It was an unexpected pleasure to be on the same panel with former DG ISI, Lt Gen Hamid Gul, the other day on NDTV. It was unfortunate, though, that he had to leave the discussions abruptly, leaving Ronen Sen and I feeling somewhat let down. The General’s assertion that the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was a Kashmiri organisation fighting for the Kashmiri ‘cause’ whatever that might mean surprised us and reflected the General’s state of denial.
Of course the General, himself an eminent member of the Difa-e-Pakistan of which the Jamat-ut-Dawa is the leading light, would naturally have considerable sympathy and fellow feeling with their ideals. I did challenge the General’s contention pointing out that LeT’s recruits came mostly from the Punjab province of Pakistan especially from districts like Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur. However, there never is enough time on such shows to make detailed assertions.
I do so now, not on the basis of any classified sources, but what has appeared in the open, particularly the Pakistani media. I shall restrict myself to three detailed works by those who have studied the Lashkar in detail, one by an American, Ashley Tellis, another by a Britisher, Stephen Tankel and finally, by an Indian, Wilson John.
Ashley Tellis from the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in a detailed essay in March this year (The Menace That is Lashkar e Tayyaba) made some significant observations confirming and embellishing what we have been saying for a long time. For instance, he says “LeT seeks first and foremost to establish a universal Islamic caliphate ...” Tellis also says that in the organisation’s world view, its focus on India was driven as much by ideology as by convenience. “To begin with India’s achievement in becoming an economically dynamic, multiethnic and secular democracy remains an affront to LeT’s vision of a universal caliphate.”
This matches with the doctrine of rulers in Islamabad who see the success of a secular democracy in its neighbourhood as a challenge to their two-nation theory. Tellis adds that .. “the ISI has maintained strong institutional links with LeT and has supported its operations through generous financing and, as required, combat training.” 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. This is a clear example of the jihadi-military complex that increasingly runs Pakistan. Aware of the growing menace, Tellis cautions that it would be a gross error to treat terrorism facing India as merely India’s problem.
Wilson John’s book “The Caliphate's Soldiers” highlights the global aspirations of the Lashkar e Tayyaba. The author gives details about the origins, growth and aims of the LeT; detailed description of the recruitment and training in Pakistan, including one training camp Baitul Mujahedeen near Muzzafarabad and the 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-Tayba refers to the city of Al-Medinah from where a Muslim army had set forth to conquer the Arabian Peninsula and other territories.
The Lashkar’s global mission is quite extensive, something the West has now begun to realise. The Lashkar concentrates first on expanding and strengthening its alliances with 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, has a fund raising programme that focuses on West Asia, 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.
Stephen Tankel’s book “Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar e Taiba” says that 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. The Lashkar views Kashmir as the most crucial front in a larger jihad against India. Tankel describes LeT as an organisation that toes the Pakistan Army’s line on India and increasingly in Afghanistan. I rest my case.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)