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Pakistan would never abandon Lashkar: US Expert

May 27, 2011 02:42 IST

Christine Fair, an expert on Pakistan-based Jihadi groups, has predicted that even if there is an India-Pakistan rapprochement and a resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio, it will not result in Pakistan reining in these strategic assets that are invaluable to it to wage it proxy wars against India.

Fair, who is well plugged in with the jihadi groups and ISI officials and travels to Pakistan frequently, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that had convened a hearing on Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that this was her contention, particularly vis-a-vis the Lashkar-e-Tayiba 'for a number of reasons'.

"One, I have really spent a lot of time investigating their literature. I also have a database of Lashkar-e-Tayiba  activists. I have been following this group since 1995. So my assessment is that if Lashkar only had external utility, then resolving the Indo-Pakistani security competition would be necessary, probably insufficient, to put that group down," she said.

But  Fair argued, "When you understand the domestic politics of the organization, when you understand that Lashkar-e-Tayiba is a buffer and a bulwark to the Deobandi groups ravaging the state, you realise that it also has domestic utility. And I believe I'm the first analyst to have gone through their materials in this way to discern this domestic utility. So, I mean, that's what I bring to the understanding of Lashkar-e-Tayiba."

She said, "The first thing is not only are the groups themselves a spoiler, but the Pakistan Army is itself a spoiler, right? If it didn't have the security competition with India it wouldn't justify its enormous claim to the resources in Pakistan and its central claim to being the only institution to protect the place would be substantially diminished. So the Pakistan Army is a huge spoiler, and we have to keep that in mind."

"But we are incredibly constrained," she pointed out, adding, "There are potentially opportunities to work with the Pakistanis where we have joint threats -- Al Qaeda, the Pakistan Taliban -- but for a number of reasons over the last year, they want us out."

And in particular, according to Fair, "They want us out because their assets -- Haqqani, Lashkar-e-Tayiba -- are our enemies. And they know that partly we are there to deal with those threats, and they want us out. So we're very constrained."

When the chairman of the Committee, Senator John F Kerry, Masachusetts Democrats asked Fair if the reasons "they want us out, is that because they perceive us as contributing to their problem," she said, "There are multiple answers to that. First, they know we're there because we want to take out their assets. Would we not like to take out Haqqani with a drone? Would we not like to have cells going after Lashkar-e-Tayiba? They know that's what we're up to, and they don't want that to happen."

"That being said, their interpretation of why they're having an insurgency is not proxies gone bad, or blowback. They see that they have this internal militancy because we have forced them to turn against these groups in a moderated jihad strategy, making them rebel against the state."

Thus Fair asserted that "so no matter what (Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq)Kayani says -- I've, you know, spent a lot of time with Pakistani military officers, particularly below the rank of lieutenant colonel, so where you have a different object -- they want us out of Afghanistan."

"Because when this happens they will see, in their view, that the alignment between the military, the mullah and the militant groups will come back into alignment and those groups will go back to business fighting in India and Afghanistan," she said.

Another witness, Paul Pillar, Director of Graduate Studies and also a member of the faculty of the CPSS at Georgetown University, asked by Kerry if he agreed with Fair's contention, that even if there's an India-Pakistan rapprochement that Lashkar-e-Tayiba would continue to be present, said, "I'm somewhat more optimistic than Dr Fair about what the implications would be if we could see substantial progress in the Indo-Pakistani equation."

"Unfortunately," he said, "it's a bit of an endless, vicious circle in that groups like LeT and other groups have their own incentives to disrupt a peace process and a rapprochement between India and Pakistan, and that the main danger we face as the two sides have tentatively tried to get that process back on track."

Pillar said, "Pakistan's basic interests as they see them are fairly constant -- they're very constant. But the strategy and tactics, and we're really talking more about strategy and tactics here when we talk about relationships with the groups are quite changeable."

He said, "They are changeable under circumstances short of what we would all like to see, which is some kind of resolution of the Kashmir problem and the conflict between India and Pakistan."

Pillar argued that "If Pakistan can be part of a process in Afghanistan in which they see their interests vis-a-vis India and all their concerns about Afghanistan being their so-called strategic backyard sufficiently satisfied, then there is more changeability with regard to their relationships with any of these groups, be it the Haqqani group or the LeT or anyone else."

Earlier, in her opening remarks, Fair provided the lawmakers with a comprehensive education on the Lashkar, which she said was one of the front-line groups that "Pakistan has raised and nurtured" to operate in India and launch attacks against India like the horrific 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

She said that Pakistan would not abandon Lashkar and noted that "to understand LeT's utility to Pakistan, we need to understand how it differs from these other groups. First, all of the groups that have split and rebels under the banner of the Pakistan Taliban are Deobandi. These groups are the closest to Al Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Tayiba is not Deobandi. It has remained loyal to the state. It has never attacked Pakistani targets or any international entity within the state. It exclusively operates outside of Pakistan."

"Per the group's manifesto, which I have analysed and translated from the Urdu, Lashkar-e-Tayiba  is nonsectarian and it is committed to Pakistan's integrity," Fair said.

"It denounces killing Pakistanis of different confessions and it argues that jihadis should focus on the external enemies, or Kafirs, that is, us, India, and so forth."

Fair noted that "Lashkar-e-Tayiba draws most of its recruits from Deobandis and other sectarian groups. This allows them to indoctrinate them into this worldview, and since it deploys relatively few people to Kashmir, this is an important part of its domestic outreach mission. But Lashkar-e-Tayiba will become more important to the Pakistani state as its internal security continues to degrade at the hands of these Deobandi groups."

Kerry in his opening remarks said that "Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed continue to launch attacks that risk sparking war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan."

Referring to Lashkar in particular, Kerry said, "This group, responsible for the vicious Mumbai attacks of 2008, is capable of not only destabilizing the region with another attack against India, but through its extensive alumni organisation and network of training camps throughout Pakistan, it could threaten the United States homeland."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC