Pakistan unlikely to act soon on Lashkar-e-Taiba

April 24, 2010

damadolaDespite initial military successes against the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan is unlikely to move any time soon to dismantle the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. As I wrote in this analysis,  Pakistani security officials say the country has enough on its plate fighting militants on its Afghan border without opening a new front in Punjab province, where the LeT is based. They argue this could drive the LeT – which has been careful not to launch attacks within Pakistan itself – into a dangerous alliance with the Pakistani Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked militant groups.

That’s likely to aggravate friction with India, which not only blames the group for the 2008 attack on Mumbai but also sees an LeT hand in supporting and training the Indian Mujahideen to launch smaller-scale urban bombings in India, in what some are now labelling “the Karachi project”. (For a report on the Karachi project, see this month’s edition (pdf) of the CTC Sentinel.)  India broke off talks with Pakistan after the Mumbai attack and despite several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of international conferences last year, the two countries have been unable to find a way back into dialogue. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will likely meet his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani at a SAARC summit in Bhutan next week, but prospects for any real progress are relatively slim.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba may also ultimately prove a threat to the west, given the wide network of support in the Pakistani diaspora for its charitable wing, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. The LeT has been associated with a number of plots in the west over the years, although opinion is divided on how far it represents an actual rather than potential risk.  Evidence from investigations into David Headley, the Chicago man who has pleaded guilty to working with the Lashkar-e-Taiba to plot attacks in India, suggest the group is still very much focused on India and Kashmir.

The group is also believed by some to be operating in alliance with other militant groups in Afghanistan, particularly in Kunar and Nuristan, where U.S. forces have taken a heavy beating. The LeT has a history of involvement in eastern Afghanistan, dating back to the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s and it once ran training camps there for fighters going to Kashmir. Pakistani officials dismiss as Indian propaganda suggestions the Lashkar-e-Taiba is operating in Afghanistan, although they acknowledge some splinter groups may have broken away from the main organisation to fight there.

If there are indeed former LeT fighters in eastern Afghanistan, it is something of an irony that across the border in neighbouring Bajaur the Pakistan Army is complaining that it has cleared militants out of their strongholds there, only to see them escape to Kunar, where the U.S. military presence has been scaled back.

(Photo: caves formerly used by Taliban militants in Bajaur, now cleared by Pakistan Army/Adris Latif)

5 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

India should pursue relations with Pakistan’s civilian government at all costs. I’d sympathize with Gilani who has the task of strengthening Pakistan’s democracy. Unfortunately the civilian government is still under the gun. Though Pakistan’s military ran around Waziristan, they did not accomplish much and did it only after being pushed hard by the US. Radical elements are still present inside its ISI and military establishments. LeT is an unofficial division run by the ISI’s radical elements. They do not like peace with India or anyone else. Peace would mean they would have to give up their hold on power. They need an enemy and will create one to sustain their hold on power. They have become used to it and this addiction is destroying Pakistan from within. The US has caused tremendous damage to this region by propping up these fundamentalists and supporting the military in order to achieve their goals. Even they target only one of two groups as terrorists and ignore the others. Every country has its own list of terrorist groups. India has LeT and its offshoots. The US has Al Qaeda. Pakistan has TTP. This divergent focus by different countries are working out to the advantage of these terrorist groups. Pakistan’s civilian government will not be able to do anything to the LeT or other anti-Indian groups. If their civilian leaders seem to support them, it is because there is a gun pointed at them at all times. The strategy of the radical elements is not to find any solution. Their plan is to create conflict, sustain and escalate it until the enemy dies of internal bleeding. They have tried it and tested it against the mighty USSR and have succeeded in it with American help. Their next enemy is India and they have a long term agenda to engage India in many conflicts. War on terror has caused an interim halt to their efforts. Now that the Americans are winding down, these elements are coming back. Now their strategy is to create cells inside India which attack innocent civilians, make the system react, alienate the Muslims and turn them against the Indian establishment and create chaos. India should work with Pakistan’s civilian government and keep pushing for the curtailment of these groups. But they are not going to disappear into thin air. The only danger is them taking over Pakistan is they are allowed to carry on like this. If they taste power, they are not going to give that up. LeT might begin to participate in the electoral process and try to grab power at the center, much like Hitler did before taking over Germany. That resulted in World War II.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

‘LeT is an unofficial division run by the ISI’s radical elements. They do not like peace with India or anyone else. Peace would mean they would have to give up their hold on power. They need an enemy and will create one to sustain their hold on power. ‘

Very much agree with statement.
Both country civilians need to understand. What we on boht sides of borders do is hate other civilians..and Some Boomerang institution banks on it to flourish itself.

Posted by Grinningdevil | Report as abusive

Considering the availability of resources it would be hard for the army to engage in another battle within its own borders, but the menace of terrorism must be wiped out before this new threat takes over.

Posted by SZaman88 | Report as abusive

Myra,

LET and other terrorist organisations are surrogate groups of ISI . SInce ISI and Pak army is now engaged in cleaning of Pakistan, LET jehadis is performing the task of causing terror strikes in India in the name islam.

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive

It’s not going to be as easy to wriggle out of their predicament as they think it will be. The West now sees groups like LeT as not just a threat to India any more or mere terrorist groups that target Western citizens, they see a poriton of the machinery that funnels fighters into Afghanistan, they see a group so strong that the Pakistani Army cowers to its demands (what else do you call the excuse that they can’t take them on?) and they see a group that is now driving policy in Pakistan.

Whatever happens in Afghanistan, the West’s view of LeT is not going to change. And the way Pakistani view LeT will colour the world’s view of Pakistan itself.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive