Endorsing the US drone war (reluctantly as that may have been) has gotten me into trouble with my (mostly politically liberal) fellow atheists time and again; and yet, every time I think I’ve had enough of the subject and I’m ready to move along, some outrageous new example of the insanity that rules much of the Islamic world reminds me the world (and not just the US) still needs these flying, firing machines.
And this is just the most recent example of the mix of corruption, complicity and ineptitude that has left the rest of the world no choice but to intervene in this way:
[Zakiur-Rehman] Lakhvi, 55, was born in the Okara district of Punjab – which is also the native district of Ajmal Kasab, the only gunman in the Mumbai attacks who was taken alive by the Indian security forces.
In 1990, he joined Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith (JAH), a Salafist movement funded by sources in the Middle East. Later he became a member of LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], JAH’s armed militant offshoot.
He is said to be a close relative of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, LeT’s founder and current chief of Jamatud Dawa (JuD), an Islamic charity Mr Saeed founded when the Pakistani government banned LeT after the 2001 attack on Indian parliament.
Many believe JuD is the civilian face of LeT.
Pakistan arrested Lakhvi on 7 December 2008, four days after he was named by Indian officials as one of the major suspects behind the November 2008 attacks.
More than 160 people were killed when 10 gunmen carried out assaults on two luxury hotels, a train station, a hospital, a Jewish cultural centre and some other targets in Mumbai.
He was reportedly arrested from a training camp for LeT, which is said to have been fighting the Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Six years later, he hit the headlines again when an anti-terrorism court trying him for the Mumbai killings ordered his release on bail, and in April 2015 he walked free from prison.
But, while Lakhvi’s release has been condemned elsewhere in the world, operationally for the militants it doesn’t seem to have been but a cosmetic change:
While Pakistan’s government claimed that it was cracking down on terrorists, Zakiur-Rehman Lakhvi and six of his comrades in Rawalpindi’s sprawling Adyala Jail had several rooms next to the jailer’s office at their disposal.
And with the jailer’s permission, they had a television, mobile phones and access to the internet, as well as dozens of visitors a day.
“He [Lakhvi] can receive any number of guests, any time of day or night, seven days a week,” said one jail official while the terror suspect was under lock and key.
No special permission was required for visitors, who were not even asked to identify themselves to jail authorities.
This would be unthinkable anywhere else in the world, but elements of the Pakistani establishment are known to have provided such facilities to jailed militant commanders whom they think they may need in future.
Throughout Lakhvi’s time in jail, he is said to have maintained operational command of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group blamed by India for the Mumbai attacks.
During more than five years in prison, Lakhvi’s uninterrupted access to guests, mobile phone and the internet kept him in effective contact with the LeT rank and file.
A jail official said that even though, since his arrest, the day to day affairs of LeT are being looked after by an acting chief known as Ahmed, Lakhvi remained the group’s operational chief.
One official said that Lakhvi, during his imprisonment, received “about 100 visitors every day”.
“They are escorted to his private quarters where they can meet him without the watch of jail guards, and can stay for as long as they like.”
It is also noteworthy how even this farce of an imprisonment could not last:
Lakhvi and six others were indicted for the Mumbai attacks in Pakistan on the basis of evidence provided by the Indian government.
The evidence included a confession by Ajmal Kasab and some satellite phone data the Indians recovered from a boat that the attackers had hijacked en route from the Pakistani coastal city of Karachi to Mumbai.
Indian officials at the time said Lakhvi had spoken to the attackers during their journey, and may have been in touch during the attacks. They said Kasab identified Lakhvi and said he helped “indoctrinate all the attackers”.
Many believe Pakistan initially arrested Lakhvi only because Kasab’s evidence was so damning.
But once the storm had blown over, analysts say, the Pakistani authorities reverted to their original policy of treating LeT as an ally.
Which is precisely why Western drones are needed to rein in the LeT. The Pakistani government is simply not up to the job.