This is a chilling account of the origins, ideological moorings, national ambitions and global outreach of one of the world’s most proscribed terrorist groups—the Lashkar–e-Taiba (LeT), designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the United States since December 2001 and also implicated by the United Nations since December, 2008 in its front denomination,Jamaat-ud-Daawa (JuD).
Written by Pakistani journalist Arif Jamal, a Punjabi Muslim who moved permanently to the United States in 2007 (currently, he is a Research Fellow at the New York University’s Centre for International Cooperation. He also spent time at the Carr Centre for Human Rights, Harvard University working on this book), the book details how LeT emerged from its Markaz Dawatwal Irshad (MDI)/ JuD patron strings through extensive Inter-Services Intelligence funding in 1993, to carry the jihad first into Indian Kashmir, how it developed ‘beachheads’ in different countries, starting from Male, then spreading its wings in Myanmar, Phillipines, Australia, Europe and North America. It mentions how it approached other international terror organizations quite early on, to help it gain experience in naval terrorism.
Jamal interviewed Hafiz Mohd Saeed and meticulously researched JuD over a period of 18 years. The name of the jihadi group was first Markaz Dawat wal Irshad (MDI). It was later renamed Jamatud Dawa (JuD) but these terms continue to be understood as front pseudonyms for LeT. Ideologues like Saeed confided to the author that the work of MDI or JuD was bigger than that of LeT but ‘they would return to the banner of LeT one day’, as the army the Prophet led into Mecca was also called Lashkar-e-Taiba, or the Army of Medina.
Origins of LeT are traced by Jamal to the meticulously planned though short lived rebellion against the House of Saud through the abortive takeover of the Holy Ka’aba in Novebmer ’79, which was led by the 43 year old Ikhwan Salafist, Juhayman al-Utaybi. His group developed links with non-Saudi, rejectionist Ahle Hadith Ulemain Egypt, Kuwait, Yemen and Pakistan, among whom was also the Afghan leader, Sheikh Jamilur Rehman. Arrested Ikhwan salafists from Saudi Arabia, on release in the mid-‘80s, went to Pakistan and joined Allama Rashidi and the Karachi based Abdullah Nasir Rehmani. They also took part in the Afghan jihad from there. The MDI was set up in 1987.
Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, one of the prime accused of Mumbai 26/11 who was recently given bail by a Pakistan Court, fought in Afghanistan and came to prominence within the power echelons of the MDI/ Lashkar before Hafiz Mohd Saeed. He was one of the first AhleHadis volunteers who joined up with other Pakistani Deobandi and Barelvi fighters in Afghanistan under the leadership of Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil of the Harkat ul Mujahideen (HuM). They fought the Soviets in the Arghoon valley of Paktika (1979–82) and later in Nooristan. They were influenced by a Pakistani alim, Khalid Girjakhi, who developed links with Juhayman’s Ikhwan through the influential Saudi brothers- Hamid and Ahmed Mohammad Bahaziq.
Saeed and Zafar Iqbal, founding members of the MDI had little to do with the Afghan jihad till 1985. They were teaching Islamic studies at the Lahore University College of Engineering and Technology (UET). He went to Saudi Arabia on a scholarship in 1981 and was influenced by teachings of Salaafist scholar, BinBaz. On his return, from 1983 onwards HMS became more active in recruiting students and started taking them to Nooristan where they met up with Arab jihadists as well. Within the MDI, Saeed and Iqbal started as office managers but intrigued through a prolonged power struggle between 1992–1995 to side-line Allama Rashidi and take control. The LeT was formed in the summer of 1993 as part of this power struggle. The Pakistani Intelligence outfit, ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate) supported HMS in this struggle to expel ulema like Allama Rashidi.
The ISI was preparing the ground for a new jihad in Indian held Kashmir even as the Afghan jihad was losing momentum after the Soviet pull-out in 1988. MDI/LeT fighters fought alongside other Kashmiri groups like Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) , Al Barq and TehrikulMujahideen (TM) from 1989–92.
Soon after LeT’s formation, Saeed started presenting the jihadi discourse in Indian Kashmir as a struggle between Islam and kufr (unbelief) in his addresses at the annual MDI congregations at Muridke. Kashmir was projected as the entry point but the aim of breaking up the whole of India started being more forcefully espoused. Ahle Hadith islamist members of MDI were asked to establish sleeper cells in different parts of India.
Arif Jamal cites in detail, LeT’s raison d’etre, Jehad in the Present Times,enunciated by Abdus Salaam Bin Muhammad, a leading MDI ideologue in the early ‘90s, where eight reasons are given for waging jihad- the first objective is to end persecution of Muslims wherever it takes place; the second and third objectives are to restore the Muslim caliphate and establish the ‘dominance of Islam’; the fourth objective is to help weak and oppressed Muslims wherever they are; the fifth objective ordains taking revenge for murder of fellow muslims; the sixth objective entails punishment to those who violate their oaths with Muslims; the seventh objective is to ‘fight to defend’ yourself and the eighth objective is to recapture occupied Muslim territory. The MDI /JuD/LeT throughout understands and uses the concept of ‘jihad’ in the sense of `qatl’ or `killing’, or an armed jihad.
Conditioning for jihad was started first in 1987 through small neighbourhood meetings, in village bazaars or mosque, where the intention to recruit and raise funds is made public. In the early years MDI organized missionary training courses for madrassah graduates. Religious courses were begun from 1992. After first contact, exposure is given to its publications like Ghazwa Times, Al Sifat, Akhbaar-e-Taiba. After the potential recruit feels more at ease, he is invited to a muaskar or study tour, which lasts for three days, where he learns to follow fixed prayer timings and is inculcated discipline, like in a ‘military camp’. The JuD does not hesitate to use immoral or criminal ways to recruit young boys. Parents are misled if permissions are not readily forthcoming.
The JuD holds several training courses. The most important is Daura-e-aam, the first compulsory step for joining MDI/JuD/Let. It lasts for 21 days—where recruits learn to perform Islamic rituals such as salat and learning by rote parts of the Quran which deal with jihad and to use light arms, particularly Klashnikovs and grenades. Afterwards, a few recruits are selected to attend the longer, tougher training course—daura-e-khaas. Here they perfect more intensive physical exercises and weapons’ training, familiarization with gadgets like GPS navigators. There are other courses as well—the daura-e-bait-ul-rizwan, lasting four months where members learn unarmed forms of combat and close–quarter battles, and the daura-e-ribat, where members are trained how to remain in contact with others, especially in order to recruit new members.
These camps during peak recruitment cycles had 200 men join every week and at one time, almost 600 trainees at any one centre.They cost money to run. Arif Jamal points out, ‘The JuD’s budget runs into tens of millions of dollars.’ The ‘ISI gives only a fraction of its budget,’ paying ‘the entire amount of operational funding for jihad in Indian Kashmir’. The Pakistan Military’s aim of using this asymmetric option of Non-State actors was honed as strategy since 1976 and specifically entrusted to outfits like LeT, who were told they were being used to encircle India, by developing jihadist networks and presence in the Maldives, Sri Lanka,Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar, which could be later used as springboards against India.
Jamal quotes Hussain Nadim, faculty member of the Pakistan Military run National University of Science and Technology (NUST) to explain the Army’s thinking on JuD. Pakistan’s security establishment categorizes militant organisations into three groups: i) groups that are a threat to Pakistan only;ii) groups that are a threat to both Pakistan and the US; iii) groups that are a threat to only the US, India or any other country; Saeed and JuD fall into the third category.
In recent years, after Saeed was personally banned by the USA, an effort has been initiated to transform or re-brand him as a political or social activist rather than as a terrorist engaging in violence. Having ‘the right credentials’ as anti-Indian, a patriot who would not rise against the State, not motivated by sectarian differences (though a Salafist, HMS does not support ‘Takfir’—killing of non-believers), he ‘provides the perfect mix of what the Establishment wants—to use as bulwark against radical Islamic militants attacking the State, to help progressively disarm them. Saeed’s elevation through the Difa-e- Pakistan Council (DPC) apparently had this objective.
As the deadline for withdrawal of US/ISAF troops from Afghanistan passes, the ISI and JuD are looking for a new role there. As Deobandi Taliban of the TTP ilk spin out of Pakistani Military’s control, the aim could be to use the LeT against them in the medium term, while continuing to utilise them as proxies against India, as in the case of the abortive attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat.
The Army’s support of JuD is based on a flawed belief that it would not spin out of their control, nor wage jihad against Pakistan. This could well be an erroneous expectation about how the JuD/Lashkar’s future role evolves.
JuD leaders have publicly held they would not stop jihad even if Indian Kashmir was liberated. They have publicly vowed revenge for the 1971 humiliation. They also demand replacement of the Ministry of Defence by the ‘Ministry of Jihad’—for which JuD would provide the entire budget—so that, if need be, millions of trained fighters would be provided to fight against the US as well.
LeT activists told Jamal that they have penetrated into, and enjoy support and sympathy among employees of almost every government department in Pakistan, be it the Army, the Police, ISI—among engineers, doctors and even in the Pakistani Nuclear Establishment. There is apparently an instruction from the MDI Shoorato a group called ‘Salafiya Rising Engineers’—to try and join institutes like the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Khan Research Laboratories, Kahuta (KRL) after graduating from the University of Engineering & Technology (UET).
Though it may not be in a hurry to wage jihad in Muslim countries, the JuD’s long term aim is to run ‘a model Islamic State’. Without presently contemplating to go against the Pakistani State, they aim to acquire weapons for mass destruction (WMD) capability and acquire nuclear weapons. Saeed admitted in an interview to Jamal that Pakistan is destined to lead the global jihad and JuD would not be averse to having an Islamic caliphate in South Asia. Jamal presciently warns, this may come sooner than we can imagine, given the JuD’s ability to systematically and cool-headedly pursue its plans.
Rana Banerji, a former Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, is a Distinguished Fellow, Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies, New Delhi.