The Untamed Threat from Lashkar-e-Tayibba
Apr 10, 2012Posted by Amit Kumar, Ph.D.
In recent years, the attention, resources, and efforts of the US counterterrorism community have largely been focused on the threat from Al-Qaida and its affiliates, namely the Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Taliban. During this time frame, the South Asian affiliate of the Al-Qaida as well as that of the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayibba (LeT) has largely escaped the radar of the US. This piece focuses on the ever rising and continuing threat from Lashkar-e-Tayibba and outlines the steps that the US must urgently take to mitigate this threat.
The Origins of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba
LeT originated as the militant wing of Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad, a fundamentalist Sunni Pakistani missionary organization that was established in the 1980s to oppose the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. In the early 1990s the militant wing of the Markaz came into existence as the LeT. Since 1993, LeT has conducted numerous terrorist attacks against Indian soldiers and civilians alike, culminating in the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
Change in the Motives of LeT: Expanding beyond India towards the US and the West
LeT is mistakenly perceived as primarily anti-Indian organization that espouses only the separatist movement in the state of Kashmir in India. But its activities have been directed at critical assets and persons throughout India. In recent years, LeT has established its presence in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Maldives, giving it the status of a South Asian terrorist group. Through ex-filtration and infiltration of its cadres into and from India through Nepal and Bangladesh as well recruiting Indian nationals, Nepalese, Bangladeshis, and nationals of Maldivian origin to its cadres and cause, LeT has tried to shed the image of being an organization comprised of Pakistani nationals. For example, the Indian Mujahideen (IM) is an Indian offshoot of LeT, whose cadres have been trained and indoctrinated by LeT operatives in Pakistan.
In recent years, the LeT activities and focus have been extended to the United States and its nationals. During the 2008 Mumbai attacks the Lashkar terrorists targeted and killed American nationals at the Chabad House in Mumbai. Another instance of LeT's foray into the US is the case of Virginia resident Jubair Ahmed admitting to providing material support to LeT last year. US citizen Dennis Headley and Chicago resident Tahawwur Rana, both of Pakistani origin, were arrested on charges of their involvement in Lashkar activities facilitating the Mumbai attacks, as well as hatching a terrorist plot in Denmark. While Headley plea bargained, Tahawwur Rana was absolved of any involvement in the Mumbai attacks; he was indicted for his involvement in the LeT-hatched murder plot of a Danish cartoonist who had drawn caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.
LeT has actively worked with the Taliban and Al-Qaida by participating in and providing logistical support for anti-US operations in Afghanistan as well. From offering shelter to Al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah to training Taliban and Al-Qaida cadres to providing foot soldiers for joint operations with the Haqqani Network that resulted in attacks against Indians and Americans alike in Afghanistan, LeT has become a close ally of the Al-Qaida-Taliban combine. And in this process it has directed its ire and firepower directly at the United States.
Measures Undertaken against the LeT threat
Unfortunately, the actions undertaken to mitigate the threat from LeT have been rather inadequate at best. LeT operative Zakir-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks is imprisoned in a Pakistani jail and apparently continues to direct the organization's terrorist activities from within prison. Pakistan banned the LeT in 2002 but under the guise of its charitable arm, the Jamaat-ud-Dawaah (JuD), it continues to operate unabated and unchallenged. It is notable that by way of its charitable work through JuD, LeT has ingratiated itself with the Pakistani people—a fact that increases the challenge of decimating this organization. Despite India's furnishing of evidence to Pakistan detailing Lakhvi's involvement in the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has taken no action against Lakhvi. The founder of LeT and JuD, Hafeez Saeed openly spouts venom against India and the United States. In the US, the absolution of Headley and Tahawwur Rana from any involvement in the Mumbai attacks has helped create the impression of the lack of an appetite to tackle the LeT threat decisively. US and UN designation of LeT, JuD, and LeT operatives including Hafeez Saeed and Lakhvi have not resulted in any diminution of the threat from LeT or these individuals, or even created any dent in the organization's finances. The LeT infrastructure remains largely intact. The US State Department has however in the past week sent a strong message that it is now cognizant of the threat to the US from LeT by announcing a ten million dollar bounty for the arrest and capture of Hafeez Saeed. Saeed's mockery of this US action shows the practical difficulties associated with taking on LeT in its stronghold in Pakistan, where it prospers under the protection and encouragement of the Pakistani military and political establishment. Recent unconfirmed reports of Indian and US Special Forces jointly working in India, Nepal, Maldives, and other South Asian states to neutralize the LeT threat are a heartening sign of some headway being made to take on the LeT, to the common benefit of both India and the US. Quite alarmingly however, nothing really has been done to choke off the financial flows that fund the LeT.
Measures that may be undertaken to mitigate the LeT threat
While the bounty placed on LeT chief Hafeez Saeed is a good but late start to demonstrate US action against the LeT threat, the US needs to take much stronger measures against the LeT. Through a process of intensive dialogue and by threatening the discontinuation of US aid to Pakistan if the Pakistani Government fails to accede to US demands in this regard, the US should pressurize the Pakistani government to act more decisively against the LeT cadres, including dismantling the training activities of LeT on Pakistani soil. In addition, the US should convince the Pakistanis to accede to Indian demands to hand over Lakhvi and other perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to Indian authorities. US intervention in this case is critical since the Mumbai attacks resulted in the death of American citizens as well. The US should work with Pakistan and Gulf States where LeT gets most of its finances through charitable means and rich contributors, to stem the flow of funds to LeT by means of implementing sanctions measures, and by attacking the critical nodes of LeT finance through tangible action by law enforcement. The US may like to direct the regime at the United Nations that monitors the implementation of sanctions against Al-Qaida and Taliban to provide actual figures of LeT assets and assets of listed LeT officials that have been frozen by countries where LeT is based and is active. The US may also like to ask this regime to submit a report on the efficacy of sanctions measures in taming the threat posed by LeT, as well as recommendations to mitigate this threat. The US should continue to work with India to share information of mutual concern on the activities of LeT in both countries in a timely manner and to participate in joint counter terrorism operations to take out LeT cadres. Unilateral measures by the US to take out LeT targets might also not be ruled out at some stage.
It's amply clear that the threat to the US and its allies from LeT is growing and is yet untamed. Nothing substantial has been done to effectively curtail the finances and operations of LeT, by Pakistan or even globally. It is about time that the US deploys its counterterrorist assets against this untamed threat from LeT. The international community led by the US should actively engage Pakistan and use all possible means to convince this country to help check the unabated growth of LeT organizationally and logistically. It must be underscored that the US faces an ever greater threat from LeT, as LeT is the one organization that has the capacity to fill the void created by the diminution of Al-Qaida, and to lead the global jihad against the United States. Let's not forget that LeT is a close affiliate of Al-Qaida and is infused with similar ideological zeal. It's more dangerous now than Al-Qaida is, with ever greater resources, a growing reach and presence, and its unhindered and unchecked terrorist activities.The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for National Policy.
Amit Kumar, Ph.D.
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