Pakistan unlikely to act soon on Lashkar-e-Taiba
Despite 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)