| Omar Sheikh
Washington, Jan. 31: Ending several months of kid glove treatment of Pakistan, the US state department yesterday went on the offensive listing the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as a “foreign terrorist organisation”.
“Today I am taking another important step in our campaign to eliminate the scourge of terrorism. I am designating the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as a foreign terrorist organisation under US law,” secretary of state Colin Powell said in a statement even as Pakistan’s foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri was winding up his 10-day visit to America.
“Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a violent Sunni group located in Pakistan.
It is responsible for numerous deadly attacks, and its involvement in the January 2002 kidnapping and killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl has been confirmed.
The group has perpetrated bus and church bombings. It claimed responsibility for the 1997 killing of four American oil workers in Karachi.
“Lashkar-e-Jhangvi also attempted to assassinate then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999,” Powell said.
Pakistan banned the group in 2001, but like many Islamic militant groups which operate in a grey area of quasi-official support for them from sections of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the rest of the establishment, it has regularly conducted attacks on religious minorities and Western targets in Pakistan.
Powell hinted at this Pakistani double-speak yesterday when he said: “The government of Pakistan has already designated the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi a terrorist organisation and we look forward to working with Pakistani authorities to shut this group down.”
India has constantly complained that Pakistan arrests terrorists or bans subversive groups while allowing them to function through the backdoor, especially in organising violence across the border with India. But this is the first time that the US has openly hinted at Pakistani double standards although the Bush administration officials assert off the record that they have been harsh on this issue in talks with Islamabad.
Ironically, Powell signed the order condemning the organisation on the very day Kasuri landed in the US, but it became effective and was announced only yesterday as he was wrapping up his visit here.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is widely believed to have closed links with Jaish-e-Mohammad, which masterminded the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001. It has also sheltered al Qaida members in Pakistan.
Pearl’s abductor Omar Sheikh and Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Maulana Masood Azhar were together released from jail by India in December 1999 in return for the hostages of a hijacked Indian Airlines plane which was taken to Kandahar.
The state department’s designation of the Pakistan-based organisation as a terrorist outfit yesterday comes ahead of wide-ranging consultations between India and the US next week.
The Indian side will be led during the talks here by foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal who will be accompanied by officials dealing with issues as wide-ranging as global environment to disarmament.