Pakistan arrests key terror suspects, may permit India to interrogate them (Roundup, combining different series)

December 9th, 2008 - 6:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad/New Delhi, Dec 9 (IANS) Pakistan has arrested two key terror suspects India wants and could permit New Delhi to interrogate them if this is done jointly, a senior Pakistani minister said Tuesday.Confirming the arrests of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhwi, a top suspect in the Mumbai terror strikes, and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, wanted for his alleged role in the Dec 13, 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, Pakistani Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar Tuesday said India may be allowed to interrogate them.

“If need be, we can have a joint interrogation,” Mukhtar told CNN-IBN in a telephonic interview.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was silent on the interrogation aspect but asserted that the suspects would not be handed over to India, as New Delhi has demanded.

“The arrests are being made for our own investigations. Even if allegations are proved against any suspect, he will not be handed over to India,” Qureshi said in Multan, adding: “We will proceed against those arrested under Pakistani laws.”

India, on its part, was closely “monitoring and verifying” the crackdown by Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies on the terrorist outfits and hoped Islamabad will move beyond “tokenism” and take “concrete, meaningful action” against the suspects behind the Mumbai terror attacks.

“It’s too early to react. We have seen this kind of reaction in the past,” top government sources, who did not wish to be named, told IANS in New Delhi Tuesday, a day after Pakistan confirmed a quiet crackdown by its security agencies on known terror outfits in that country.

Defence Minister Mukhtar, in the first comments by the Pakistani government on the arrests of the militant leaders, said: “Lakhwi was picked up yesterday (Monday). Azhar has also been picked up.”

Ruling out any movement of Pakistani troops towards the Indian borders, Mukhtar asserted that Pakistan will “help India in every possible way” and made a renewed pitch for joint investigations into the Mumbai attack - a suggestion that India has spurned.

Claiming that Islamabad was cracking down on terror groups, Mukhtar said: “No one can doubt our credibility. We have discussed how we can help our neighbours in fighting terrorism.”

“We are ready to help India in every possible way. Joint investigations will help in probing the Mumbai attack,” Mukhtar asserted.

“We will help India in joint investigations… India may be allowed to interrogate these people also,” he added.

According to reports, Lakhwi was among the at least 15 people detained in the last two days after raids on a camp run by the banned LeT in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Following the Mumbai terror attacks, Pakistani security forces also sealed a camp of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JD), as the LeT is widely believed to have been renamed after it was proscribed, in the Shawai Nullah neighbourhood of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir.

In a statement issued late Monday, a military spokesperson in Islamabad said in a statement that an operation to target militant organisations had started in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

“The military confirms an operation of law enforcement is underway,” it said, adding that there had been arrests and investigations were underway.

Pakistani authorities on Monday placed restrictions on the movement of JeM chief Masood Azhar by confining him to his multi-storeyed concrete compound in the Model Town area of Bahawalpur.

“Well-placed official sources say Masood Azhar’s activities have been restricted in the wake of the Indian government’s demand to hand him over to New Delhi,” The News said.

Asked about the Pakistani action, government sources in New Delhi said: “It’s too early to react. We have seen this kind of reaction in the past.”

“We have to move beyond mere statements and tokenism. At this stage, nobody is interested in tokenism,” sources privy to the government’s thinking on the subject said.

“There has to be real, meaningful action that will signal Pakistan’s will to walk the talk on terror,” the sources said, while alluding to similar action by Islamabad in the past that did not stop terror attacks launched on India from Pakistani territory.

When asked to spell out what specific actions India sought from Pakistan, the sources said that the first thing Pakistan needs to do is to hand over fugitives wanted by India for major terror strikes, including the Nov 26 Mumbai attacks.

“That’s why arresting a handful of LeT operatives is not enough,” the sources said.

“It’s nothing more then tokenism. They want to take minimum possible action to appease the Americans,” Satish Chandra, a former deputy national security adviser and a former Indian envoy to Pakistan, told IANS.

India, meanwhile, is keeping open all its options, including precision strikes against terrorist camps and destroying them through covert action in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.

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