ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan said Monday it had arrested the outspoken former leader of a militant Islamic group accused by India of helping orchestrate an attack on its Parliament that has taken the two countries to the brink of war.
Hafiz Saeed, until last week the leader of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, was charged with making inflammatory speeches and inciting people to violence, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. It quoted official sources in the government.
It was not immediately clear where Saeed was being held or if he was in jail or under house arrest, which the government has often used to restrict the movement of militant leaders without further angering their constituencies. APP gave no further details, though Interior Ministry officials confirmed his detention Monday morning.
The arrest comes at a pivotal point in tensions between Pakistan and India. Longtime rivals and uneasy neighbors, the two nations are the only nuclear powers in the region.
After a Dec. 13 suicide attack on India's Parliament, India claimed the Pakistani spy agency and two Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups — Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed — orchestrated the attack.
Pakistan says India has offered no evidence and is fabricating the charges to malign the secessionist movement in its disputed Kashmir region. But it has also said that, if India presents credible proof, it will take action to rein in any militants who might be involved.
Last week, the Pakistani military said civil officials had arrested Jaish-e-Mohammad's leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, part of what they said was a response to India's demands. He remained in custody Monday in a prison in Sargodha, in central Pakistan, the government said.
Saeed quit the leadership of Lashkar a week ago, saying he wanted to remove himself so India would not have "malicious propaganda" to use against Pakistan.
Saeed, who is in his late 40s, is a professor at the University of Lahore in eastern Pakistan, near India. He has long been a vocal opponent of Indian rule in Kashmir, and Lashkar has been active — both in word and deed — in opposing New Delhi's rule in the disputed region.
Lashkar admits attacking military targets in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir but says it has never targeted civilians.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since British rule ended on the subcontinent in 1947, and two have been over predominantly Muslim Kashmir, where Islamic guerrillas are fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan.
Hindu-dominated India accuses overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan of fomenting violence in Kashmir, while Pakistan says it gives only political support to militants there.
The global crackdown on terrorists — and, by extension, on many Islamic extremists — places Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in a delicate situation.
While he casts himself as progressive, he saw in October, after U.S. airstrikes against Afghanistan began, the disarray sown by militant leaders who organized mass protests against his government and his decision to support the United States.
Last week, the United States designated both Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed as supporters of terrorism. It has asked Musharraf to crack down on such groups as part of the global anti-terrorism effort that Washington is leading.