Date:03/11/2005 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2005/11/03/stories/2005110302361000.htm
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Opinion - Leader Page Articles

The Lashkar-e-Taiba, in theory and practice

Praveen Swami

Last week's bombings in New Delhi necessitate a clear understanding of what the terrorist group wants — and what it will do to achieve its ends.

LYING IN his hospital bed in Srinagar's Government Medical College, recovering from bullet injuries which ripped apart his upper body, Manzoor Ahmad Chilloo evokes pity. Fear, to those who know his story, would seem a more appropriate sentiment. Last year, the student of medicine had been a central figure in a Lashkar-e-Taiba operation to attack the Mumbai Stock Exchange using a car-bomb. Had the operation succeeded, the death toll might well have made the carnage caused by last week's bombings in Delhi appear trivial.

Much commentary on the bombings has characterised them as a renewal of the Lashkar-e-Taiba's pan-India war — a break with an overall de-escalation seen during the recent deepening of the India-Pakistan détente process. Such a representation is misplaced. Despite the growing vigour of the India-Pakistan dialogue, the Islamist jihad has continued apace. Few in India, however, understand the full scale and intensity of the Lashkar's operations — or the hatred that drives them.

Chilloo's story gives some insight into the workings of the Lashkar's pan-India operations. A long-time Lashkar operative, Chilloo was detained by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in 2002 on suspicion of ferrying funds to the terror group but was released without charge. He subsequently moved to Pune to pursue studies in medicine. Much of his time, however, was spent on building up a pool of contacts for the Lashkar, drawing on young Pune residents who had been active in the proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India.

In early 2004, Chilloo was contacted by the Srinagar-area Lashkar commander Shahid Ahmad, a Pakistani national who operated using the code-name `Zulu'. First sent to Jammu and Kashmir to coordinate a joint assassination squad set up by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar, Ahmad's operation successes led to his being made responsible for operations outside of the State. He turned now to Chilloo, who already had a cell in place.

A carefully-crafted Intelligence Bureau operation — which also led to the controversial elimination of a woman Lashkar operative, Ishrat Jehan Raza, in an encounter in Ahmedabad — eventually led to the detection and exposure of the `Zulu' cell. Chilloo himself, however, remained at large until he was injured in the course of the attempted assassination of a Srinagar-based politician earlier this year. If the chance firefight had not led to his capture, Chilloo might well have been involved in the networks that carried out the Delhi bombings.

Similar networks have been active over the last two decades. All of them trace their ancestry to three key operatives — Abdul Karim `Tunda,' Jalees Ansari, and Azam Ghauri. All Indian nationals, the three were recruited by the Lashkar after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Many others soon joined them, often individuals with SIMI connections. Among them was Amir Hashim, a New Delhi resident who carried out a series of bombings in Delhi, Rohtak, and Jalandhar in 1996 and 1997. Growing numbers of Pakistani nationals, such as Mohammad Salim Junaid, Amir Khan, and Abdul Sattar, also participated directly in the Lashkar's pan-India operations from 1998.

In 2003, both the Lashkar and the Jaish-e-Mohammad attempted to set up cells to draw on the anger of Gujarat Muslims after the state-organised communal pogrom that tore apart their lives the previous year. Neither organisation had great success — most Indian Muslims seem to believe democratic institutions can address their grievances — but if the Lashkar did execute the Delhi serial bombings, it more likely than not drew on the services of local supporters recruited from regional Islamist groups.

What does the Lashkar want?

Tempting as it might be to see the Lashkar's operations as driven by revenge — against communal violence or the conviction of operatives involved in earlier terrorist strikes — its objectives are more elemental.

Just last month, the Lashkar served public notice of its intentions. In its September 23 issue, the Lashkar-affiliated magazine Ghazwa editorially called for a renewal of Pakistani state support for the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. India, it claimed, was working to divide Pakistani society by "cunningly using the slogan of friendship," while at once supporting forces hostile to it in Baluchistan and Afghanistan. Ghazwa demanded that President Musharraf admit that the détente process had given Pakistan nothing and work instead "to fortify the jihad."

Of arguments that continued support for jihad imposed unacceptable costs upon Pakistan, Ghazwa was dismissive. "Now is the right time for Pakistan to support the jihad in Kashmir," it said, "because America has entangled herself in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan and in addition is suffering from severe afflictions like Katrina and Rita." "Pakistan should remember," the magazine asserted, "that even a so-called superpower like the United States has been badly worn at the hands of the mujahideen. Remember what happened to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and then think about India: how can it resist the jihad?"

Understanding the Lashkar position requires an engagement with its core position: that the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir is not a battle over territory, but a part of an irreducible conflict between Islam and unbelief. Committed to the eventual creation of a caliphate that would rule over all the world's Muslims, the Lashkar asserts that a jihad-without-end must continue "until Islam, as a way of life, dominates the whole world and until Allah's law is enforced everywhere in the world." As the noted scholar of Islam Yoginder Sikand perceptively pointed out, the Lashkar's vision of Islam is one that leads it to represent the Quran itself as a manifesto for jihad.

Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir is, in this construction, necessarily evil and oppressive, because "the Hindus have no compassion in their religion." "In fact," Hafiz Mohammed Saeed who heads Markaz Dawa wal'Irshad, a seminary which runs a massive network of charitable and educational institutions in Pakistan, had declared some years ago, "the Hindu is a mean enemy and the proper way to deal with him is the one adopted by our forefathers, who crushed them by force." India is, in turn, part of just a global system of oppression that must be overthrown by force. As the Lashkar spokesperson Nazir Ahmad bluntly stated: "through the jihad that the mujahideen have launched in Kashmir, Islam will become dominant all over the world."

Not surprisingly, some Lashkar-affiliated leaders have operated in Iraq and the United Kingdom; cells have also been detected in the United States. Despite considerable global pressure on Pakistan to dismantle the Lashkar, its infrastructure is largely intact. After British investigators found that terrorists involved in the recent bombings of the London Underground had visited Lashkar facilities, little doubt was left that its activities posed a global threat. Yet the Lashkar's fundraising activities, as well as the recruitment of personnel and the military training of cadre, continue apace under the Markaz Dawa banner. All of this begs the obvious question: why?

Facing the future

Analysts offer several possible answers to the question. One explanation might be that the tail wags the dog: that Pakistan's President simply does not have enough support within his military to act against those it gave birth to during the Afghan jihad and is tied to by links of ideology and faith. Another plausible theory, advocated amongst others by the scholar and academic Husain Haqqani, is that continued jihadist activity suits General Musharraf, allowing him to represent himself to the world as the last line of defence against an Islamist coup.

Either way, the Delhi bombings have once again made clear a stark fact: as long as terrorist groups possess the capabilities to carry out violent acts, they will sooner or later use what is available. Given past experience, it is unlikely that the tragedy in Delhi will force General Musharraf to change course. In key senses, Ghazwa is right: the U.S. is too preoccupied with events in Iraq and Afghanistan, and too dependent on Pakistani support for its counter-terrorism campaign, to make Jammu and Kashmir-related developments a central policy concern.

Without dispute, the Lashkar is well-positioned to capitalise on the situation. Set up with the support of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and Osama bin-Laden aide Abdullah Azam, the Lashkar has emerged as an organisation of global reach, largely untouched by the U.S.' war against terrorism. Part of a sprawling political empire, the Lashkar is the armed wing of the Markaz Dawa. Although the Markaz denies it has any connection with the Lashkar, the claim has been debunked by a large mass of media investigation and scholarly work.

It is not, of course, as if the Lashkar is the sole suspect in the Delhi serial bombings: others have demonstrated both the intent and capability needed to strike across India in the past. Bilal Beig's Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front, which bombed Delhi's Lajpat Nagar market in 1996, has been showing signs of revival in recent months. Both the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen have carried out operations outside of Jammu and Kashmir in the past. Yet given the strength of its infrastructure and its deep links with Pakistan's military establishment, it is without doubt the principal terrorist threat to India today. Abdul Karim Tunda, the Lashkar founding father in India, has been spotted more than once at the Jamaat ud-Dawa campus at Muridke, near Lahore. If Pakistan is serious about ending the Lashkar's war against India, it could start by handing him over for trial.

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