Pakistani group banned after Mumbai attack found operating openly

Pakistan’s government appears to have relaxed its enforcement of a 5-year-old United Nations ban on the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist organization, which incurred the sanctions because of its militants’ alleged involvement in the November 2008 rampage in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people.

Two of Lashkar’s front organizations openly raised money this week as the Muslim festival of Eid al Adha got underway. No authorities made any effort to stop them – not a surprise, perhaps, because the groups have been known to work with the government when natural disaster strikes.

But the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate has kept a tight leash on Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the U.S. has labeled a terrorist organization, since Pakistan told the United Nations it would enforce a ban on the group and its affiliates after the Mumbai assault. The attack destroyed the significant progress the two countries had made in settling the feud that had led to two wars and four localized conflicts since the nations were created when Britain ended its colonial rule in 1947.

Lashkar’s public resurgence follows the end in August of a decade-long cease-fire between Pakistani and Indian forces along the disputed border of the mountainous Kashmir state. Since then, Lashkar and other Pakistani militant groups with a history of terrorist activity in India have made a rapid comeback.

It wasn’t difficult for McClatchy to find them in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, on Wednesday, the first day of Eid al Adha, which commemorates the biblical tale of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son upon God’s command. Abraham’s hand was stayed by the angel Gabriel at the last moment and he was instructed to sacrifice a ram instead. Muslims who can afford to now mark the celebration with the slaughter of a ram or sheep.

Lashkar’s black-and-white striped flag was clearly displayed on banners flying just 200 yards outside the residential suburb of Korang Town. Emblazoned across the banners were the addresses and phone numbers of mosques affiliated with Lashkar’s Jama’at-ud-Da’wah proselytizing sister organization. The U.N. banned the Jama’at, too, after the Mumbai attacks, and Pakistan took similar action that same day, Dec. 11, 2008.

The banners advertised a timely service: animals for sacrifice at a price much lower than one would find in local livestock markets. Goats, Pakistan’s favorite source of meat, were available for 13,000 rupees – about $124 – about half the market price.

There was, however, a catch.

The animal’s purchaser would retain one-third of the meat, per Islamic custom, while Lashkar’s charitable organization, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, or Humanitarian Welfare Foundation, would assume responsibility for distributing the remainder to victims of natural disasters in Pakistan. It also would retain the animal hides, presumably for sale to tanneries, netting a share of the estimated 13 billion-rupee ($124 million) leather trade tied to Eid al Adha.

The banners led to an adjacent suburb built for employees of the government’s Public Works Department, where a senior Jama’at-ud-Da’wah activist, Hafiz Mohammed Iqbal, oversaw several teams of butchers outside the Jamia Mohammedi mosque.

India has frequently accused Pakistan of using Lashkar-e-Taiba as a proxy warrior against it, particularly during the 1990s, when a militant insurgency in India-administered Kashmir prompted the deployment of half a million Indian troops.

Repeated attempts by Pakistan to restart the peace dialogue have failed because of India’s insistence that it hand over four activists from Jama’at-ud-Da’wah that it said had masterminded the Mumbai attack along with two retired ISI operatives.

India is furious that the founder of Lashkar and head of Jama’at, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, is free to preach and move around Pakistan after a high court acquitted him of involvement in the attacks.

Enforcement of the U.N. ban also was absent at the Jama’at-ud-Da’wah-affiliated Quba’a mosque in a residential Islamabad neighborhood known by its designation in the capital’s grid organizational scheme as Sector I-8. The Quba’a mosque is Jama’at’s largest facility in the capital, and it was conducting roaring business Wednesday. Notably, it’s opposite an unmarked housing colony for ISI operatives and their families.

Government offices were closed for the holiday, and no one was available to comment on Jama’at’s open operations.

Islamabad and its twin city, Rawalpindi, are relatively fresh territory for Lashkar. Its base of public support is largely in the eastern city of Lahore and Lahore’s satellite industrial cities of Gujranwala, Sialkot and Kasur. They all border India, house large communities of Kashmiri Muslim exiles and are home to businessmen who follow Lashkar’s ultra-orthodox interpretation of Islam and provide generous funding.

In Model Town, a Lahore suburb that for decades was home to the family of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister – of Kashmiri migrant stock himself – Lashkar affiliates provided the same animal-sacrifice support services. They also advertised the forthcoming launch of a free public-transport service and called for donated vehicles to make it happen. The route is likely to service patients going for treatment at a local charitable hospital set up by Sharif’s late father.