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The jihadi foot soldiers of Pakistan

By Vikram Sood
July 09, 2012 15:32 IST
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The Lashkar-e-Tayiba's global mission is quite extensive, something the West has now begun to realise. Many assess the LeT to be a bigger eventual threat than the Al Qaeda because the Lashkar has State sponsorship, says Vikram Sood.

Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, one of the better known former chiefs of the powerful Inter Services Intelligence, was speaking the other day on an Indian TV news channel. He made four observations.

One, that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth. So said Joseph Goebbels as well who also said that truth was the greatest enemy of the State; that is why the general may not be able to face up to it.

Second, Lt Gen Gul said that it was his strategic perception that our region could solve its problems if outside interference by imperialist forces such as the United StatesĀ ended. It did not matter to the general if it was Pakistan that introduced the US into the region through SEATO and CENTO, then by being an enthusiastic collaborator in the Afghan jihad in the 1980s and finally becoming a major non-NATO ally of the US in the global war on terror. However, in his perception, this does not seem to apply to China, introduced into the region by previous Pakistan's rulers.

Third, he mentioned how Pakistan was cooperating with India to deal with terrorism. He could not however explain why this man Abu Jundal alias Riyasat Ali, was given a Pakistani passport, then sent to Saudi Arabia to recruit for the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, instead of sending him direct to India as a declaration of intent to cooperate on terrorism.

However, it was his fourth assertion that not only surprised his co-panelists and a lot of others among the viewers. This was when Lt Gen Gul said the LeT was a Kashmiri organisation fighting for the Kashmiri 'cause', whatever that might mean. As a co-panelist I did challenge this contention pointing out that the LeT's recruits came mostly from the Punjab province of Pakistan, especially from districts like Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur, but there never is enough time on such shows to make a detailed assertion.

Of course, as an eminent member of the Difa-e-Pakistan of which the Jamat-ud Dawa, the parent of the LeT, is the leading light, the general would naturally have considerable sympathy and fellow feeling with their ideals.

It is therefore necessary to contest this claim, not on the basis of any classified sources, but what has appeared in the open, particularly the Pakistani media. It is best to restrict these comments on the basis of three detailed works. One by an American, Ashley Tellis; another by a British scholar at King's College London, Stephen Tankel; and the third by an Indian, Wilson John.

Tellis, from the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, wrote his essay 'The Menace That is Lashkar e-Tayiba' in March this year. His observations confirm what we have been saying for a long time but Tellis even added to these. For instance, he says, 'LeT seeks first and foremost to establish a universal Islamic caliphate with a special emphasis on gradually recovering all lands that were once under Muslim rule'. Tellis also says that in the organisation's worldview, its focus on India was driven as much by ideology as by convenience. 'To begin with, India's achievement in becoming an economically dynamic, multi-ethnic and secular democracy remains an affront to LeT's vision of a universal caliphate.'

This matches with the doctrine of rulers in Islamabad which sees the success of a secular democracy in its neighbourhood as a challenge to its two-nation theory. Tellis also says that, 'The ISI has maintained strong institutional links with the LeT and has supported its operations through generous financing and, as required, combat training.' One could go on in the same refrain, but I think I have made my point.

Kashmir and India have been on the agenda of the LeT and the Pakistan Army except that the former now has a much wider agenda. Tellis warns that the LeT has a global vision and international ambitions even if its current capacities may be limited. He adds that 'For over two decades and up until the present, the ISI has maintained strong institutional links with the LeT and has supported its operations through generous financing and, as required, combat training.'

Wilson John's book The Caliphate's Soldiers also highlights the global aspirations of the LeT. The Markaz Dawa-wal Irshad, the parent of the Lashkar and later reincarnated as Jamat-ud Dawa, was born in Kunar, Afghanistan, in 1987 and the Lashkar was created again in Kunar in 1990. Both these came into being as the Afghan jihad was petering off and in the 1990s the Lashkar became Pakistan's main jihadi force operating in Kashmir before extending its activity to the rest of India. John gives details about the origins, growth and aims of the LeT; he gives detailed accounts of the recruitment, training and finances of the organisation.

There is one important aspect about the LeT that explains its mindset. Usually we describe the LeT to mean an Army of the Pure. That would be inaccurate. The word Al-Taiba or Al-Tayiba refers to the city of Al-Medinah from where a Muslim army had set forth to conquer the Arabian Peninsula and other territories... 'The use of the term 'Tayyeba' was not only to emphasise the importance of Madinah for launching jihad but also to project a desire to return to old-school warlike Islam originating in the Arabian peninsula,' says Wilson citing a Muslim gazetteer of Beirut.

The Lashkar's global mission is quite extensive, something the West has now begun to realise. It concentrates first on expanding and strengthening its alliances with Pan-Asian groups in South Asia including Pakistan. Second, it deals with recruitment and training of foreigners, mainly from the US and Europe, using religious contacts, and finally to have a fundraising programme that focuses on West Asia, the UK, Europe and the US. The LeT is known to have a presence in many parts of the world. Many now assess the LeT to be a bigger eventual threat than the Al Qaeda because the Lashkar has State sponsorship.

It is well known that the Lashkar-e-Tayiba now has world wide connections -- in the US, UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Australia, South and South East Asia. It has recruitment and fundraising programmes in these areas.

Stephen Tankel's book Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba says the LeT's activities were deeply intertwined with the strategic objectives of the Pakistani military; it was therefore protected by the military as its most reliable proxy and the organisation's goals were compatible with those of the military.

There is another aspect of the situation in Pakistan that is often lost. The Pakistan Army teaches its recruits the concept of jihad and that is with India in mind. The refrain of jihad against US, Israel and India by the LeT and its new partner the 40-party radical Islamist, Difah-e-Pakistan, is only several decibels higher. As the self-proclaimed defender of the ideological frontiers of Pakistan, the Pakistan Army has come perilously close to the ideals of Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

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