It was the morning of November 28, 2008 and Indian security forces were still battling a Lashkar-e-Taiba terror squad in Mumbai, when a Pakistani journalist friend called in with a tip – there was buzz about the ISI chief being sent to India to help the investigation.
It was notoriously difficult for Indian journalists in Islamabad to get a word – any word – out of Pakistani officials but I decided to call Zahid Bashir, the spokesperson of then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Bashir answered my call but was speaking on another phone with someone, apparently the prime minister himself. Bashir wanted to know whether he could confirm to the media the ISI chief would go to India.
Bashir ended the other call and I asked him about the speculation regarding the ISI chief’s visit. He gave me a confirmation and suddenly I had the biggest story of the day.
Within hours, there was an about turn following a midnight meeting between the prime minister, President Asif Ali Zardari and then army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani. The ISI chief, Shuja Pasha, would not go to India, a “representative” of the spy agency would be sent instead.
As the evidence mounted against Pakistan and journalists traced Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab’s family at Faridkot in Punjab, the authorities announced a crackdown on the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, declared a front for the LeT.
Television channels beamed images of JuD offices being sealed and there were reports of JuD chief Hafiz Saeed and his top aides being placed under house arrest. Within months, they were free and the JuD-LeT combine was back as Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation.
The Pakistani media reports on Wednesday about Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar and his aides being placed in “preventive custody” and of JeM offices being “traced and sealed” were, thus, depressingly familiar.
Pakistan’s security establishment has often launched crackdowns on terror groups and “detained” their leaders in the face of international pressure. Azhar was detained by Pakistani authorities in December 2001 too, after an attack on the Indian parliament was blamed on his group but never formally charged.
Two days before an Indian court convicted Azhar in absentia in December 2002 for his role in the parliament attack, his house arrest was ended by the Lahore high court. It was the Lahore high court which also freed Hafiz Saeed after the Mumbai attacks.
The links of the JeM and LeT with sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence set-up are well known and need not be gone into here. Therefore, the caution shown by the Indian government over reports of Azhar’s “detention” is not surprising.
Then there is the trial of the seven suspects, including LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, arrested and charged with involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks – which some Indian officials have described as farcical after Pakistan sought more information from India despite being provided voluminous technical and other evidence by India, the US and Britain.
Despite repeated assurances about expediting the conclusion of the trial of these seven suspects – the most recent one given to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj last month – Pakistan has shown little by way of moving with alacrity on the matter.
For far too long, Prime Minister Sharif and his brother, Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, have dithered on the issue of taking a strong stand on jihadi groups based within the stronghold of their PML-N party. In these circumstances, India would do well to keep a closer eye on developments with regard to the Jaish-e-Mohammed.
(The views expressed by the writer are personal. He tweets as @rezhasan)