In a fresh effort to stem religious extremism, Pakistan this week moved to ban six alleged militant Islamic organizations under the country's anti-terrorism law. The crackdown has also targeted groups banned in January last year, but re-emerged under new names.
Pakistani officials are citing terrorist and anti-state activities as the reason for banning the six militant groups.
The banned outfits have diverse aims ranging from radical religious instruction to support for Muslims in Indian-ruled Kashmir.
They include Khudam ul-Islam, previously known as Jaish-e-Mohammad, which Washington has also condemned as a terrorist organization.
The group's breakaway faction, known as Jammat-ul Furqan, is being banned. Its leader, Abdul Jabbar, is suspected of a role in last year's murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in the southern city of Karachi and in attacks against Christian targets.
The ban covers a radical Shi'ite movement and a Sunni Muslim militant group, as well as the British-based Hezbul Tehreer and Jamiat-ul Ansar, which is the group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.
During the past week's crackdown, Pakistani police have raided and sealed around 150 offices across the country.
But instead of stopping all the groups' activists, authorities have made them sign bonds that they will not indulge in terrorism.
"These activists will be monitored round the clock by the law enforcement personnel," explained Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat. "If they continue to violate this law, then we have the option of arresting them and even of prosecuting them under the relevant provisions of the anti-terrorist act."
Mr. Hayat says the federal government has directed authorities in all four of Pakistan's provinces to take strict action if leaders or activists of the banned groups meet in public. He says the government has frozen the bank accounts of these groups.
"We will do everything within our means and our resources to ensure that nothing linked or related to militancy, extremism, fundamentalism is allowed to perpetuate on the soil of Pakistan, obviously that includes activities linked to terrorism," he said.
Pakistani authorities renewed the crackdown against the alleged militants after U.S. ambassador to Islamabad Nancy Powell voiced concern earlier this month that groups banned last year have re-emerged under new names.
But officials dismiss suggestions that Pakistan is acting under pressure from the United States.
"The law had banned reformation and re-emergence of certain banned organizations under different names and therefore, we took the action," said Masood Khan, the Foreign Ministry spokesman. "And we have not taken this decision under the pressure of the United States, we have done so in our own interest."
But critics are skeptical that the government's resolve can be sustained.
"We have got to remember one thing - that these groups had been banned before. So it's really banning banned groups and placing a banned group on a watchdog list, which is a little strange to say the least, because (if) its activities had [been] proscribed, it should not be active at all," said Samina Ahmed, Pakistan's director of the Brussels-based, International Crisis Group.
Ms. Ahmed says she welcomes the new ban, but says Pakistan needs to improve laws to prevent extremists from re-organizing. "You need more rigged procedures in place in terms of preventing either the flow of funds to these organizations or the access to funding for extremist activities," she said. "The legislation has yet to be put in place. So we will have to see what steps the government takes beyond this first action (of) sealing offices, closing some seminaries and banning some organizations."
In addition to banning the six groups, Pakistan says it has placed, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, formerly known as Lashkar-e-Taiba, under surveillance.
India blames the group for terrorist attacks in Kashmir, and the United States has declared it a terrorist outfit.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is widely believed to have links to Pakistan's intelligence services and is one of the two groups accused of carrying out a deadly attack on India's parliament nearly two years ago.