Pakistan crackdown on eve of Miliband visit

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Bowing to weeks of international pressure, the Pakistani government yesterday announced that it had widened its crackdown on groups blamed for the Mumbai attacks on the eve of a visit by Foreign Secretary David Miliband to Islamabad.

The Interior Secretary Kamal Shah said that the number of people arrested had risen to 71 as a further 124 people had been placed under surveillance. The suspects in question are members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a charity affiliated to Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Pakistan-based militant group blamed for the attacks.

Earlier, Rehman Malik, the Interior Ministry chief, told reporters in Islamabad that authorities had moved to shut down 20 offices, 87 schools, two libraries, seven religious schools and six websites linked to JuD, a group now proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations Security Council.

Mr Malik added that the crackdown included over a dozen JuD-operated relief camps, erected in the wake of 2005 Kashmir earthquake but alleged to be used for training militants.

The announcement appeared to be a concession to consistent Indian and western pressure that Pakistan act more decisively against the groups based on its soil.

Speaking at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, the site of a 60-hour siege, Mr Miliband called on Pakistan yesterday to show "zero tolerance" toward militants based in the country.

In the same speech, Mr Miliband called for a break with the notion of a "war on terror", adding that the use of the phrase was misleading and mistaken in the context of the present.

"The phrase had some merit," Mr Miliband added in a reference to the days after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, "it captured the gravity of the threats we faced, the need for solidarity amongst allies, and the need to respond urgently – and where necessary, with force."

But over recent years, he said, London had neither used "the idea or the phrase". Instead, the foreign secretary urged, bonds between nations should not be based on "who we are against…but who we are and the values we share."

The best solution to terrorist threat in the long term, Miliband said, was cooperation, adding that he would call on Pakistan to take urgent action to dismantle the militant networks that exist on its soil. It must display "zero tolerance", he warned.

Mr Miliband will arrive in Islamabad today for talks with Pakistan's leadership as part of an ongoing bid to ease simmering tensions between the two neighbours.

Although the threat of war has receded, Delhi and Islamabad remain locked in a near-daily exchange of diplomatic crossfire. In the latest twist, Pakistan has said that the dossier provided to it by India contained only "information", not the material evidence it had requested.

But in a sign that Mr Miliband's visit had already yielded some success, India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee yesterday relaxed his demand that the suspects detained be extradited to India. Pakistan has consistently rebuffed all calls for extradition.

"It would be ideal if they (Pakistan) can hand over the fugitives," Mr Mukherjee told an Indian news channel. "If that is not possible, there should at least be a fair trial of these fugitives in Pakistan," he added in an echo of a remark made by Mr Miliband earlier this week.