Though Pakistan cooperated in the UN designation of the outfit, the move left diplomats unconvinced

Despite Pakistan's cooperation in the Security Council designation of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), American diplomats were concerned that moves by the Pakistan government against the group and its leader Hafiz Saeed were “messy” and might not amount to anything more than a “short-term fix.”

Cables from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and Consulate in Lahore, that were accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, showed U.S. diplomats trying hard not to be dismissive of the measures Pakistan was taking against the JuD in the wake of the Security Council designation, but not entirely convinced by them either.

They also revealed that the Pakistan government and the Punjab provincial government, despite knowing in advance about the designation and cooperating in the move, were far from clear-headed about the implementation.

In a cable sent on December 12, 2008 which detailed the steps taken by the Punjab government (182691: confidential), Bryan Hunt, Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, was impressed and, at the same time, aware that much more needed to be done.

He described the preventive detentions of, and “likely filing of criminal charges” against, senior JuD leaders including Hafiz Saeed, and the closure of offices, seizure of financial and physical assets as “unprecedented and suggest[ing] that the Pakistani government has decided to take credible action against the organisation.”

But, he wrote, “even the highest officials of the [Punjab provincial] government appear to have been somewhat confused by the legal grounds for the detentions and the progress of the captures” even though the police told him that they planned to submit “as yet unspecified criminal charges” against the detainees.

The police also told him that the detainees would be put on the country's exit control list, which would prevent them from leaving the country should they obtain bail in the criminal cases upon the expiration of their periods of preventive detention.

Mr. Hunt, an extremely popular diplomat during his time in Lahore, also detailed the steps that the provincial government did not take against the JuD.

The cable said the mosques affiliated to the JuD, including the main one at Lahore's Chauburji, and the madrassahs and hospitals run by it, remained open.

The Punjab Home Secretary told the Consulate's Foreign Service National Investigator, usually a local employee at the mission, that the JuD runs 173 schools across Pakistan and three hospitals in Punjab and operates 66 ambulances.

But Mr. Hunt commented that the official had “grossly underestimated the number of JuD schools, which could exceed one thousand madrassahs in Punjab alone.”

The provincial government had no plans to deal with students and patients who would be displaced from the JuD hospitals and schools — Mr. Hunt believed these institutions would have no choice but to shut down soon as they functioned on JuD charities that had been frozen.

Evidently reckoning without the JuD's staying power and — as later events showed — its unrestricted fund-collecting activities, Mr. Hunt said “donor support” may be required to keep these institutions running.

The diplomat sounded more hopeful six days later after a breakfast meeting with Shahbaz Sharif. In a cable sent on December 18, 2008, he concluded that the Punjab Chief Minister was “unwavering” (183673: confidential/noforn) in his determination to “completely shut down JuD.”

Mr. Sharif told Mr. Hunt that his government would formulate a plan to take over the hospitals and schools previously run by the JuD. This would be easy, the Chief Minister said, telling Mr. Hunt jokingly that “we will use trained doctors to charm the patients with long beards and caps.”

Assuming that control of the schools would pose the bigger challenge, Mr. Sharif said he had “no substantive response” on how to deal with the JuD's extensive madrassah network.

‘Short-term fix'

According to Mr. Hunt, the Chief Minister asked the U.S. to provide evidence that would be required to prosecute the JuD leaders, noting that “proof that originates with the U.S. would have greater credibility than proof produced by India.”

From Islamabad, the livewire U.S. Ambassador, Anne Patterson, sent a cable on December 16, 2008 (183225: confidential) analysing Pakistan's preventive detention law, describing it as “murky and fraught with ambiguities” but able to provide a “short term fix.”

She wrote that the “sweeping language” of the law left loopholes — “big enough to drive a jingle truck through,” a reference to Pakistan's ubiquitous decorated trucks — that could possibly enable the indefinite extension of Hafiz Saeed's detention beyond the 12-month cap on preventive detentions. Plus, Ms. Patterson noted, the burden of proof on the government was minimal in such cases. But she also warned that the courts had struck down such orders in several cases.

The U.S. Ambassador was right. Six months later, the Lahore High Court did exactly that.

Ms. Patterson wrote that the bigger question was how Pakistan would charge and prosecute these people. The Embassy's Resident Legal Advisor had spoken to Law Minister Farooq Naek about this. The Minister said charges would possibly be brought under the Anti-Terrorist Act, but “declined to be more specific.”

The lack of clarity at both the federal and provincial levels of government is surprising, given that they knew of the designation well in advance.

As a cable sent on December 8, 2008 (181794: confidential) noted, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and the Foreign Minister told a three-member U.S. Congressional delegation — Senators John McCain, Joe Liberman and Lindsay Graham — that the Pakistan government had already begun the process of seeking the arrest of individuals named by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice during her December 4 meetings in Islamabad. The government had also agreed to cooperate in the UN 1267 Committee to designate these individuals.

The cable added: “Secretary Rice had told the GOP the USG wanted Pakistan to place no holds in the UN 1267 Committee for individuals suspected of involvement in the Mumbai attacks. The GOP has already agreed, informed Gilani. The Secretary also wanted individuals arrested.

“‘We have already taken steps,' Gilani told the Senators. He added that the 1267 process in the UN will give the GOP's actions further legitimacy. Foreign Minister Qureshi asked the Senators to keep this news — that GOP actions against individuals named by the Secretary were already underway — private, and not to repeat it to the media.”

Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif was also being kept informed. The Prime Minister told the delegation that he was meeting Mr. Sharif as the provincial government needed to take actions. He told the senators that all political leaders were on board in the government's approach to the crisis.

Senator McCain, who had met Mr. Sharif earlier in the day, confirmed that the opposition leader had pledged to support the government's action against extremists in Pakistan, including those responsible for the Mumbai attacks.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)