ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai last month have convinced Pakistani leaders of the need for a serious crackdown on the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), U.S. Sen. John Kerry said Tuesday.
Kerry, expected to take over as chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations committee, was visiting Pakistan after a trip to India as part of an effort to reduce tensions between the two rivals.
India has accused LeT, formed in 1990 by Pakistani intelligence to fuel a separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir, of involvement in the November attacks in India’s financial hub.
Islamist gunmen killed 179 people in the Mumbai attacks.
Kerry said he had been assured by army chief General Ashfaq Kayani that the crackdown on LeT, jihadi organization and affiliated groups would be harsher than that following a raid on India’s parliament in 2001.
Analysts described the 2002 crackdown as little more than a sham, with militant leaders soon released from house arrest and their organizations allowed to flourish once more.
“Kayani made clear they are moving on Lashkar-e-Taiba camps and training centers. He said ... ‘We are doing this and we are committed to doing this’,” Kerry quoted the army chief as telling him.
The senator also met President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who head the nearly nine-month-old civilian government, that brought former army chief Pervez Musharraf’s rule to an end.
Pakistani security forces have detained more people than India was aware of in a sweep that began a little over a week ago, and the government was intent on convicting anyone linked to the Mumbai attacks, Kerry said.
But he hedged when asked whether he believed that Hafiz Saeed, the founder of LeT and head of a related charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, or Maulana Masood Azhar, another militant leader would be taken out of business by the latest crackdown.
“Now we’re all going to watch,” Kerry said. “This is still evolving... and it is safe to say there is still some distance to travel.”
He said Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership felt the need to eradicate any group that threatened to deflect the country from a democratic path.
Kerry said Kayani told him that the struggle was against groups who want to decide whether Pakistan goes to war, whether it has security and whether it can protect its citizens.
The senator said LeT had “morphed into a more al Qaida-esque radicalized entity.”
That realization, he said, appeared to have led to a sharp change in thinking within Pakistan’s leadership.
“I think the evidence has now changed and the choices are changed,” he said.
Speaking in India, Kerry said the Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, which analysts in India say has ties with LeT, must be tightly controlled and not allowed to act independently.
In Islamabad he said the agency had engaged in “questionable” activities.
Reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Richard Balmforth