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No proof of Lakhwi's arrest, say US officials

Expressing scepticism over Pakistan's claim that it has arrested Zaki ur-Rehaman Lakhwi, US counterterrorism officials have said that they were yet to have proof of capturing the Lashkar commander.

world Updated: Dec 10, 2008 15:07 IST

Expressing scepticism over Pakistan's claim that it has arrested Lashkar-e-Taiba operation leader Zaki ur-Rehaman Lakhwi, US counterterrorism officials have said that they were yet to have proof of capturing the Lashkar commander, a media report said on Wednesday.

"In the past when they've promised to move against these guys, they'd pick up one or two of them and then several months later, they'd release them," a senior American official who has dealt with Pakistani authorities for several years was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

"Based on past patterns, we shouldn't expect much of this," an unnamed official told the paper.

Pakistan had said on Tuesday that during a raid at a camp outside Muzaffarabad on Sunday, it had arrested Lakhwi, who is suspected to be the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks.

But a senior American official told the Times that there was no independent proof of his capture and it was not clear whether the Lashkar members the Pakistanis claimed they had rounded up on Monday were fighters or senior commanders.

Though publically the Bush administration praised the Pakistani efforts, questions remained about how far the Pakistani government would rein in the groups, which have functioned as an arm of Pakistan's military and intelligence services for two decades, the Times said.

Details of what the government had actually done so far remained unclear, the paper noted.

An important sign of whether Pakistan was serious in shutting down Lashkar would be if the group were demobilised by the government, and its fighters given alternative employment, experts on jihadist groups said.

After the ban in 2002, the United States and Britain tried to persuade Pakistan to demobilise the fighters but failed to do so, the experts said.

Instead, thousands of members were rounded up and then quietly released. They were directed to slow down their activities in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir but were allowed to transfer their assets to Pakistan's tribal areas where some Lashkar members have worked alongside the Pakistani Taliban, the diplomats were quoted as saying.

Administration officials were quoted as saying they were watching India's reaction to Pakistan's words and deeds to gauge whether the raids and arrests would ease tensions between the two countries.

"There's a practical part of this will these arrests lead to preventing further attacks and bringing people to justice," a senior administration official told the paper, adding, "and there's a political dimension to what extent does this lower tensions between the two countries."

Pakistani officials, the Times noted, have indicated in the past few days that there were no plans for a large-scale crackdown on LeT, founded in the 1980s by the Pakistani Army to fight a proxy war against India in Kashmir.

Such a crackdown would run counter to popular sentiment and would appear to be at the behest of India and the United States, a politically unpalatable perception for Pakistan's government, it said.

Since the start of the current roundup of Lashkar members, the group's founder Hafiz Muhammed Saeed has not been arrested, the paper noted, pointing out that he remains at his headquarters in Lahore where he gave sermon at Friday prayer last week.

Saeed now calls himself the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity that is Lashkar's parent, the Times said.

So far, the charity, which runs more than 100 Islamic schools and has hundreds of thousands of adherents, the experts on jihadist groups say, has remained untouched by the authorities, the report said.