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Monday, July 4, 2011

On Why Lashkar-e-Tayba is so Important for the Pakistani Army

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is today home to several dozen major terrorist tanzeems. These tanzeems have evolved for several decades now. Many of them appeared on the scene after the 1979-1989 period of jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet forces. They were created to send mujahideen into the Afghan theatre in the jihad against the Godless communists. A classic case of Dar-ul-Islam (Land of Islam) fighting the kufr (infidels) occupying another Dar-ul-Islam. Some other tanzeems appeared on the scene as sectarian groups to fight the Shi'a and the much detested Ahmedis (Qadianis). Yet another set of terrorist groups had appeared even earlier to fight along with the Pakistani Army (PA) in the genocide of East Pakistan in circa 1971. The very early manifestation of the Pakistani State using terror as an accepted state policy was in c. 1947 when the lashkars of the Sutti, Sudhan, Afridi and Mehsud tribes were used in the invasion and surreptitious grabbing of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir.

The civilian governments, including those headed by Prime Ministers such as Ms. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, extended all forms of support to these terrorist outfits, though they later lamented how Pakistan had slipped into anarchy because of terrorism, whenever they were out of power. All these tanzeems have had extensive support from the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID), the intelligence wing of the Pakistani armed forces, and the various units of the armed forces themselves. The ISI split them and regrouped the splinters in various permutations and combinations according to the exigencies of the situation. No group was allowed to become too big for its shoes, lest the tail wagged the ISI dog. The more or less effective management of these groups continued until the cataclysmic events of September, 11, 2001. The riot-act that Richard Armitage read out to the ISID Director-General Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed in Washington D.C. and later Gen. Powell to the Pakistani President Gen. Parvez Musharraf, changed the situation for Pakistan overnight. Pakistan was forced to redesign its strategy of support to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Soon enough, another terror event took place, this time an attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. This was preceded by a suicide car-bomb attack on the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly in Srinagar and a dry run on the Red Fort in c. 2000. These events so angered even a usually docile India that it mobilized its troops along the borders with Pakistan by January, 2002. The coercive diplomacy by India led Gen. Musharraf, who was now caught between a rock and a hard place, to make promises to India that Pakistani territory would no longer be used for sponsoring terrorism on India. He banned several organizations including Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT) in January 2002. That this was another Hudaybaya-like approach is besides the point here. Anyway, the twin reversal of state support to Taliban and Pakistan-based jihadi terrorist groups, angered them.

Gen. Musharraf's strategy was to engage with the adversaries, who were formidable indeed, in a Hudaybaya-like approach. He even mentioned that approach openly in the nationally televised speech. The capitulation by a nuclear Pakistan to the US and more shamefully to Indian threats, so angered the various tanzeems that they now considered the Pakistani armed forces (especially the Pakistani Army, PA) and its Chief, Gen. Musharraf as a munafiq (hypocrite) and an ally of the Great Satan (the term usually used by Pakistani Islamists to refer to the US). He and his Establishment therefore needed to be tackled as vigorously as the Americans, Jews and the Hindus. Either the jihadis could not understand the nuanced approach of Gen. Musharraf, or they did not have faith in him or possibly both, that they decided to confront head-on the Pakistani Establishment. Two more incidents later confirmed their suspicion of Musharraf and his state apparatus and their fury knew no bounds after these.

The first was the March, 2004 incidents at Kaloosha, near Wana in South Waziristan in an operation to reportedly capture Ayman-al-Zawahiri, Tahir Yuldashev and Nek Mohammed. The Wazir and Mehsud tribes regarded the PA operation as a 'stab in their back' and bloodied the PA inflicting very heavy losses on them. The escalating cycle of violence also turned this area completely against the PA. The economic blockade imposed by the PA worsened the situation. Al Qaeda promised the locals to 'turn South Waziristan a Kashmir'. The rest has been history with PA soldiers refusing to fight the AQ and Taliban jihadis, PA platoons surrendering to the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan) meekly, or even running away from battlefields. Gen. Musharraf's brave Army sought a series of peace deals with humiliating conditions attached to them. Gen. Musharraf himself was targetted at least thrice, with him escaping barely in each attack. His own officers from the armed forces and the police were involved in these attacks along with the jihadis. Other top officers of the armed forces have been regularly targetted and even killed. Major military installations including the General Head Quarters (GHQ), nuclear weapon-related locations, ordnance factories, military bases, vehicles and personnel, offices of intelligence agencies, and military and police recruitment and training centres have been attacked with impunity.

The 2007 Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) event in the centre of the capital city Islamabad, was another major turning point. The chain of massive suicide bombings that followed the Army commando action at Lal Masjid, some like the Marriott etched in our memory forever perhaps, made the nuclear-armed Pakistan look completely naked and vulnerable. In c. 2008, the Taliban came within 120 Kms of Islamabad before the situation was retrieved. They caused a major diplomatic embarrassment with the Chinese by abducting Chinese nationals into the Masjid.

In the meanwhile, taking advantage of the anarchy, the sectarian outfits have been regularly killing and terrorizing Ahmedis, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. The federal and provincial governments have been unable to do anything to stop them.

These attacks were by the Punjabi Taliban allied with TTP and Al Qaeda, together referred to as AQAM. The Punjabi Taliban are all Deobandi outfits. They do not include the LeT. Let's see why.

The terrorist tanzeems in Pakistan can be classified as Deobandi, Ahl-e-Hadees (or, Hadith), Berelvi or Shi'a. The most powerful of the Deobandi tanzeems are: Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami (HuJI), Jandullah, Brigade 313, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) etc. They are all sectarian outfits too with SSP being the shining lodestar of all sectarian terrorist organizations. Among the Ahl-e-Hadees groups, the only important tanzeem is the Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT).

The origins of LeT, just like any other similar group, are not well defined. It is generally believed that it was launched in 1991 in Kunar province of Afghanistan. The Ahl-e-Hadees {People of the Traditions of the Prophet} do not follow any of the four traditional Islamic schools of thought as they believe that everything is available in the Hadith and anything else is ‘imitation’. They also hate syncretism. They are also identified as Wahhabis, after ibn Abd-al-Wahhab of Saudi Arabia. Though it was announced after the c. 2002 ban on LeT that it had split into Jama'at-ud-Dawah which was involved purely in charitable work, nobody accepts this excuse and we would also treat LeT and JuD as one entity and accordingly use the terms interchangeably here. Prof. Hafeez Saeed heads the JuD and he was the head of LeT earlier. Prof. Hafeez Sayeed was a co-founder, along with Abdullah Azzam, of Maktab-al-Khidmat (Office of Service) in Peshawar in circa 1979 to help the Arab jihadis. After Azzam's assassination on Nov. 24, 1989, the Maktab became Jama'at-ud-Dawah. Prof. Hafeez Sayeed was nominated to be a member of Pakistan's Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. Gen. Zia-ul-Haq's interest in LeT flowed from his close relationship with the Saudi monarchy, for whom Jama'at-e-Islami (JI) and Makaz-Daw'a-wal-Arshad, the parent organization of LeT, were the closest in ideology of all the Islamist organizations of Pakistan. Thus a very close relationship had existed between the PA and the LeT since its inception.

An American analyst of repute, Ms. Christine Fair had recently suggested that it was the domestic compulsions of the Pakistani state that enables a continued bonding between the PA and the LeT. She attributes ideological differences as underpinning the distinction between the Punjabi Taliban (Deobandi) and the LeT. I argue below that it is inaccurate. She argues that since the Deobandis classify anybody else as 'munafiq' and since the LeT/JuD follow a more inclusivist policy of not antagonising any Muslim by such a classification, the former attack the State while the latter does not. In such a case, it needs to be exlained how the Deobandis have been able to forge a very close relationship with the wahhabi al Qaeda for decades now, a relationship that has only become stronger after c. 2001.

In Pakistan, the Ahl-e-Hadees are an insgnificant minority. For example, less than 10% of the madrasseh belong to the Ahl-e-Hadees. Even then, there are 17 Ahl-e-Hadees groups managing the affairs of this sect of Believers. So, when a new Ahl-e-Hadees group was setup by Prof. Hafeez Sayeed, they did not welcome a new entity into their fold as the space was already overcrowded, especially when the new entity enjoyed the patronage of the ISI and later the PA at the highest levels. This has remained so ever since. As Prof. Hafeez Sayeed entered the Afghan jihad scenario only towards the fag end, there was not much cause for concern among the various groups. He was also limiting himself to helping the newly arriving jihadis from Arab countries. But, when these jihadi groups were let loose on J&K by the ISI after the termination of jihad in Afghanistan in c. 1989, there arose a competition between the Deobandi groups and the lone Ahl-e-Hadees LeT. Because of a chronic shortage of Ahl-e-Hadees manpower in Pakistan, the LeT tried to swell its manpower by converting Berelvis. This has been their tactic ever since. Ahl-e-Hadees men are on constant prowl to catch vulnerable Berelvis. That was how Ajmal Amir Kasab was 'caught' in a Berelvi mosque and brainwashed. Thus, the LeT had to depend upon the ISI/PA for its growth as it was shunned by everybody else, though it was otherwise well funded by KSA and rich Saudi and other Arab individuals. The PA thus managed the core terrorist activities of the LeT such as training, planning and logistics while the LeT handled other aspects such as providing the cover for PA, recruitment, indoctrination etc. The PA today have lost the trust and hence the support of all those who were their blue-eyed boys once upon a time. They are even afraid of tackling them harshly for fear of mutiny within the PA. The recent PNS Mehran attack illustrates this dilemma. The repeated arrests and releases of Qari Saifullah Akhtar is another case in point. Even Maulana Masood Azhar whose Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) owes its creation to PA/ISI, is no longer considered a friend. Thus, the PA is left holding only one asset in its hands, namely the LeT. They have therefore been a perfect complement for each other upto this point of time. Islamist jihadi groups have a notorious propensity for internecine quarrel. Therefore, only time can tell how long this partnership between the PA and the LeT will continue even as the situation in Af-Pak region turns darker.

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