The world saw what Lashkar-e-Tayiba was capable of during the horrific 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Post this incident, many had been speaking of the manner in which the Lashkar is positioning itself to become the next Al Qaeda. It was clear when Lashkar to boss Hafiz Saeed swore that they would have their flags flying at Washington DC, New Delhi and Tel Aviv. Vicky Nanjappa reports.
Intelligence agencies in all the above three mentioned countries are working full time on the movements and operations of the Lashkar and its operatives. "The expansion plan is on the cards," says an officer from the Indian Intelligence Bureau. "During the 26/11 attacks, we saw the manner in which the outfit put together the resources of global terrorists such as David Headley and Sajid Mir," he adds.
According to sources, the Lashkar is looking to expand in Europe, the United States, Australia and the Middle East. The target nations would however continue to be India, the US and also Israel.
Terror groups in Pakistan have been sensing foul play by the Israelis and they feel that attacks are being stage managed in order to further their cause. There is a likelihood of retaliation, and forces are being trained against the Israelis who are present in various parts of the world.
"The threat is very serious," an official says. "However the likelihood of an immediate attack is not on the cards, but the build up suggests that they are gearing for something very big," he adds.
Indian Intelligence sources say that the Lashkar may not carry out all their international operations alone.
"They are trying to merge smaller groups which are present across Europe, Australia, the Middle and South Asia their fold. According to sources, most of the attacks on the international circuit will; be carried out by the smaller outfits under their own names, but the entire operation will be overseen by the Lashkar," says the source.
"The Lashkar is aiming at destruction on a large scale and the targets would be the citizens of enemy nations. However they would not want much heat on them on the international circuit as this would be the movement of their operatives would be crippled," the source explains.
Unlike the Al Qaeda, the Lashkar has not yet managed to set up a proper formula where in funds flow in automatically. The Al Qaeda was considered to be favourite among a section of the rich sympathisers across the world, and continues to enjoy that support.
"The Lashkar is now trying its best to attain that status. It may have announced itself on the world stage after 26/11, but does realise that attacking nations other than India on a more regular basis will give it the Al Qaeda sort of status," says the source.
"The Lashkar has been relying more on the money that it generates through its narcotics operations. This may have generated a lot of money, but continues to be a risky proposition for the outfit and hence it would like to channelise more funds through donations," the source adds.
The Lashkar has also been found to be setting more and more cells in Europe and is recruiting people for Fidayeen missions which it plans on carrying out in different parts of the world.
The fact that the Lashkar is nurturing on the international circuit would not however mean that the threat perception for India comes down. India and Kashmir in particular will always continue to top the Lashkar's priority list.
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, which has been remote controlling the Lashkar, feels that lashkar cannot be allowed to stop their operations in Kashmir any cost.
For the radicals in Pakistan, the Lashkar needs to keep its interests alive in India, failing which they could find the sympathy factor dwindling in their own country. Moreover, the Kashmir battle is considered to be a 'freedom fight' for Pakistan and hence the common man too in Pakistan would continue to support any group that is battling for Kashmir.
"Moreover, any attack on the Indian soil will always be given the Kashmir spin and the act becomes completely justified then for them," said the source.
While India will have to deal with this menace, the world too needs to prepare itself for the Lashkar assault.
According to Ahley J Tellis, senior associate, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment, the Lashkar is a formidable and highly-adaptable adversary with a genuinely global reach and the ability to grow roots and sustain operations in countries far removed from its primary theatre of activity in South Asia.
He points out that they have a global vision and international ambitions, which include distinct ideology that underwrites Islamic revanchism, justifying collaboration with other terrorist groups, loyalty to Pakistan and willingness to protect its patron state against domestic opponents, diversified network for mobilising resources, promoting its international presence, and recruiting members.
This minimises its dependence on the state and proficiency at exploiting science and technology, extra-national social links, and state vulnerabilities in order to advance its political aims.