Shaman Chodha Writes: US President, Donald Trump, on 22 Aug 17, during his first formal address to the nation as Commander-In-Chief said that “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations,”. This strong statement comes about a month after the “US State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism : 2016” which said that numerous terrorist groups, including Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT) along with its wings Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FiF) continue to operate, raise funds and address open rallies from Pakistani soil for supporting terror activities in India and Afghanistan. The international community’s tolerance levels for states aiding terror groups has gone down tremendously, in such an environment and with its own grave internal security situation, it is indeed surprising that Pakistan still continues with its close relation with LeT. Despite increasing international pressure on Pakistan to break off this intimate relationship between the ISI and LeT, Pakistan refuses to let go Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Why are he and his terror outfit LeT so important to Pakistan?
Since its raising in 1987, Lashkar-e-Taiba (literally meaning “Army of the Good”, or “Army of the Pure”), has been the most favored terror group funded and supported by Pakistan’s military and ISI. LeT’s objectives of fighting in Afghanistan and warring against India dovetailed with the Pakistan Army’s own ambitions of strategic depth in Afghanistan and keeping India off-balance. Although banned in Jan, 2002 by then-Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, the Punjabi dominated LeT has been used as levers of foreign and security policy by the Punjabi dominated Pakistan Army. Although L-eT has been operating against India for last four decades it came into global prominence during the 2001 Indian Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attacks that claimed the lives of over 150 people, including 26 foreigners of fifteen nationalities.
The cosy relationship between ISI and LeT has thus far failed the “Frankenstein Theory”. In an environment where terrorist groups often turn against their patrons, LeT has tried to conform to the ISI’s directives and there is no record of any LeT attacks either inside Pakistan or against Pakistan Army and ISI interests. This loyalty is partly due to common ideology and massive financial support by the state. Interestingly, LeT has on many occasions in recent years attempted to influence other terrorist groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban, to restrain their attacks on the Pakistan Army.
It is now a well-established fact the LeT conducts training camps for recruits in the form of 21-day religious course (Daura-e-Sufa), 21-day basic combat course (Daura-e-Aam) and the three-months advanced combat course (Daura-e-Khaas). As per Christine Fair, fewer than 1 out of 10 recruits are selected for advance training course, Daura-e-Khaas, fewer still are selected for militant tasks in India or elsewhere. Thus the majority of recruits are actually undergoing religious and ideological indoctrination during Daura-e-Sufa and Daura-e-Aam. This large population of jobless youth is sent back to their districts wherein they propagate the Ale-e-Hadis ideology of L-e-T which is in sharp contrast to Deobandi and Wahhabi ideology of other dominant militant groups such as TTP, SSP and LeJ. These Deobandi groups are deeply sectarian and attack not only Pakistan’s non-Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Ahmediyyas, Shia Muslims but also the majority Barelvi Muslims and those following Sufism. Deobandi groups have launched sustained campaign of violence against the Pakistan State. In such a scenario LeT support the Pakistani citizens and the Government. In its Manifesto ‘Why are we waging Jihad”, LeT explains that their Jihad is against India, US and Israel, countries which are “existential enemies of Islam” and oppressors of Muslims. Although it views Pakistan’s ruling powers as hypocrites, it doesn’t support revolutionary jihad at home because the struggle in Pakistan “is not a struggle between Islam and disbelief”. The group says that the Pakistani Muslims have read the “Kalma” and thus they need to be reformed through “dawa”. It aims to bring Pakistanis to LeT’s interpretation of Ahl-e-Hadith Islam and thus, transform the society in which they live. This suits Pakistan establishment, they would like the uneducated, jobless Pakistani youth not to be swayed by the sectarian Deobandi groups and fight against them but use Islam as a unifying factor to galvanise their strength against India. Further Pakistan has used the LeT for propagating that the violence against Muslim Pakistan by militant Deobandi groups is being carried out by Hindu India. Thus LeT is not only an important instrument of Pakistan’s external foreign policy but also a valuable alley in its fight against the internal Deobandi, orthodox, fundamentalist militant groups.
Moreover the JuD or Filah-e-Insaniat foundation also carries out humanitarian work especially in far off places where the Government is almost nonexistent. Across Pakistan, the organization runs 16 Islamic institutions, 135 secondary schools, ambulance services, mobile clinics, blood banks and seminaries according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. JuD was the first to react to the Kashmir earthquake and the Ziarat earthquake. In Aug 17, JuD even launched a new political party, Milli Muslim League (MML).
Mr Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington and visiting scholar at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace identifies LeT/JuD as one of the strongest and most significant jihadi terror group in South Asia. Backed by constant state patronage, Saudi money, huge donations from mosques in Pakistan, local businesses and charities from Middle East and Europe, large following in Pakistan and its humanitarian work, it is now no more dependent on ISI for financial assistance. Furthermore, LeT has demonstrated a remarkable ability to forge coalitions with like-minded terrorist groups such as the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network. The primary area of operations of LeT remains Kashmir, however it is just a matter of time when it expands its operations as per its professed ideology and agenda of “seeking to bring about a union of all Muslim majority regions in countries that surround Pakistan and continue its jihad against non-believers.”
As of now, it seems highly unlikely that Pakistan will act against L-e-T even under grave International pressure. However the status quo cannot hold forever. At some point, either due to international pressure or LeT’s global ambitions will force Pakistan to act against it. However, as LeT increasingly incubates and grows stronger under the protection of the military, Pakistan may increasingly find it a difficult proposition.