October 17, 2011

Lashkar-e-Toiba’s end-game

Building proxies, indigenous terror network
by D. Suba Chandran


THREE years after the horrible terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the primary perpetrator of terrorism in India, has been keeping a low profile. During the last three years, there have been no spectacular terrorist attacks in India led by the Lashkar. What is likely to be Lashkar’s game plan?

Besides examining the Lashkar’s likely strategy, it is also essential to look into four specific questions: What would be the Lashkar’s larger game plan vis-à-vis India? Is the Lashkar likely to look beyond India and become an international threat? How tenuous are the linkages and the line of control between the Lashkar and its controllers — the ISI of Pakistan? Finally, will the Lashkar also break up with the ISI and become another Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)?

First, an analysis of the Lashkar’s end-game vis-à-vis India. Though the Lashkar has ceased to be a Kashmir-based organisation for a long time, Kashmir still remains very much a part of its agenda, even today. With the Hizbul Mujahideen fast declining within the Kashmir valley, and the Jaish-e-Mohammad concentrating its efforts erstwhile, as a part of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Lashkar will remain the trump card for Pakistan to keep militancy alive within J&K.

Though the Lashkar has primarily become a “Punjabi” militant organisation fighting for the cause of J&K, it has been active, recruiting over-ground workers (OGWs) in the Kashmir valley. While there may not be many Kashmiris as a part of the Lashkar’s fighting force, it has not come to zero; there is still an element of “Kashmiri” militants as local commanders and foot soldiers. The Lashkar militant leadership above district and divisional commanders rest primarily with the Punjabi component of the Lashkars.

While the security forces and the local police have substantially weakened the Hizbul’s structure, the Lashkar network remains. What needs to be analysed and probed is: What is likely to be the Lashkar’s game plan vis-à-vis the Kashmiri OGWs and the small component of active fighters? Is the Lashkar planning to change the nature of Islam in the Kashmir valley by introducing a virulent form over the Sufi Islam? Are the new structures of worship, built in recent years within the valley hint a particular slant away from Sufi Islam and towards Saudi Arabia? What role does the Lashkar OGWs play in this change? If there is an effort to change the nature of Islam in the valley, it would be a bigger threat than mere terrorist, both to the Kashmiri social fabric and the rest of India. Both New Delhi and Srinagar have to monitor closely the larger game plan of the Lashkar in J&K.

Outside J&K, what is the Lashkar’s larger game plan? Though it has gone slow after the Mumbai attacks, this is a deliberate strategy for two reasons. One is to avoid any further pressure from India and the rest of the international community. After the Mumbai attacks, both India and the rest of the international community have applied enough pressure that the ISI and the Lashkar have decided to go slow in terms of pursuing active militant attacks on the Indian soil. Reason two: The Lashkar is silently pursuing a radical strategy, without the use of violence and getting noticed.

The Lashkar has not ceased its activities in the rest of India. According to intelligence inputs, based on national and state police reports from different parts of the country, the Lashkar is pursuing a three-pronged strategy. Number one, the Lashkar has been busy building its sleeper cells in select states of India — UP, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. While the emphasis on sleeper cells consisting of local youths has not been a new phenomenon, the nature and extent of these cells covering almost all of South India, and sensitive states in North India look alarming.

Number two, besides the sleeper cells, the Lashkar is also believed to be providing support to the Indian Mujahideen, another radical network, considered to be wholly comprised of Indian youths. Number three, with active assistance from the ISI, the Lashkar is also believed to be providing training within Pakistan. The modus operandi is: Indians would travel to select cities — Colombo, Bangkok, Kathmandu, Dhaka and Dubai — using Indian passports, from where they would be provided with Pakistani passports to Karachi or Lahore. They would return the same way, after getting the necessary training in Pakistan, leaving no paper work showing their visit to Pakistan! In fact, for those Indians who are visiting Kathmandu, there is no need even to use an Indian passport.

The larger end-game of the Lashkar seems to be to put in place an indigenous Indian radical group, with adequate motivation and training. Given the nature of arms trafficking in South Asia, these groups could act with much ease. The fact that the Lashkar is reaching out to various states within India could be a part of its strategy to create different groups, fairly unconnected with the other, but linked with the Lashkar-e-Toiba — almost like the Al-Qaida cells, which were not inter-connected.

While the above analysis is only based on an informed guesstimate, this would mean that gone are the days when the J&K police could tip the Karnataka police; every state has to depend on its own intelligence network. More importantly, the above would also mean, India may not be able to pinpoint Pakistan or the Lashkar as the brain behind militant attacks. In short, what this would mean for the Lashkar is high returns and no cost.

Finally, how tenuous is the link between the Lashkar and the ISI inside Pakistan? The most important difference between the Lashkar and the TTP will be in terms of what the leadership wants vis-à-vis their erstwhile masters — the ISI. Unlike the TTP, the Lashkar even today very much plays according to what the ISI wants. The available information does not hint that the Lashkar leadership is planning to act on its own against Pakistan. Today the Lashkar is the only organisation which has no problems with the ISI either in terms of the objective or strategy. All other militant groups — the Taliban, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and even the Hizbul Mujahideen — have serious differences vis-à-vis the ISI.

As a result, Pakistan will never act against the Lashkar for two important reasons. First and foremost, the Lashkar is willing to play as the ISI’s “veritable arm” vis-à-vis India and be Pakistan’s perfect stooge. Second, the Lashkar has not joined other militant organisations — Al-Qaida and the Taliban in particular — in targeting Pakistan’s strategic interests. There is no known record of the Lashkar organising any major terrorist attack inside Pakistan — either against the state forces or sectarian groups.

However, Pakistan is likely to face problems vis-à-vis the Lashkar in terms of the latter’s growing international linkages. There was a time in which the Taliban and the Jaish-e-Mohammed used to be the primary intermediary between the radical youths from Europe, Africa and North America, and the Af-Pak region. Since the mid-1990s, Al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Jaish invited the global jihadis, motivated and trained them, and even allowed them to have a ground-level practice of jihad.

While the Lashkar has kept away from this international network, there are reports that in recent years they have also started cultivating individuals and groups from different countries, including the US and Indonesia. The recent Headley trial in Chicago should confirm this new global focus. As a result, the Lashkar is likely to come under the international focus as well. In fact, there is already an independent interest in the US about the activities of the Lashkar, outside the Indian complaints to Washington. American analysts closer to the ISI, who once considered the Lashkar as an Indian problem, now are looking into the implications for the US.

The Lashkar’s end-game has already started; they know what they want to do during this decade and are placing a network to achieve their objectives. As the Americans exit from Afghanistan, and Washington’s influence over Islamabad declines, the Lashkar would move towards the kill. During the current decade the major difference would be this: their proxies and franchisees within India would do the job for them.n

The writer is Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, and Visiting Professor, Pakistan Studies Programme, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.


AJ said...

What are you comments on RSS building home grown Hindu organizations to attack muslims?

Anonymous said...

AJ, There is a difference you fail to understand. The "RSS terrorists" don't get a "just and moral" ( along with weapons training, AKs, IED, etc.,) support from the government. They did not cause destruction all around the world, heck not even in pakistan (the terrorist state). Can you say the same about innocent muslims like Dawood, chota shakeel, Riaz bhatkal, etc.