The Army of the Righteous, The Army of the Pure
Can Pakistan take on the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba?
* Former RAW official says Islamabad could stop Lashkar if it stops considering LT a ‘strategic asset’
LONDON: If Pakistan’s battle against the Taliban seems difficult, a much tougher challenge lies ahead: deciding what to do about the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LT).
Security experts from the United States and India believe the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency could shut down the group accused of carrying out the Mumbai attacks – if they choose to do so.
“The Pakistan Army could do it and the ISI could tell them where to find those guys in a heartbeat,” said Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer who led a review of strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan for President Barack Obama.
Asset: “If they wanted to shut them down they could,” said B Raman, a former Additional Secretary at India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). “They can do it, but they don’t want to do it because they look upon it as a strategic asset.”
But Samina Yasmeen, a professor at the University of Western Australia who is researching a book on LT said the reality on the ground might be more complicated.
Over the years, she said, LT had given birth to splinter groups, which had broken free both of the Pakistan Army and the ISI, and even from the LT leadership.
“There are elements within the Lashkar that are not under the control of the army anymore. They really moved on a trajectory that people did not expect,” she said. “After 9/11, there was a section that emerged within the Lashkar that may not be under the control of its own leadership.”
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pushed LT to the top of the agenda last week by effectively telling President Asif Ali Zardari that India would not re-open peace talks until Islamabad acted against the banned organisation.
He seems to have won support in the West, where LT is thought to be, potentially, as big a danger as Al Qaeda. “I think we have to regard the LT as much a threat to us as any other part of the Al Qaeda system,” Riedel said.
Like many extremist groups, LT was born out of CIA-backed jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and then began operations in Kashmir in 1993, Indian analysts say.
According to Raman, LT had a larger presence in the country than the Taliban, and a charitable wing, the Jamaatud Dawa, carries out humanitarian work.
With land, property and madrassas across the country, LT collaborated with Al Qaeda while also offering its training infrastructure to Pakistanis from the diaspora, he said.
But unlike other groups, it has been scrupulous in avoiding attacks in the country, thereby avoiding the wrath of the army that has now turned on the Taliban.
For security analysts, the two questions are whether the army and ISI can close down LT, and if they want to do so – the assumption being that this would have to be done by the country’s military rather than the civilian government. Riedel said he believed the capability was there, but said taking on LT would be hard.
“It’s become more and more difficult but I would not underestimate ISI’s knowledge base. They would be able to bring people in,” he said.
But Yasmeen said more problems could be created by targeting the leadership. “You limit their ability to have some possibility of controlling those below. The risk of splintering increases,” she said. Analysts said giving up LT, seen as a “force multiplier” in case of an invasion by India – rather like citizens trained in civil defence – would be another step altogether.
Would the army chief turn against LT? “My sense of Kayani is that he is very pragmatic. He hasn’t accepted that India is not a threat to Pakistan,” said Yasmeen.
“From Kayani’s point of view, does he want to deny himself the possibility of using all trained and semi-trained people?”
That question returns to the Catch 22 of India-Pakistan relations. Without peace, Pakistan may never fully turn against LT. And India will not offer peace talks until it does so.
In March 2000, Lashkar-e-Taiba militants are claimed to have been involved in the Chittisinghpura massacre, where 35 Sikhs in the town of Chittisinghpura in Kashmir were killed. An 18-year-old male, who was arrested in December of that year, admitted in an interview with a New York Timescorrespondent to the involvement of the group and expressed no regret in perpetrating the anti-Sikh massacre. In a separate interview with the same correspondent, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed denied knowing the young man and dismissed any possible involvement of LeT. In 2010, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) associate David Headley, who was arrested in connection with the 2008 Mumbai attacks, reportedly confessed to the National Investigation Agency that the LeT carried out the Chittisinghpura massacre. He is said to have identified an LeT militant named Muzzamil as part of the group which carried out the killings apparently to create communal tension just before Clinton’s visit.
The LeT was also held responsible by the government for the December 23, 2000 attack in Red Fort, New Delhi. LeT confirmed its participation in the Red Fort attack.
LeT claimed responsibility for an attack on the Srinagar Airport that left five Indians and six militants dead.
The group claimed responsibility for an attack on Indian security forces along the border.
2006 Mumbai train bombings: The investigation launched by Indian forces and US officials have pointed to the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba in Mumbai serial blasts on 11 July 2006. The Mumbai serial blasts on 11 July claimed 211 lives and maimed about 407 people and seriously injured another 768.
On September 16, 2006, a top Lashkar-e-Taiba militant, Abu Saad, was killed by the troops of 9-Rashtriya Rifles in Nandi Marg forest in Kulgam. Saad belongs to Lahore in Pakistan and also oversaw LeT operations for the past three years in Gul Gulabhgash as the outfit's area commander. Apart from a large quantity of arms and ammunition, high denomination Indian and Pakistani currencies were also recovered from the slain militant.
In November 2008, Lashkar-e-Taiba was the primary suspect behind the Mumbai attacks but denied any part. The lone surviving gunman, Ajmal Amir Kasab, captured by Indian authorities admitted the attacks were planned and executed by the organization.United States intelligence sources confirmed that their evidence suggested Lashkar-e-Taiba is behind the attacks. A July 2009 report from Pakistani investigators confirmed that LeT was behind the attack.
On 7 December 2008, under pressure from USA and India, the Pakistan Army launched an operation against LeT and Jamat-ud-Dawa to arrest people suspected of 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
In August 2009, LeT issued an ultimatum to impose Islamic dress code in all colleges in Jammu and Kashmir, sparking fresh fears in the tense region.
In September and October 2009, Israeli and Indian intelligence agencies issued alerts warning that LeT is planning to attack Jewish religious places in Pune, India and other locations visited by Western and Israeli tourists in India. The gunmen who attacked the Mumbai headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch movement during the November 2008 attacks were reportedly instructed that “Every person you kill where you are is worth 50 of the ones killed elsewhere.” 
News sources have reported that members of LeT were planning to attack the U.S. and Indian embassies in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on November 26, 2009, to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. At least seven men have been arrested in connection to the plot, including a senior member of LeT.
Two Chicago residents, David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, were allegedly working with LeT in planning an attack against the offices and employees of Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper that published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Indian news sources have also implicated the men in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and in LeT’s Fall 2009 plans to attack the U.S. and Indian embassies in Bangladesh.