- The Washington Times - Friday, February 26, 2010

LAHORE, Pakistan | Long-haired jihadis toting automatic weapons patrolled a mosque last week as the cleric who heads the militant network blamed for the attack on Mumbai preached inside. The group’s supporters collected funds in the courtyard and later marched through this eastern Pakistani city, calling for the death of those who insult Islam.

Pakistan announced a ban on Jamaat-ud-Dawa - sealing the group’s offices, freezing assets and rounding up leaders - amid international outrage after the 2008 siege of the Indian financial capital. But the group has scored a few wins in court against the government and is up and running again, exposing Islamabad’s unwillingness to fully crack down on militants who target India, its longtime enemy.

The resurgence of the group stalled any progress Thursday at the first round of peace talks between Pakistan and India since the attacks on Mumbai.

India insisted the negotiations focus on Pakistan’s efforts to rein in groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa; Pakistan wanted all issues, including the disputed territory of Kashmir, to be on the table.

The United States has urged the two nuclear-armed nations to resume dialogue despite Indian concerns about Pakistan’s crackdown on militants. Both nations mobilized troops to their shared border as tensions spiked after the Mumbai attacks. Another major attack by Pakistani militants on Indian soil would put New Delhi under intense domestic pressure to mount a military response.

India, the United States and the United Nations say Jamaat is the front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which they charge carried out the attacks in November 2008 that killed 170 people in Mumbai. Seven militants identified as members of Lashkar by prosecutors are currently on trial in Pakistan charged with planning and carrying out the attacks. The sole surviving gunman in the attacks, Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani with links to Lashkar, is on trial in India.

Lashkar was founded in the 1980s by Hafiz Saeed with the assistance of Pakistan’s security agencies to wage war against India with the hope of wresting the Indian portion of Kashmir from New Delhi. The group took responsibility for numerous attacks there, but the government banned it in 2002 after pressure from the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Saeed is now the leader of Jamaat, which claims to be focused only on charity work. It runs a large network of Islamic schools and clinics, and participates in disaster relief.

Members of Jamaat say there is no link between it and Lashkar. But even Rana Sanaullah Khan, who is the law minister in Punjab province, said the two are simply different wings of the same group.

After the Mumbai siege, Mr. Saeed, a 60-year-old former Islamic studies lecturer, was placed under house arrest but freed in June last year by the Lahore High Court, which said there was no evidence he was involved in any wrongdoing. In October, a court ruled there was no case against Mr. Saeed and found that the government had never formally prohibited Jamaat. The government has appealed to the Supreme Court.

Even before the court ruling, however, critics said Pakistan was not aggressively enforcing the ban.

Mr. Saeed has exploited the legal limbo and openly challenges the government’s attempts to tamp down his group.

On the government’s Kashmir Solidarity Day earlier this month, Mr. Saeed addressed supporters in Lahore who waved Lashkar flags and shouted, “Here comes Lashkar to kill the Hindus.”

“If America with the help of NATO and all its weapons could not maintain its occupation in Afghanistan, India, too, will not be able to hold on to Kashmir anymore,” Mr. Saeed told the crowd.

Frustration at the impunity groups like Jamaat seem to enjoy angers some lawmakers.

“It is shocking to see how banned terrorist organizations are allowed to challenge the writ of the state,” Sherry Rehman, a lawmaker with the ruling party, told parliament Tuesday. “What is the point of our innocent civilians and soldiers dying in a borderless war against such terrorists, when armed, banned outfits can hold the whole nation hostage in the heart of Punjab’s provincial capital?”

Security and government officials in Lahore offered several reasons for the lack of action against Mr. Saeed and his group. They said India had presented no evidence of his involvement in the Mumbai attacks; stressed he was not involved in any of the attacks by Islamist militants that have struck Pakistan over the past year, several of them in Lahore; and they said that closing the group’s schools would deprive thousands of an education and health care.

But analysts said Pakistan had strategic reasons for not acting against Jamaat.

“Pakistan is keeping these groups as a gray area of its policy, and it will continue doing so as long as there are no guaranteed steps from India,” defense analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said, referring to moves to resolve the Kashmir dispute. “Pakistan does not see these groups as completely undesirable if there is no progress on its issues.”

India has demanded Mr. Saeed be put on trial for the Mumbai attack.

A government-appointed administrator is now in charge at the group’s headquarters in Muridke, just outside Lahore. Spread over 75 acres, it has schools and a hospital that provide free services for nearby residents, stabling for horses and a swimming pool.

But the staff there are still from Jamaat, though Mr. Khan, the Punjab minister, said they are “not very devoted” members.

A spokesman for Jamaat scoffs at the idea that the government has frozen its assets, as Islamabad said it had done when the ban was announced.

“How can someone who doesn’t contribute any money control the purse strings?” said Yahya Mujahid.

The guards posted outside the mosque last Friday were to protect against possible attack by Indian agents, he said.

A man collecting donations defended the right for the group to do so. “Do you see any harm? Is it wrong?” he asked. “These funds are for welfare in the name of Allah.”

In other parts of the country, there has been some enforcement of the ban.

In Karachi, the country’s largest city but never a stronghold of the group, Jamaat was evicted from its old offices in a residential block where a family now lives. Members say it is no longer allowed to hold large rallies and have had to close down three health clinics due to lack of funds.

c Associated Press reporters Babar Dogar in Lahore and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this article.

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