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The Rediff Special/ Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

Tackle terrorism or else, US Congressman warns Pak

December 17, 2008

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An influential United States lawmaker says if Pakistan is sincere about fighting terrorism, it should hand over those who conspired, planned, and launched the Mumbai terror attacks from within its territory to an international tribunal where they can face justice for crimes against humanity.

US Congressman Ed Royce of California, who is the ranking Republican on the House Subcommittee on Terrorism [Images] and Nonproliferation of the Foreign Affairs Committee, also said in an interview, that if Pakistan continues to dilly-dally in bringing the perpetrators to justice and closing down the terrorist camps and networks that operate within its borders, he will lead the fight in the United States Congress to cut the massive military and security assistance to Pakistan.

"I will work with my colleagues to get the toughest resolution I could out of the United States Congress," he said, "and in the meantime, I know the message that our Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice [Images]) and others have delivered at the highest levels in Pakistan are focused on achieving results."

Royce served notice that "the current and future (Obama [Images]) administrations should know that those of us that are concerned about stability and security and peace in South Asia, are going to be ratcheting up the pressure to make sure that this terror network within Pakistan is shut down once and for all."

The US, he said, must continue to "impose maximum pressure now for two reasons," on Pakistan.

"One, is to end the terror attacks that emanate out of these camps by the Laskhar-e-Tayiba that are now affecting our operations in Afghanistan and now creating attacks in Mumbai and across India."

"But the secondary reason is because the next target of the Lashkar will be the current president of Pakistan -- (Asif) Zardari. And, I say that because Zardari referred to the militants who have been killing civilians in Kashmir as terrorists and wolf packs. So, the language he's been using is taboo for a Pakistani politician and the Islamists will try to take him out very soon."

Royce said Zardari had also "embraced a no first use of nuclear weapons, he's trying to strip the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) of its political wing. So, here's why we need to bring pressure to bear -- it's not just to help defend India and help defend the United States against terrorist attacks."

"It is also because unless Zardari gets the upper hand against those factions in the ISI and those factions in (Pakistani) society who are ever expanding their power, and who are using those militant camps to further expand their influence and power and grow militant jihadism -- that is eating away at all of Pakistan and an increasing number of Pakistani youth are being educated to hate -- the threat of terrorism facing India and the United States is not only going to worsen, but it is also going to remove elected government in Pakistan."

"And, just like the President's wife -- just as she was assassinated -- those officials who are opposing the Lashkar will be removed," Royce said.

But the lawmaker, who will return for a second stint as the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans next month, argued that notwithstanding Zardari and the civilian government's tenuous hold on power, there must not be any let-up in US pressure.

"At this point, having gone through the experience we went through in 2001-2002 with the Lashkar attack on the Indian parliament, we must err on the side of maximum pressure."

"We must bring maximum pressure because we have already been fooled by the Pakistani government in 2002 when they banned the Lashkar, but then allowed and continued to have the ISI meet with the Lashkar and allow them to morph and then released their leadership and allowed them to build this 75-acre campus and turn it into a training camp for jihadist activity."

This, Royce said, "It is very clear that the government does not deserve the benefit of the doubt in Pakistan -- the pressure has to be applied until the camp is closed and the leadership are all arrested and brought to the bar of justice, because we can't follow the old patterns anymore."

"Too much is at stake, too many human lives have been lost and the bold nature of the activities that we've seen -- everything from the attack in the past on the Indian parliament to the attacks on the Indian embassy in Afghanistan to now, the attack on the financial centre of the country -- has to be answered by forcing the closing of the Lashkar terrorist operations and the arrest and trials of the chiefs of operations of the terror network."

"I recall." Royce said, "the activities after the attack on India's parliament when I was involved in criticising and demanding action against the Lashkar at that time. What I recall was that Pakistan very reluctantly banned the Lashkar after it was shown to be involved in this attacks and arrested some Lashkar leaders -- several dozen of them -- but refused to extradite any of those suspects in the attacks, just as they refuse to do now."

"We applied international pressure and after that pressure waned, then Pakistan released the leadership and then Lashkar renamed itself Jamat-ud-Dawa and now inside Pakistan, it still operates the training camps, runs a charitable and social services organisation, and it's been embraced by Pakistani officials."

Royce, obviously privy to classified intelligence information, said, "If you go to the headquarters there, it's a 75-acre campus, and there's an Islamic university and two schools and a hospital. So, they've turned it into an open door for young jihadists from all over the world who are interested in exploring militant Islam and interesting in joining the Lashkar to go there and get the training."

"It's also opened up fund-raising arms in the Gulf -- in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait -- and also in western Europe. So, this has all been allowed to occur and, of course, we've found Lashkar fighters in Afghanistan killing out soldiers, we've also found them in Iraq, and as you already know, the London [Images] subway bombers, one of them was educated in an Lashkar school in Pakistan. Again, Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, he was trained by the Lashkar."

"So, you have these terrorists carrying on activities in Europe and by the way, here in Virginia, the Virginia Jihad network, they were going over to Lashkar training camps, getting their training, coming back, practicing their marksmanship -- and they were convicted in Washington, DC -- 11 of them," the Congressman added.

"So, basically, what we have is the Lashkar using Jamat-ud-Dawa as an alias, and so what Pakistan must do is shut down that university campus, arrest the entire leadership, including all of those who were involved in terrorist operations and the liaisons between the ISI and Lashkar."

Royce bemoaned that "I don't think we've woken up to this reality, and so, one of my goals is to wake up American policymakers, of which, I am one, but to wake up other American policymakers that we're not being effective in turning this tide inside Pakistan and that we must bring more pressure to bear to do this."

He warned that "if America doesn't do this, it is likely that with the next attack, there could be a crisis of war in the subcontinent between India and Pakistan," and he said the terror groups would very much like that "because war builds their movement."

"And, they ultimately would like to spark not just a war in between Pakistan and India, they would like to spark civil war inside India itself because such is the nature of their hatred and radical ideology and that is why the schools of hate must be closed down."

"We must start with the Lashkar and their operations and their university campus," Royce said, "but we should expand that to closing down many of the dangerous madrassas which operate in western Pakistan."

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