing alliance with jihadists.
In response, the sources said, Prime Minister Modi said he was not unwilling to talk to Pakistan, but needed tangible evidence of the country’s will to act against terrorism—for example, the extradition of top Lashkar military commander Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi to stand trial in a third country where he is wanted for crimes, like the United States.
Following the Prime Minister’s return to New Delhi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had held consultations with key officials on the conditions under which a dialogue with Pakistan might resume. The initiative, however, unravelled as skirmishes erupted along the Line of Control in Kashmir.
However, intelligence officials said they were intrigued by the timing to the leaks on a Lashkar ban. “There was very little infiltration before the elections in Kashmir”, a senior Indian intelligence official said, “and cross-border activity is at about the same level as last winter, perhaps even a bit lower. I’m guessing that these leaks are the Pakistan army’s way of saying it wants to do business with India, and it’ll be interesting to see what they’ve conveyed to the United States”.
Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province and Prime Minister Sharif’s brother, had earlier this week met with top Jamaat leaders early this week to reassure them that no ban was being contemplated against the organisation. The meeting followed testimony to a senate committee by Interior Ministry additional secretary Mohammad Asghar Chaudhry that the Jamaat and Haqqani Network were “under observation”. Minister for Defence Production Rana Tanveer Hussain earlier said the Jamaat had no link to terrorism.
“I’m guessing these leaks about the ban are meant to tell the United States that while the military is willing to act against the Jamaat, the political establishment isn’t willing”, said author and analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on the Pakistan army. “The reality may be that that the army doesn’t want to act against powerful jihadist groups who aren’t challenging its authority, and is using the politicians as a scapegoat”.
“The sensible course for the Indian government”, said Sushant Sareen, an expert at the Vivekananda International Foundation, “is to wait and watch for concrete action. Personally, I’m guessing it is going to have to wait a while”.
Few results have emerged from past Pakistani promises of action against the Jamaat and its affiliates. Following the imposition of sanctions against the Lashkar-e-Taiba by the United Nations Security Council on December 10, 2008, Pakistan’s then-Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Abdullah Haroon, promised that his government would “proscribe the JUD and take other consequential actions, as required, including the freezing of assets”.
Jamaat offices across the country were indeed shut down—but reopened within weeks. Saeed himself was held under a public order law, but was set free after the Lahore High Court proved unmoved by evidence presented in closed court of his alleged links with al-Qaeda.
Indeed, it remains unclear if the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Aslam’s comments referred to the asset freeze declared in 2008—and never formally removed—or to a fresh set of actions.
The asset freeze, notably, had no impact on the Jamaat’s activities, which are mainly conducted in cash. Its sprawling campus at Muridke, moreover, recieved official subsidies after 2008, since its bank accounts were inoperational. Budget documents for 2013-2014 show the Punjab government received a grant in aid of Rs. 61.35 million. Finance Minsiter Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman also announced his government intended to set up an Rs. 350 million knowledge park in Muridke.
Pakistan also took little action against key Lashkar commanders. It said it was unable to locate Muzammil Bhat, who trained and directed the terrorists who carried out the 26/11 attacks. In 2009, though, Canadian journalists Adnan Khan located Bhat openly training Lashkar cadre near Muzaffarabad.
Facing intense pressure from the United States, Musharraf banned the Lashkar in January, 2002, under the new Anti-Terrorism Act. Top leaders, including Saeed, were placed under house arrest, and the organisation’s bank accounts were shut down. Inside weeks, though, Saeed and other jihadist leaders were released, with local courts saying there was no evidence of their involvement in terrorism.
Importantly, Musharraf’s ban did not apply to the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan, nor the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas and the province now called Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Thus, the Lashkar remained in operation out of these areas through the ban.
However, Musharraf did secure a deesclation of violence on the Indian side of the Line of Control, by slowly choking back infiltration—leading to a more than decade long scaling back of violence in the state.