The Mumbai attack of November 2008 brought the attention of the world on the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (the army of the righteous), termed as “the most dangerous terrorist outfit on the planet.”
Hafiz Saeed single-handedly constitutes the trust deficit himself
Most scholars accept the view that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba was mid-wifed by the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and is still nurtured by it. Among its original founders was Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who along with Osama bin Laden founded the Afghan Services Bureau, the forerunner of the Al Qaeda. Azzam was assassinated in 1989. The only surviving leaders going back to its origins are military commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, currently jailed in Pakistan for complicity in the Mumbai attack of 2008 and its chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the case for whose detention was thrown out by the Pakistan Supreme Court last week.
American scholar Murray Weinbaum accurately summed up the outfit’s contemporary relevance when he told a US Congressional Committee in April: “The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba has evolved from being a government-sponsored Pakistani jihadi group dedicated to the insurgency in Indian Kashmir, into a terrorist organisation with regional and global ambitions and reach.”
India has been and remains the original target of this outfit. Though the Lashkar has been around in Jammu & Kashmir since the early 1990s, it came to prominence with its “fedayeen” or suicide attack on a BSF camp at Baramullah that led to the death of six BSF personnel in 1999. The attack came with its now familiar tactic of a frontal assault on the gates of the camp, its penetration and its “fedayeen” fighting there till death.
In the period 1999-2002, the fedayeen type strikes were carried out against some 55 police and security forces camps, in addition to public buildings and market places. In this period, suicide attacks led to the deaths of 161 personnel, mainly from the Indian Army. Subsequently, the security forces in Kashmir learnt how to prevent and counter such attacks and by 2006 or so, such attacks died down in the Valley. The military impact of these attacks was inconsequential even. Their main value was to generate propaganda. That is the reason the Lashkar attack on the Red Fort figures so prominently in
Propaganda is an important means in the Lashkar’s recruitment strategy which in any case focuses on semi-literate youth of Pakistan’s sprawling Punjab province. In real life, however, there is always a huge discrepancy between its own description of an attack and the actual event. In the 2001 attack in Srinagar airport, the Lashkar paper Al Dawa claimed that six mujahideen created mayhem in the airport, penetrated to the runway, damaged a jumbo jet and killed 18 army personnel including an officer.
The truth was somewhat different. The Lashkar group was contained in the gate area itself and killed after a three-hour standoff. A total of three CRPF men were killed — all in the initial assault.
Though the Lashkar claims that it never attacks civilians, it has from the outset targeted them. The Wandhama massacre of Kashmiri Pandits in 1998 was its handiwork, as were several subsequent massacres of Hindus and Sikhs in the Valley. The 2002 attack on the Akshardham temple, too, targeted civilians. And, of course, there is Mumbai where the targets were exclusively civilian.
The sophistication of the Mumbai attack and the Headley revelations have shaken western officials. According to one report, Pakistani intelligence officials recovered a laptop with 320 potential targets from Zarrar Shah, the communications specialist of the Lashkar who was arrested along with Lakhvi for the Mumbai massacre. Most of the targets were in Europe.
The Jammat-ud-Dawa, the front for the LET, has spread its tentacles across Pakistan, where it disburses charity, and runs schools and hospitals. It was recently associated with the Pakistan Army in providing relief in Swat after it was recaptured from the Taliban. Its principal funding comes from rich businessmen in Pakistan and the Gulf countries, as well as from the ISI and Saudi charities.
While gunmen and fighters of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba have struck terror across the world, its chief, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has led a peaceable life in Pakistan. Even when imprisoned, he has been kept in house arrests or in guest houses. Saeed and his colleagues have managed to bypass the abhorrence of suicide in Islam by terming their suicide attackers as “fedayeen”. As another hafiz noted in Al Dawa, that if an attack involving certain death demoralised the kafir (apostates) and gave courage to Muslims, it would be condoned by God. The other “innovation”, fostered by Saeed, is that individuals, too, can fight the jehad, which in classical terms could only be undertaken by state sanction.
There is nothing in recent actions of the Pakistani state to show that it wants to, or even whether it can, contain the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. Neither are there any indications to show that the organisation’s growth trajectory has slowed in any way. In these circumstances it is difficult to understand just how the so-called trust deficit between India and Pakistan can be bridged.
This item appeared in Mail Today May 30, 2010