MULTAN (AP) – Pakistan has detained a second alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the prime minister said yesterday, apparently making good on pledges to pursue the perpetrators.
The announcement of the arrest of Zarrar Shah — following Sunday's detention of another alleged Mumbai plotter, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and other alleged militants — could deflect intense US and Indian pressure on Pakistan following the attack.
But much will now depend on whether Pakistan's young civilian government keeps up the pressure on the militant groups that are believed to have been fostered by the country's powerful security agencies.
Pakistan has targeted militants in the past, detaining some leaders only to quietly release them later, bolstering critics who claim Islamabad is not serious about fighting extremists.
Pakistani officials insist Islamabad's old foe, New Delhi, has not shared any evidence with them that links the suspects to the attacks, raising questions as to how the country can bring them to trial. Islamabad has already said it will not hand them over to India.
Last month's attacks on Mumbai, India's financial center, killed 171 people and sharply raised tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which have fought three wars since 1947. India says all the attackers were Pakistani citizens.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani gave no details on Shah's arrest except that he and Lakhvi "were in (Pakistani) custody and were being investigated."
Both men are alleged to be members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned Pakistani militant group blamed for other attacks on Indian soil and with historical ties to the country's shadowy intelligence agencies.
Yesterday, Indian police said they would question an Indian militant with known Lashkar links about the Mumbai siege. They said Nepal-based Sabauddin Ahmed was arrested in February with another militant who had scouted Mumbai targets a year before last month's attacks.
Amitabh Yash, director of the police Special Task Force in India's Uttar Pradesh state, said Ahmed managed safe houses in Nepal, using that country to smuggle Pakistani Lashkar members into India. Yash said he was able to take advantage of the fact that Indians don't need passports to enter or leave Nepal.
"He was their main point man in Katmandu, a very trusted man by Lashkar," Yash said.
Pakistan's Information Minister Sherry Rehman said reports that Pakistan had detained Masood Azhar, the leader of another militant group wanted by India, were incorrect.
Indian media reports citing intelligence officials have identified Zarrar Shah as Lashkar's communications chief and said he created the communications system that allowed Lashkar leaders in Pakistan to stay in touch with the gunmen during the siege.
The New York Times has reported the attackers and their handlers used Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone services for communication to make it more difficult for investigators to trace their calls.
The paper has also quoted American and Indian officials as saying that Zarrar Shah was one of Lashkar's primary liaisons with Pakistani intelligence. It did not elaborate, but US officials have said there is no evidence linking the attacks to any Pakistani state agencies.
Pakistani officials have said Lakhvi was detained at a Lashkar camp in its portion of the disputed Kashmir region and that raids there and in other parts of Pakistan have netted about 30 other people.
Indian investigators say the sole Mumbai attacker captured alive has told them that Lakhvi recruited him for the assaults. They also have said the assailants called another senior leader, Yusuf Muzammil, on a satellite phone before the attacks. Muzammil's whereabouts are not known.
Gilani said India had shared no evidence or information with Pakistan about their suspicions surrounding the men.
"We are investigating on our own about the people they have identified (through the media)," he said in the central Pakistani town of Multan. "That is a good message to our neighbors and rest of the world that Pakistan is a responsible nation."
New Delhi has so far not commented on the arrests in Pakistan.
On Tuesday, investigators in Mumbai released the names, photos and hometowns in Pakistan of the nine militants they said carried out the three-day siege.
Gilani and other officials declined to comment on that development.
Pakistan's intelligence agencies and military have long used militant groups as proxy armies, both in Afghanistan and against Indian troops in Kashmir, the Himalayan territory at the root of two of their wars.
Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani defense analyst, described the two arrests as "a minor first step which the government has taken as a gesture."
After a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament by alleged Pakistani militants, Islamabad arrested the two leaders of the country's main pro-Kashmir militant groups. They were released without charge less than a year later.
Siddiqa said the civilian government may be not be able to crack down on the militants entirely because of pressure from the military, elements of which still regard India — not the militants fighting it — as the country's main enemy.
"It may not be completely in control of things," she said.