Lashkar-e-Taiba: assessing the threat
Having asked last month whether Pakistan was in a position to take on the Laskhar-e-Taiba, an obvious follow-up question was to try to assess how much of a threat the militant group blamed for last year’s attacks on Mumbai represents to the West and to India.
According to analysts who track the LeT closely, the Pakistan-based militant group is not the new al Qaeda. It is still very much focused on Kashmir and India, while its single-issue agenda along with the humanitarian work carried out by its Jamaat-ud-Dawa charitable wing mean it is more comparable to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas than to al Qaeda.
That said, it has a formidable infrastructure and global network of sympathisers and fund-raisers that could be used by other groups which do want to target the west, and that in itself makes it a threat. What also comes across in talking to people about the LeT are concerns about the group going rogue, either because it slips out of the control of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, or because splinter groups break away from the leadership of its founder, Hafez Saeed, and become a danger not just to India and the West, but also to Pakistan itself. (As discussed in this earlier post, deepening instability in Pakistan’s heartland Punjab province, where the LeT is based, would dwarf anything seen until now in the tribal areas.)
In the meantime, Praveen Swami, associate editor at The Hindu, has written an analysis of the Indian Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Taiba for the June edition of the CTC Sentinel (pdf document). It is a must-read for its wealth of detail about the LeT’s connections in the Gulf, as well as its description of how the LeT nurtured the Indian Mujahideen within India itself.
“From its origins in Pakistan’s Punjab province, the LeT has grown into a transnational organisation,” he writes. “This development is of concern to authorities across the region for three reasons. First, the evolutionary trajectory of the LeT will make it increasingly resistant to counter-terrorism action in any one country or decapitation attempts targeting its leadership. Second, the LeT’s ability to recruit from a pool of well-educated, affluent sympathisers in multiple countries gives it dramatically enhanced reach and lethality. Third, the LeT could spawn and sustain the growth of quasi-independent jihadist movements outside of Pakistan.”
Do also check out Swami’s rather prescient article in the Hindu which he wrote in 2007warning about the risks of LeT militants reaching India by sea — just as they did in last November’s Mumbai attacks — rather than following the traditional route of crossing the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. “So far, Pakistan appears to have moved to restrain the Lashkar from acting on its publicly declared desire to execute major terrorist strikes in India — but done little to dismantle its capability to do so,” he wrote in 2007. “As the detente process proceeds, India needs to ensure that Pakistan is urged to take this next, necessary step.”
Finally, for an insight into how the U.S. administration views the Laskhar-e-Taiba, it is interesting to see Tim Roemer, President Barack Obama’s choice for ambassador to India, bracketing the LeT along with the Taliban and al Qaeda.
According to this report in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, asked what India could do to improve its relationship with Pakistan, Roemer said: “There’s more we can do to share information about our common threats in that area, which are al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and try to prevent the next attack from taking place, or deflect that next attack.”
Much to talk about when the foreign secretaries and then prime ministers of India and Pakistan meet next weekon the sidelines of a Non-Aligned summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
(Reuters file photos: Mumbai skyline; LeT commander Lakhvi and U.S. ambassador-designate Tim Roemer)