The troublesome Lashkar

Published: August 19, 2011
The writer is professor of environmental planning and Asian Studies at the University of Vermont, US. He can be followed on Twitter: saleem_ali

The writer is professor of environmental planning and Asian Studies at the University of Vermont, US. He can be followed on Twitter: saleem_ali

Among the many jihadi outfits that were spawned by a malevolent mix of Cold War opportunism and presidential zealotry during the Zia years, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has the most intriguing pedigree. Its founding leader Hafiz Saeed was a member of the Council on Islamic Ideology created by Zia. He was a popular lecturer of Islamic studies at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore but became increasingly radicalised following a sojourn in Saudi Arabia, where he had been sent by the government for higher studies. The organisation which he founded as Markaz al Dawa al Irshad became the prime organisation for preaching the Salafi (Wahabbi) school of thought in Pakistan and continues to this day to be a formidable force.

The ISI may have been seduced into supporting Saeed’s organisation during the 1990s because of their focused, and somewhat misplaced, stance on the Kashmiri jihad. When doing research on madrassas in Pakistan some years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the enormous complex of the Markaz near Muridke. The sheer scale of the complex with hectares of crop fields, aquaculture ponds, training buildings and schools, surrounded by fortified walls and watch towers suggested some level of state support for the organisation. While international pressure forced the overt training infrastructure to be dismantled, the organisation morphed into Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and continued with its activities. To this day, the Pakistani state and the international community remain unwilling or unable to dismantle the JuD. Yet the existence of the JuD is currently the most significant stumbling block in improving relations between India and Pakistan. There are several reasons for this impasse. First, the JuD has followed the model of Hamas as a militant organisation that also has a very powerful charitable wing. During Pakistan’s recent natural disasters, it mobilised its activists to help people in need and this has won the organisation much grass-roots support. With this, it is extremely difficult to dismantle an organisation and castigate its leadership. For this reason it is impossible to find witnesses to testify against any of the JuD leadership with regard to their connections to particular terrorist acts. Following the dismissal of the case against Hafiz Saeed in the Lahore High Court, Justice Asif Khosa famously said: “In the name of terrorism we cannot brutalise the law.”

Furthermore, as noted by Steven Tankel in his authoritative new book on the LeT titled Storming the World Stage, (Columbia University Press, 2011) Pakistan is so embroiled in a struggle against anti-state jihadis (such as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan) that it does not have the capacity to deal with all outfits simultaneously. Tankel notes towards the end of his book that “Dismantling Lashkar must be a gradual process in order to avoid provoking a major backlash that could destabilise the country.”

India needs to appreciate this sensitive internal reality within Pakistan and should not make the arrests of JuD officials a prerequisite for substantive movement in the peace process. Indeed, moving forward with a serious peace effort internally within Kashmir, as well as with Pakistan would be the most potent way of eroding the militant strands of the Lashkar.

Targeting the JuD will also not serve much purpose. Indeed, its charitable arm could provide an important means of ‘repatriating’ the jihadis towards more socially beneficial functions once there is comprehensive regional peace. At the same time, it is important for the religious parties to do some soul-searching as well and consider the results achieved by their militancy. With current power differentials and global norms against violent extremism, the Kashmiri jihadis are far more likely to achieve success through non-violent civil disobedience. The Mumbai attacks have done nothing to further the cause of Kashmir. Often Pakistanis blame India for intervention in Balochistan — we need to consider that Indians view us in the same way vis-à-vis Kashmir. Amidst all this, the West has to realise that both India and Pakistan have a nefarious record of covert intervention that is a legacy of the Cold War modus operandi mastered by the US and the Soviets. Instead of futile blame games, there needs to be greater effort made to address the genuine internal grievances of ethnic minorities within both India and Pakistan — such an approach would most directly delegitimise the subcontinent’s vigilante Lashkars.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Santosh
    Aug 19, 2011 - 8:48PM

    “To this day, the Pakistani state and the international community remain unwilling or unable to dismantle the JuD. ”
    Why hold the international community responsible for dismantling JuD? It is an org within Pakistan and needs Pakistani will rather than excuses to dismantle. The slow and steady approach, the author advocates has only given these orgs breathing space to grow in new ways. Populism must be discarded if any results are to be achieved.
    The author further contends that there are sensitive ground realities involved. Pakistan is already in the grip of terrorism. From Peshawar to the north to Karachi to the south, the entire country is ablaze with violence. The question that naturally comes to mind is, what worse can happen. The suicide bombings and kidnappings and target killings are already happening. Popular unrest against JuD cannot get worse than that.
    The issue is justification and the lack of will to act more than anything else. The apologists for these orgs are allowed to spew hate on the media and the general excuse is ‘freedom of speech’. However the same freedom of speech does not come in to any ones mind when minorities are targeted under blasphemy laws. The sheer paradox of discussing blasphemy laws and freedom of speech coexisting seems to escape most.
    Pakistani state needs to firm up, declare a law against spreading hate in general, and target any organization or person encouraging violence against other humans. Yes there will be temporary backlash, but most of it will be verbal. And in targeting the spreaders of hate, you will also get the organizers of these heinous activities and the backlash that you fear will be tempered. This is because the terrorist would be without leadership and would be less effective.
    Things are bad now. Perhaps it is time to take advantage of being in the worst case situation and use that to clean up.


  • Max
    Aug 19, 2011 - 9:50PM

    Pakistan knows how to shoot at its own foot and has been doing so from the early days. To whom should I blame for this euphoria, no one comes to mind but myself. Hafiz Saeed , LeT, LJ, JuD or whoever, were monsters and remained so. These small time people were good as long as they were in the business of performing social/religious rituals like marriage and death rituals, Jummerat ka khattam/roti etc. When you give an AK 147 in the hands of these know nothing thugs, they are going to play havoc with the foreign policy of the country. This is what Pakistan did and never regretted for its wrongdoings. Now it is ordinary person like you and me who are paying the price.


  • Cynical
    Aug 19, 2011 - 9:55PM

    All very sensible.But who’s going to take the first step?Who is going to bell the cat?


  • Junaid
    Aug 19, 2011 - 11:40PM

    Well, if I may be allowed to add, LeT has been quite dormant for a long time.. only the JuD has been active and has been even one of the most effective organisations during the floods last year.. since the time of Musharraf, Line of Control was sealed in a way that made any intervention in the name of Kashmir jihad nearly impossible.. The only manner that the Lashkar e Taiba has been working is as a tool to penetrate other organisations who take them as like minded.
    The author is right in saying that with more limits on the military tendencies of LeT, the welfare activities of JuD have become more focused and largely helpful, and apart from their other actions should be admired.


  • Cosmo
    Aug 20, 2011 - 1:32AM

    So no value of 160 Indians killed by LeT during Mumbai massacre, only coz they helped you in your floods. If aid is all that matters to Pakistanis then the 25 million donated by India to UN for Pakistani flood should count towards something.


  • faraz
    Aug 20, 2011 - 1:45AM

    Thanks to the FA pass strategists, LeT has grown into a monster. It has over 100,000 members and vast resources; it just cannot be dismantled through force.


  • Domlurian
    Aug 20, 2011 - 2:53AM

    “there needs to be greater effort made to address the genuine internal grievances of ethnic minorities within both India and Pakistan”

    Pakistanis could make a start by amending their constitution to allow non-muslims to become the president and prime minister of their country.

    But that’s not going to happen. There ends the argument.


  • Taimur Malik (Timorov)
    Aug 20, 2011 - 6:51AM

    A good piece for a change Mr. Ali. Tankel’s testimony on the Hill was also really good and he emphasized the fact that Pakistan cannot but adopt a triage approach because no state in the world can simultaneously act against so many centrifugal forces that Pakistan has had to deal with since the Pandora’s box of the US invasion of Afghanistan.


  • vasan
    Aug 20, 2011 - 7:23AM

    If it is a wound, you can apply balm and medicines and cure it. If it is gangrene, nothing short of amputation will help. Because Pakistan is fully diabetic, many of its wounded organs
    are difficult to cure and amputation(balkanization) is one option.May be the only one


  • N
    Aug 20, 2011 - 9:06AM

    We now hold the international community responsible – not us, for the growth of JUD!
    And we seek parity, in irresponsibility, with India – we are in Kashmir because they are in Balochistan! Hardly anyone in the international community is buying into our convenient arrangement of “facts” and bloody mess. Nefarious is sued to describe our export of terror to IOK, India and rest of the world. If we are copying India in terrorism then why not copy them in other areas as well. That may require us to think of our people and country. We ignore the dangerous soup alphabets – JUD/LET, Taliban etc. etc. at our own peril. We need to clean up the stables for our sake and our future.

    Charity begins at home. Responsible behavior starts with self. Until then blame and mayhem will bring us nothing but more soup alphabets.


  • ashok sai
    Aug 20, 2011 - 9:06AM

    Till today no proof has been given with ref. Indian meddling in Balochistan and more importantly India doesn’t have state sponsored terrorist outfits like Pakistan to attack neighbouring countries.
    As for as LET is concerned its already under the radar of all the countries in the world, recent speech by Mr.Panetta is the such one, I think soon it will be taken to task.


    Sir, what you are saying, a punch of terrorist come and kill scores of people and India should not ask for Justice, I am afraid not in my or yours, for that fact anybody’s life time.


  • Mirza
    Aug 20, 2011 - 10:19AM

    One of the better and more balanced Op Ed. Thanks and regards,


  • Infidel Humanist
    Aug 20, 2011 - 11:27AM

    I agree with the author and Mr. Tankel. Taking on the LeT/JuD full-scale would be tantamount to suicide. This is not your run-of-the-mill rag-tag band of militants. This is an organized and substantial paramilitary force that will give the Army a run for its money.
    When one hears allegations about the Pakistani Army’s unwillingness to take on the LeT/JuD factions, one should seriously consider that fact that the Army does want to do this because they are afraid of failure. If the Army is shown to be impotent by these groups, then all is lost. Because the Army is still the glue that holds Pakistan together. Better to be seen as apathetic than incompetent.
    The preferred strategy, it would seem, would to be to slowly bring about a policy U-turn over some period of time (my guess is that it will take decades). It remains to be seen if India, US and other countries accept this as a sincere and legitimate strategy. Unfortunately, they may not have much of a choice because this may be the best of a set of bad options …


  • Arindom
    Aug 20, 2011 - 11:51AM

    LeT and JuD feed the poor during floods which is the Pak Govt’s job. So no matter – let them set off bombs in neighbouring countries!!!

    Wah! what a logic!!


  • ashok sai
    Aug 20, 2011 - 11:57AM


    Sir, I beg to differ, Author merely asking India to refrain from pushing for Justice on 26/11, may be from your nationality point of view it appears balanced whereas for us Indians its like telling ‘happened is happened, lets move on and we won’t guaranty you of further attacks since they are doing lot of charity works here’.



  • Nitin
    Aug 20, 2011 - 12:52PM

    @ Saleem H Ali
    They are killing innocents on one side and trying to show a different face by sending volunteers to help during floods. And in their charity they lack honesty. They just want to be known as a charity organisation to get a licence to kill innocents. If people of this country have any shame, they should shun their charity and bring them to justice and end their double game that never helped Pakistan’s image.


  • Feroz
    Aug 20, 2011 - 1:14PM

    I would like to digress and ask why is the country home to so many UN designated terrorist organisations? If the State had not patronised these elements and exploited them for its own goals none of them could have gained the foothold they did. The law classifies an individual who takes a life as a murderer and does not consider his origin, religion, gender, occupation or charitable nature. If apologists for violence, terrorism and hate undermine the rule of Law you get a country that will see a complete collapse of Law and Order machinery and social, religious and vigilant groups dispensing their version of instant justice. Doing nothing is likely to make matters worse not better. Doing things slowly is akin to Chinese torture, drop by drop – the State could face financial collapse and failure before the job is done. In a radical time bound solution lies the nations hopes. To not feel empathy for the loss of human life no matter how ideologically driven we are means a nation has lost its SOUL.


  • Javed
    Aug 20, 2011 - 2:30PM

    Sounds more like a suger coated defence of JuD


  • john
    Aug 20, 2011 - 3:38PM


    Now i understand…. Thats the reason you pakistanis allowed 30000 lives to be slaughtered to get american aid.. Don’t you even have shame to compare aid with massacre??


  • Ahsan Shamim
    Aug 20, 2011 - 4:41PM

    Very balanced article. While we condemn and rightly so, the religious fascists, the comments on this objective article reveal that liberal fascists aren’t anyway lesser in number.


  • Concerned Pakistani
    Aug 20, 2011 - 8:21PM

    How is the international community responsible for curbing JUD? They didn’t breed them, we did. It’s our responsibility to take them out, not theirs. My fellow country men, our Pakistan ir burning, how much more has to happen before we start accepting the responsibility and start fixing the problems?


  • mind control
    Aug 21, 2011 - 12:40AM

    if Pakistan finds it difficult to rein in the Lashkar it can always seek help from friends like China, Iran or any one else. I further suggest that if the Lashkar and the the Pakistani state had become siamese twins of a variety that sparating the two was likely to kill one or both, then there was not much to do but sit tight and wait,
    Yes, I did also say that with so many options, asking the victims of the Lashkar to be ‘understanding about it’, was not really an option.

  • Ashutosh
    Aug 21, 2011 - 1:07AM

    @Infidel Humanist:
    Are 100,000 LeT/ JUD militants too much for whole of the Pakistani army?
    May god bless Pakistan !


  • LooseSalwar
    Aug 21, 2011 - 7:18PM

    Pakistanis should be extremely circumspect before attempting to trivialize 26/11. The constituency for peace with Pakistan has all but evaporated. How Pakistan chooses to prosecute the trial against this act of war will determine the future of both countries.


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