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Asia

Ex-RAW chief: 'Lakhvi's case exposes tussle between Pakistani government and army'

Pakistan has once again detained Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a key suspect in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, after a court ordered his release. Expert Vikram Sood suspects the authorities don't want him to reveal secret info.

Just one day after the Islamabad High Court ordered his release, Pakistani authorities announced on Saturday, March 14, that they would detain alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist and Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi for another month, according to a defense lawyer.

Lakhvi, who is one of seven suspects being tried by Pakistan in connection with the attacks, has been in government custody since 2009. Back in December, he was granted a $10,000 bail, but Pakistan decided to detain him for three months, following massive criticism from India, which has repeatedly pressured Islamabad to actively pursue the case.

Lakhvi is accused of planning the attacks on the Taj hotel, a Jewish hostel, and a train station. The 2008 Mumbai attacks, a three-day siege that left more than 160 people dead, seriously damaged the already strained ties between the nuclear-armed neighbors - Pakistan and India.

In a DW interview, Vikram Sood, who headed the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's foreign intelligence service, from 2001 to March 2003, accuses the Pakistani military of seeking to prevent the Lakhvi case from ever going to trial for fear of him disclosing potentially incriminating information on the army's role.

Vikram Sood

Sood: 'Any disclosures by Lakhvi of the Pakistani state's involvement would naturally be embarrassing for Pakistan'

DW: Why would a Pakistani court cancel a detention order for Lakhvi?

Vikram Sood: This cancelation by a Pakistani court is to be viewed not purely in judicial terms but also in political and strategic terms. The mere fact that the Lakhvi case were to figure in a Pakistani court for trial would mean an admission in the eyes of the military that Pakistan was involved in the Mumbai 2008 terror attacks as alleged by India. They wouldn't want the case to be heard in any court in Pakistan, ever. Therefore, it is more likely that the court was nudged towards this decision. There may be a tussle between the civilian leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - who is seeking a better relationship with India - and the army - which is not keen on any concessions to India.

Any disclosures by Lakhvi of the Pakistani state's involvement would naturally be embarrassing for Pakistan. This decision by the court soon after the visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary to Islamabad may not be a coincidence, but it does put a speed breaker on the efforts to improve relations.

The fact that Lakhvi has been ordered to be detained once again does not alter the basic truth that authorities do no want him to reveal certain matters.

But why would the Pakistani authorities want to prevent Lakhvi from testifying?

At this juncture, the Pakistani authorities (read military) presumably feel that they are very close to being able to finally assert themselves in Afghanistan to the exclusion of India and with the inclusion of China. It is necessary for them to keep groups like the Afghan Taliban of the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network under their control during the soon-to-be-commenced negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

At the same time, groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) along with its ideological masters, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), and the charity organization, Falah-i-Insaniyat, have contented on the Pakistani side. The LeT's goal remains the establishment of three caliphates in India and "liberation" of Kashmir from India. Besides, the LeT is the only terrorist organization which has not carried out terrorist activities inside Pakistan.

What is known about the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency's, knowledge of the Mumbai attacks?

The evidence given by David Headley - who helped plan the Mumbai attacks - and by one of the ten terrorists arrested alive, Ajmal Kasab, followed by the arrest of Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, the LeT operative who was arrested by Indian authorities in August 2012, all indicate extensive ISI involvement in the planning and execution of the attack.

Moreover, the voice overheard during the terror attacks in Mumbai was that of Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi issuing instructions or encouragement to the ten terrorists. This has been shared with Pakistan but they have not followed this trail.

Pakistan vowed to cooperate with Indian in bringing all of those involved in the attack to justice. How has this played out so far?

This claim has always been received with extreme and justified skepticism in New Delhi. Pakistan has given no indication about its seriousness to bring all those involved to justice.

It has played out extremely poorly as Pakistan keeps making a sharp distinction between the good terrorist - those who help Pakistan - and the bad terrorists such as the TTP. The usual trick is to ban an organization and then lift the ban surreptitiously after some time or ignore it as in the case of Hafiz Saeed.

How is this tussle over Lakhvi likely to affect Pakistani-Indian ties?

Relations are likely to remain at a low level.

A file picture dated 27 November 2008 shows firefighters trying to douse the fire as smoke rises from the Taj hotel building in Mumbai, India during the terrorists attack (Photo: EPA/HARISH TYAGI *** Local Caption *** 01942537 +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)

Sood: 'The LeT is the only terrorist organization which has not carried out terrorist activities inside Pakistan'

Is any improvement in bilateral ties to be expected until this issue is resolved?

There are no indications from Pakistan so far. Instead it now wishes to pretend to be a victim of India-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan is unable to take any firm action against the radicals in the country. Over the years it has come increasingly under the sway of al Qaeda and its various surrogates, and also under the influence of Sunni sectarian terror groups.

There are political connections between the strong sectarian groups and the ruling party. Most of them come from the Punjab province, which is also the home for recruitment of Pakistan Army's soldiery.

All this has led to radicalization of the society with the moderate liberals increasingly sidelined.

Vikram Sood currently acts as an advisor to the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. He headed the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's foreign intelligence service, from 2001 to March 2003.

The interview was conducted by Gabriel Domínguez.