Pakistani agencies arrest more than 130 Islamic militants

Saturday, January 5, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- In an attempt to defuse tensions with India, Pakistani security agents have detained more than 130 Islamic militants, including leaders of two groups India blames for a suicide attack on its Parliament.

The arrests announced Friday are the most serious effort by Pakistan's military government to curb Islamic militant groups, which India accuses of waging a guerrilla war in disputed Kashmir.

"The crackdown which started last night is still going on," said an Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema.

He said key leaders of the main militant groups, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, were among those detained, but no names were immediately made public.

Diplomatic sources said the arrests show Pakistan is serious about reducing tension with India. A summit of South Asia leaders -- attended by Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- begins Saturday in Nepal.

Tension between Pakistan and India worsened after a Dec. 13 assault on New Delhi's Parliament killed 14 people, including five attackers. India blames Pakistan's spy agency and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack. Pakistan and the groups denied the accusation.

Following the attack, the nuclear-armed rivals amassed thousands of troops in Kashmir, the flashpoint of two previous wars between the neighboring nations. They have fired weapons and artillery at each other across the border. Foreign leaders have implored the neighbors to find a peaceful solution.

Most of the militants that have been fighting Indian forces in Kashmir have been patronized by Pakistan's spy agency Inter Services Intelligence, which is believed to have provided guerrilla training, weapons and funding.

The militants want independence for Kashmir -- mainly Hindu India's only Muslim province -- or for it to join Muslim Pakistan.

Although the arrests come largely because of pressure from the United States and the threat of war with India, they also reflect new thinking by the military government that the reliance on Islamic militants to reach a solution in Kashmir has been counterproductive.

One high-ranking Pakistani diplomat said the emphasis will now shift to political contacts rather than guerrilla actions.

The spillover of Kashmir militancy into Pakistan also has been a cause for concern for Musharraf. The militant groups also pose a serious challenge to Musharraf's liberal policies.

Earlier, Jaish and Lashkar were forced to move their headquarters to Kashmir. Musharraf's government has not faced any protests over the action, largely because the groups' lack of widespread public support.

The routing of the Taliban in Afghanistan also came as a serious blow to the militant groups, most of which had strong ties to the Islamic militia.

Cheema said Friday that Pakistan security agencies made the arrests around the country.

Police and security officials said about 80 of the latest arrests were made in the southern cities of Multan, Behawalpur, Behawalnagar, Rahim Yar Khan, Jhang, Sargodha and Faisalabad. Others were made in the coastal city of Karachi and the border town of Lahore.

Already in custody for making inflammatory speeches against the government were the heads of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed -- Mohammed Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar.

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