Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba Chooses Between Kashmir and the Global Jihad

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 6 Issue: 3

In a surprising shift of tactics, the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist organization has toned down its violent Kashmir-centric agenda, claiming it will pursue a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir problem. The radical group, blamed for many terror attacks in India, including November’s assault on Mumbai, also denied pursuing a global jihadist agenda. In a similar vein, another Pakistan-based terrorist group, Hizb ul-Mujahedeen (HM), and the terrorist conglomerate known as the Muttahida Jihad Council (MJC) have offered to end their so-called “armed struggle” in Jammu and Kashmir (The Hindu [New Delhi], January 22). According to MJC spokesman and HM operative Ehsan Elahi, “It is [our] desire that the [Kashmir] problem is resolved through dialogue. We want peace but it does not mean that we are renouncing our stance or showing a weakness” (Kashmir Newsline, January 23).

Also distancing itself from global jihadi linkages is Jama’at ud-Dawa, an Islamic charity and front organization for Lashkar e-Taiba. The group’s controversial spokesman, Abdullah (Muntazir) Gaznavi, indicated that their struggle is only confined to the Kashmir region: “We have no global agenda… [we] just want the freedom of Kashmir and if it comes peacefully [we] will welcome it. We don’t see armed struggle as the only way to achieve our goal” (Hindustan Times, January 19). [1]

More surprisingly, the mysterious Abdullah Muntazir also disowned LeT commanders Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, who masterminded the November attacks in Mumbai (Times of India, January 9). Muntazir has been attempting to boost JuD/LeT’s public image for a long time, as well as shielding the JuD chief, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, from any government action.

Both the LeT and HM are part of the MJC, an umbrella organization of at least 14 terrorist groups operating in the Kashmir region, including al-Badr and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). The group is alleged to be financed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The MJC in general and JuD/LeT in particular receive considerable support from Pakistan’s state apparatus, as well as the support of a fraction of Pakistan’s civil society, centered mostly in Punjab province and around Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK). [2] The evident change in tone and tenor of these two violent terrorist groups may be seen as a desperate ploy to avoid the wrath of the international community after the Mumbai attacks of November 26-29.

After a government crackdown and international condemnation, the surprisingly defiant JuD had planned to reorganize itself shortly after its proscription by the UN Security Council under another the umbrella of another militant conglomerate, the Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool (THR) (Dawn [Karachi], January 3). THR, loosely translated as the “Movement for Defending the Honor of the Prophet,” is reportedly comprised of several religious and political groups in Pakistan. However, a few weeks later the JuD again reincarnated itself as the Tehrik-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awal (TTQA) (Times of India, January 12).

The newly formed TTQA organized a rally in Peshawar rejecting the UN Security Council resolution against Jama’t-ud Dawa, arguing that the Security Council was biased against Muslims, based on its failure to impose a ceasefire in Gaza. The protesters held placards and banners inscribed with various slogans condemning Israel for its barbarism and aggression against Muslim Palestinians and calling for jihad against the United States for its silence on the killing of the people of Gaza (Pakistan Observer, January 15).

After days of posturing and stage-managed crackdowns in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, the Islamabad administration finally initiated action against JuD/LeT in mid-January, closing down at least five of their relief camps, nearly twenty offices, and proscribing as many as seven publications, including Mujalatud Dawa, Zarb-i-Taiba, Voice of Islam, and Nanhay Mujahid.[3] Speaking about the crackdown, Rehman Malik, the advisor to Pakistan’s Prime Minister on Interior Affairs, announced the detention of 124 JuD/LeT members and leaders, including Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the LeT “operations commander” and the main accused in the Mumbai attacks (Pak Tribune, January 15).

Clearly delineating LeT’s ties to the Mumbai carnage, India has provided incriminating evidence to Pakistan. With the mounting international pressure on Pakistan and subsequent crackdown on terrorist hideouts within the country following the UN Security Council ban on the JuD, leaders of these groups have apparently decided to remain dormant with peace flags in hand for the time being, while preparing to come back later to continue their terror activities in the region.

This volte-face of JuD/LeT and MJC is an interesting strategic departure from the terrorist groups’ traditional position. The Mumbai attack brought the LeT’s global jihadist agenda into the limelight, along the lines of al-Qaeda. However, under tremendous international pressure, their sponsors in the Pakistani security establishment are believed to have directed them to restore the Kashmir agenda and return to the decades-old proxy war in the region.

Recent remarks by British Foreign Secretary David Milband calling for the removal of the LeT’s raison d’être by reaching a diplomatic solution to the Kashmir conflict raised a stir on both sides of the Indo-Pakistani border. Milband suggested that “solving the Kashmir issue would deny LeT its ‘call to arms’ and free Pakistan to fight al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in its tribal areas” (Telegraph, January 18).

Abdullah Gaznavi responded by describing Milband’s statement as “positive,” saying that the LeT would abandon violence if it could achieve “freedom” for Kashmir by political means: “If the world listens to our cries, and plays its role in resolving the Kashmir issue, there is no point continuing the fight” (Hindustan Times, January 19; Indo-Asian News Service, January 19).

Milband’s statement and similar remarks from other Western leaders may have had the inadvertent effect of raising the flagging morale of the LeT and other Kashmir militants by giving the group and its struggle a degree of international legitimacy. In the wake of global indignation over the excessive violence displayed in the Mumbai attack, the LeT is showing signs it is ready to abandon its participation in global jihad and act in tandem with Pakistan’s proxy war policy by refocusing on Kashmir.

Notes:

1. For a report on how the real identity of Abdullah Muntazir was unearthed by recent FBI investigations in Pakistan and how he managed to act as both JuD and LeT spokesman under different names, see Amir Mir, “Jam’atul Daawa spokesman impersonates as Lashkar-e-Toiba spokesman,” Middle-East Transparent, January 4, http://www.metransparent.com/<wbr></wbr>spip.php?page=imprimer_<wbr></wbr>article_avec_forum&id_article=<wbr></wbr>5134.
2. See “Pro-JuD protests in Pakistan, Greater Kashmir, January 26. On the support of the Pakistani State (especially the ISI and military) to Kashmir-centric groups, see, “ISI plan to restructure UJC,” The Tribune, February 1, 2003; Marianne Heiberg, Brendan O’Leary and John Tirman, Terror, Insurgency, and the State: Ending Protracted Conflicts, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007, pp. 234-235; Owen Bennett Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, Yale University Press, 2003, p.83.
3. Weeks after the Mumbai attacks, Islamabad sealed around 34 offices of the JuD across Punjab in mid-December, 2008. However, media reports later described the crackdown as ineffective. See former Pakistan minister Ansar Burney’s comment on the reported crackdown; “Terrorist camps exist in Pakistan,” Daily Times (Lahore), December 12, 2008.