Why Isn’t Pakistan Prosecuting Mumbai Suspects?
Indian police officials gather around a bomb blast site at the Opera house area in Mumbai on July 13, 2011. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has condemned a series of bomb blasts in the commercial capital Mumbai that killed 20 and left more than 100 injured. (PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images)
It’s been more than three years since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks — a slaughter carried out by Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-i-Taiba that left 166 dead, including six Americans — but there is little to show that its masterminds in Pakistan are being held accountable.
To date, Pakistan has yet to prosecute many of the high-level Lashkar leaders suspected of involvement in attacks, including Sajid Mir, the alleged handler of David Coleman Headley, the American who scouted targets for the Mumbai attacks and whom we investigated in our November report, A Perfect Terrorist, which airs again on PBS this evening.
Though Pakistan has taken some measures to investigate and act against alleged perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, critics are doubtful they will result in any meaningful action in the near term:
- Under foreign pressure, Pakistan arrested Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Lashkar’s powerful military leader, shortly after the attacks; he still awaits trial. In November, we reported that U.S. officials raised concerns that Lakhvi was directing operations while in Pakistani custody, and that Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had rejected a U.S. request that authorities seize the cell phone Lakhvi was using while in custody.
- Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar’s spiritual leader, was placed under house arrest shortly after the Mumbai attacks, only to be released later due to lack of evidence. Critics say Saeed continues to operate with a great deal of impunity; in mid-December, he addressed a rally of 30,000 Islamists in Lahore, where he extolled the virtues of jihad and protested the errant NATO airstrikes that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers in November.
“Lashkar is considered so powerful at a political, military and public opinion level in Pakistan that there’s real fear that if the government moves against [the group], it has all these armed operatives and graduates who will then turn against the government,” says FRONTLINE correspondent and ProPublica reporter Sebastian Rotella.
Rotella also notes that the current disastrous relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have stalled American efforts to prosecute four alleged Mumbai masterminds indicted in Chicago last year. “The relationship with the United States is so bad that Pakistan is basically [saying] ‘We’re not going to do anything the Americans tell us, and that definitely includes messing with Lashkar, which is our number one militant asset,'” he explains.
But in the chaos following the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistan’s civilian government appeared willing to do just that — at least according to a controversial memo purportedly authored by the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. In exchange for American assistance in helping to prevent a military coup, the memo said Pakistan’s civilian government was willing to “cooperate fully” with the Indian government on:
bringing all perpetrators of Pakistani origin to account for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, whether outside the government or inside any part of the government, including its intelligence agencies. This includes handing over those against whom sufficient evidence exists of guilt to the Indian security services.
But the fallout from the release of the memo — which is now the subject of a scandalous inquiry that has pitted Pakistan’s civilian and military powers against each other — makes it even less likely that the country will crack down on the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.
The military “thinks Pakistan has too many problems, and shouldn’t risk a rupture with the Lashkar-i-Taiba,” explains Praveen Swami, the New Delhi bureau chief of the The Hindu.
Beyond holding Lashkar accountable for the Mumbai attacks, Swami and others are concerned about the group’s potential to carry out another attack in India — and the ensuing consequences.
“The big worry is what happens if there is another big strike heading into the next Indian general elections, which are two years away,” Swami told FRONTLINE. “It will be very difficult to show the kind of restraint they demonstrated after [Mumbai].”
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