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Pakistan's Ban On Former Jihadist Allies Doubted

Jammat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed
Jammat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed

Pakistan has reiterated its imposing of new restrictions on two large jihadist organizations that were once considered its allies in neighboring India and Afghanistan.

A senior official, who requested anonymity, told Radio Mashaal that Islamabad has frozen the bank accounts of Jammat-ud-Dawa and the Haqqani network. The official said Jammat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed will not be allowed to travel outside Pakistan.

Journalists who have monitored these organizations for decades, however, are skeptical. They say the move is a mere symbolic gesture and is unlikely to dent the destructive potential of the two groups' activity in India and Afghanistan.

Amir Mir, a Pakistani journalist and author of several books on Islamist militancy, says even a formal ban on the organizations is doubtful despite it being confirmed by several officials.

"I think the United States demanded such a ban during Secretary of State John Kerry's recent visit," he told RFE/RL's Gandhara website. "Even a [formal] ban amounts to nothing much. Pakistan has banned Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT, a predecessor organization of Jammat-ud-Dawa] for years [since 2002], but it still operates in Pakistan."

Mir says Lashkar-e-Taiba's operational chief, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, continues to run the organization from his prison cell near Islamabad. "Officials from Pakistan's ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) facilitate his meetings with cadres of the Afghan chapter of LeT inside the prison."

Lakhvi, the accused mastermind of a 2008 terrorist attack in India's commercial hub Mumbai that left 166 dead, has been in detention since December of that year.

"The truth is that there is no ban on Jammat-ud-Dawa," Mir said. "On Friday (January 23), Hafiz Saeed is expected to lead countrywide protests against the French satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo' [for publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad], and this will coincide with the beginning of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to India."

Mir says Islamabad is not in a position to ban the Haqqani network because it is an Afghan militant organization.

If Islamabad is serious in banning these organizations, he maintains, it should formally announce such a move. "When [Pakistani] Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar [Ali Khan] was asked about the ban on these two organizations last week, he refused to answer the question about Jammat-ud-Dawa and the Haqqani network," he said.

The news of the ban first emerged last week and was attributed to Islamabad's resolve to oppose all militant groups on its soil. Washington welcomed the news, and U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf termed it "an important step toward eliminating terrorist activity in Pakistan."

Ikram Hoti, an Islamabad-based journalist, sees no signs of a serious ban. He says Pakistan will first need to shut down the financial pipelines of the organizations to demonstrate its commitment to a ban.

"When these jihadists were first created [in the 1980s and 1990s], our army controlled their finances," he told Gandhara. "Who controls their finances now is something nobody is talking about. If the Pakistani Army answers this question, then we can believe things have changed."

Pakistan's relations with Haqqani network leader Jalaluddin Haqqani dates to the 1970s, while Lashkar-e-Taiba emerged as a leading jihadist organization in the 1990s. It mostly focused on fighting Indian security forces in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. After a Pakistani government ban in early 2002, it is thought to be operating under the name of Jammat-ud-Dawa.