From Kashmiri Insurgents To Global Jihadis8 August 2011
The Wall Street Journal
New Delhi: Over a decade ago, I was researching a book on the then-ongoing insurgency in India-controlled Kashmir when a senior official from New Delhi told me that a new terrorist organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), was wreaking havoc in that state. I tried to get as much information about this new group as he was willing to divulge. I didn't learn much. In the last decade, the world-especially India-has learned a lot about LeT and how deadly it is. The group came to the fore when, along with another terrorist outfit, it carried out a daring attack on India's parliament in December 2001. Since then, it has perpetrated enough terrorist violence across India to convince the country's hardened security forces to see it as one of their chief adversaries. The most infamous chapter in LeT's history is its assault in Mumbai in November 2008. In this superbly coordinated attack, 10 terrorists held security forces at bay for three days and killed 164 people. For a group whose principal targets used to be in Kashmir, the Mumbai siege shows it willing-and capable-of instilling fear across India.But India is not enough for today's LeT. In 'Storming The World Stage,' Stephen Tankel shows that the group has actually expanded its ambit. Its newest targets are NATO forces in Afghanistan. From an ideological standpoint, LeT sees its role in Afghanistan as integral for global jihad. As al Qaeda's stature and luster diminishes, LeT's opportunities for spreading regional and global terror increase. LeT is on track to being the world's most dangerous terrorist organization. How did this outfit acquire such capabilities? Mr. Tankel, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, writes that the origins of LeT can be traced to the efforts of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who now stands accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks. He originally participated in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and later joined forces with LeT's current leader, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. Both quickly turned attention to the festering dispute over Kashmir, and LeT was born. From its inception, the organization enjoyed the patronage of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). It is to Mr. Tankel's credit that, without resorting to hyperbole, he shows the extent and scope of the ISI involvement with LeT. He lays out the evidence of how the agency fashioned LeT's training programs. Islamabad's intent was to use LeT, and groups like it, to wage a proxy war against New Delhi. By the 1990s, it was clear that Pakistan couldn't defeat its larger rival in a conventional war. Instead, it sought to repeat, against India, its strategy of arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan. To that end, LeT has met with reasonable success. It has not just physically assaulted India; it has also spread a virulent ideology. From its headquarters in Muridke, a town near Lahore, it has built a vast network that covers much of the subcontinent. Using this network and drawing on the disaffection of some segments of India's Muslims, the group has managed to establish a presence within India. It has worked closely with a shadowy, homegrown terrorist organization called the Indian Mujahideen, which is thought to be behind the Mumbai bombings last month. New Delhi recognizes this threat and has pressured Islamabad into shutting down the group permanently. Yet Pakistan hasn't budged. This isn't surprising, once readers consider the wealth of information Mr. Tankel provides about the nexus between Islamabad and LeT. Mr. Tankel's evidence is not entirely new, but he uses it to establish clearly what others have only hinted at or suggested. Even under substantial pressure from Washington after Sept. 11, the Pakistani military establishment under Pervez Musharraf did not dilute its LeT ties. Instead it implemented cosmetic measures, in line with Pakistan's duplicity when it came to the war on terror in other respects. Islamabad took ample U.S. aid and promised to help Washington. Yet, as Mr. Tankel reminds us, Gen. Musharraf kept indulging the Taliban and enabled it to reconstitute itself. In essence, Pakistan sought to make a distinction between 'good' and 'bad' jihadis: Those that directed their fire against external enemies were deemed worthy of protection, while those that threatened the domestic political order incurred the military's wrath. Pakistan is paying for this tack today, as terror proxies deployed against India have backfired. What's more curious is that the generals have not stopped them. Even when authorities found that LeT had consorted with, and even harbored al Qaeda operatives, they arrested a few including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shib and Abu Zubaydah. These arrests, however, were under American pressure and presumably with the Central Intelligence Agency's cooperation. What explains this permissive attitude? LeT isn't the worst of the terror outfits that have backfired; it still retains some allegiance to Pakistan. But more importantly, LeT works: It remains a potent force in what the ISI calls its 'war of a thousand cuts' against India. On this point, a significant failing of 'Storming the World Stage' is exposed. Mr. Tankel claims that LeT could spoil any possible rapprochement between India and Pakistan in the future. But the truth, as Mr. Tankel himself points out, is that Islamabad uses LeT to trouble New Delhi and plead innocence about doing so, all the while extracting diplomatic concessions. If Pakistan's generals and spymasters ever decided that an honest accord with India was in their vital interest, the mighty LeT could quickly be brought to heel. Another shortcoming about Mr. Tankel's book is that he doesn't use the vast Urdu literature that jihadi organizations have spawned. This could have enriched readers' understanding of LeT's rationale for the global jihad in general and for its inveterate hatred of India in particular. But on the whole, 'Storming the World Stage' is an impressive piece of detective work that provides the most comprehensive treatment so far of the ideological sources, political motivations and organizational strategies of this group. If policy makers, in India and around the world, want to understand the foe they're up against, this book is an important read. -Mr. Ganguly is a professor of political science at Indiana University, Bloomington.