Pragmatic | LeT is NOT a Kashmiri group

Countering Ignatius’ deceitful notions about the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

In his latest Washington Post column, David Ignatius casually mentions that the Lashkar-e-Taiba(LeT) is “a Kashmiri group”. Like this blogger, many other readers would have noticed the absence of the word terror while mentioning the “group”. A learned columnist like Mr Ignatius is expected to be familiar with the authoritative work of Stephen Tankel on the LeT. In case he isn’t familiar or has forgotten the facts, here is an extract about LeT’s origins from Tankel’s paper:

In 1984, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, currently on trial in Pakistan for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, formed a small group of Ahl-e-Hadith Muslims from Pakistan to wage jihad against Soviets forces in Afghanistan. The Ahle-Hadith are Salafist in orientation, meaning they believe Muslims must return to a pure form of Islam and advocate emulating the Prophet Muhammad and his companions in all areas of life. A year later, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and Zafar Iqbal, two teachers at the University of Engineering and Technology (Lahore) Pakistan, formed the Jamaat-ul- Dawa (Organization for Preaching, or JuD). This was a small missionary group primarily dedicated to preaching the tenets of Ahl-e-Hadith Islam. In 1986, Lakhvi merged his outfit with JuD to form LeT’s parent organization, the Markaz al-Dawa-wal-Irshad (Center for Preaching and Guidance, or MDI). The group had 17 original founders, Abdullah Azzam being the most famous of them. Azzam was Osama bin Laden’s first mentor and the man most responsible for the influx of foreign fighters into Afghanistan during the 1980s. He headed the Maktab al-Khidmat (Services Bureau), the primary conduit for foreign volunteers and typically considered a precursor to al-Qaeda.

MDI had three functions: “Jihad in the way of Allah, preaching the true religion, and the training of [a] new generation on Islamic lines.” LeT was launched as its military wing around 1990, after which the former was technically responsible for dawa and the latter for jihad. However, as a former member explained, “If you know their philosophy, then you cannot differentiate between MDI and Lashkar.” Hafiz Saeed, the emir of MDI and LeT, encapsulated this philosophy when he said: “Islam propounds both dawa and jihad. Both are equally important and inseparable. Since our life revolves around Islam, therefore both dawa and jihad are essential; we cannot prefer one over the other.” The group outlined eight reasons for waging violent jihad, and asserts all Muslims are required to wage or support violent jihad until these objectives are met: eliminating Muslim persecution; achieving the dominance of Islam as a way of life throughout the entire world; forcing disbelievers to pay jizya (a tax on non-Muslims); fighting those who oppress the weak and feeble; exacting revenge for the killing of any Muslim; punishing enemies for violating their oaths or treaties; defending Muslim states anywhere in the world; and recapturing occupied Muslim territory. Further, LeT considers any state that has ever experienced Muslim rule to be Islamic territory. In short, it embraces a pan-Islamist rationale for military action. Although the group views the ruling powers in Pakistan as hypocrites, the group does not support revolutionary jihad at home because the struggle in Pakistan “is not a struggle between Islam and disbelief.” According to the LeT tract Why We Do Jihad, “if we declare war against those who have professed Faith, we cannot do war with those who haven’t.” Instead, the group seeks gradual reform through dawa. The aim is to bring the people of Pakistan to LeT’s interpretation of Ahl-e-Hadith Islam and, by doing so, to transform the society in which they live.[Link]

More from Tankel’s testimony to the US Congress House Committee on Homeland Security:

In keeping with LeT’s pan-Islamist ideology some of its militants joined the jihadi caravan after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and fought on multiple open fronts during the 1990s, including in Tajikistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and possibly Chechnya. Its militants have fought in Afghanistan during this decade, and a handful also ventured to Iraq. Most importantly for LeT, is has also been fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir since 1990. The ISI began providing support for the group not long after it entered the Kashmir front, and this assistance was escalating significantly by roughly 1995. Although state support contributed to the group’s devotion to the Kashmir cause, LeT’s leaders have historically viewed Kashmir as the most legitimate open front. They argued Indian-administered Kashmir was the closest occupied land, and observed that the ratio of occupying forces to the population there was one of the highest in the world, meaning this was among the most substantial occupations of Muslim land. Thus, LeT cadres could volunteer to fight on other fronts, but were obligated to fight in Indian-administered Kashmir. However, it would be a mistake to suggest the group’s leaders viewed this simply as a territorial struggle. Rather, they asserted that Hindus were the worst of the polytheists and that the Kashmir conflict is the latest chapter in a Hindu-Muslim struggle that has existed for hundreds of years. Once Kashmir was liberated, they argued, it would serve as a base of operations to conquer India and restore Muslim rule to the Indian subcontinent.[Link]

Unlike the Hizbul Mujahideen, which still retains some Kashmiri component among its militant ranks and is based in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the LeT has no Kashmiri leadership. It is a Punjabi group, based in Pakistani Punjab. Not only has it carried out terror strikes outside Kashmir on the Indian soil — most horrendous being the one in Mumbai in November 2008 — even within the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the LeT has been more focused on the non-Kashmir region of Rajauri-Poonch. This focus on the Jammu region of the state is due to the close proximity of Rajauri-Poonch areas to Pakistani Punjab.

The description of LeT as a Kashmiri group is neither borne out of ignorance nor is it a result of laziness. This portrayal is a deliberate ploy by the Pakistan army — and its mouthpieces in the Western media — for two reasons. Firstly, it is to suggest to the West that it should leave the “Kashmiri group” LeT alone as it is not going to target them. This is part of a well-thought out strategy by the Pakistan army to protect its biggest, the most loyal, and the most valuable jehadi asset from the spotlight in the West.

Secondly, bringing Kashmir into any discussion on terror tends to draw in India into the scheme of things, which many Pakistanis think is a valid justification for supporting terror. This also leads to the hackneyed Pakistani argument that for the Pakistan army to withdraw its active support to terror, India must bow down to this blackmail and make significant concessions to Pakistan: on Kashmir, water, and myriad other bilateral issues.

This casual description of LeT is one of a pack of lies that we have often heard — and ignored — in the Western media and from Western analysts. As Pakistani army comes under greater pressure after the US military operation to eliminate bin Laden in Abbottabad, time has perhaps come to nail these manufactured lies and set the distorted narrative right.

Well tried, dear ISI — i.e., “Inter Services” Ignatius (as my colleague Nitin Pai has christened him). Hope you can do better than this deceitful chicanery next time around.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.