Pakistan groups banned but not bowed
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Pakistan submitted to the will of the international community and
cracked down on the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure - LET), already banned as
a terror outfit and linked to the Mumbai attacks last month, and the Jamaatut
Dawa, last week labeled by the United Nations Security Council as a front for
One of the more sensational arrests was that of Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, the LET's
operations chief who had been characterized as a villain in dozens of Indian
Bollywood movies; his picture was released for the first time ever to the
The Pakistani electronic media, though, were unimpressed by the
international pressure, and hit back. They showed footage of the massacre of
Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002; of atrocities committed by
Indian forces against Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir and called the
Mumbai attack a reaction from within Indian society.
At the same time, on the 37th anniversary on the fall of Dhaka and the split of
Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the media played up
Indian intelligence's proxy operations and the attack of the Indian armed
forces that resulted in the separation of East Pakistan.
In this perspective, the media were vocal against the crackdown on the LET and
the Jamaatut Dawa. They showed footage of the invaluable services rendered by
these groups, especially the Jamaatut Dawa, after the devastating earthquake in
Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 2005 and the one in Balochistan province in
Pakistan in October.
With regards to the Kashmir quake, in which officially 79,000 people died, the
media pointed out that United Nations officials and North Atlantic Treaty
Organization forces working in the region coordinated with the Jamaatut Dawa
and even justified its armed struggle for the "liberation" of
Zaid Zaman Hamid, head of the think-tank Brasstacks, which is considered to be
very close to the Pakistani military establishment, told Asia Times Online,
"There are two aspects to be understood. The people who favor Jamaatut Dawa are
doing so simply in opposition to Indian and United States designs. After
America moved a resolution in the [UN] Security Council [to outlaw Jamaatut
Dawa] it caused a lot of embarrassment to Pakistan, therefore, there is a
psychological reason and a need to counter this Indian game. Even those people,
groups and parties which disagree with Jamaatut Dawa are with it only because
India and America are against it. This is purely a geopolitical issue."
Zaid also hosts a television show in Pakistan and often appears as a defense
analyst in other shows. He is an engineer by training and was a close aid of
Northern Alliance Afghan guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was
assassinated in 2001. Zaid has direct connections with various players in the
Zaid continued, "Secondly, there is another reason [for the crackdown], and
that is the government's intention to control all relief from NGOs
[non-governmental organizations]. Now all relief NGOs feel threatened that they
could also be targeted like Jamaatut Dawa, so people are voicing their support
for the Jamaatut Dawa. Already under American pressure, Muslim charities are
under fire all over the world. Forty to 50 Muslim charities have been closed
down," said Zaid, who is termed a hawk by Indian newspapers.
“One reason to support Jamaatut Dawa is its clean record, whether or not it is
[a front for] Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jamaatut Dawa. It was never part of domestic
terrorism nor has it ever been involved in any sectarianism or sectarian
violence. The main reason for the action against Jamaatut Dawa is to malign the
ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] because the ISI is said to be behind its
formation. Trapping the ISI and the Pakistan army is the main objective and the
Jamaatut Dawa is just the bait in the process," said Zaid.
Other prominent Pakistani electronic media celebrities, such as Kamran Khan,
Hamid Mir and Mubashir Lucman, have expressed similar ideas in favor of the
Jamaatut Dawa and questioned the authorities over who will fill the vacuum in
the services it provides in the field of charity with its chain of schools and
medical clinics - no other group has similar resources.
Emergence of the LET
This sympathetic viewpoint of the Pakistani intelligentsia represents the
subconsciousness of a nation that has slowly evolved after the debacle of 1971.
Pakistan's breakup was fueled by Indian intelligence proxy operations under
which a separatist Bengali militia was built and trained in Indian West Bengal
and then launched in a war of attrition against the Pakistan army, boosted by
an Indian invasion.
Pakistan lost half its territory after the Indian intervention and despite
Pakistan being a signatory of Western defense pacts, such as the Central Treaty
Organization and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, the US and other
countries did not help Pakistan.
Three main lines of thought emerged in Pakistan's strategic quarters following
the 1971 war:
Winning a conventional war against India, which is several times bigger in size
and resources than Pakistan, is impossible.
Ensure that the country's national strategic interests would be given priority
when signing any defense agreements with Western powers.
The Pakistan army needed to be restructured on nationalist lines and with the
promotion of Islamic values to get rid of the colonial era's traditions.
Two major events took place within a few years of the 1971 debacle which helped
fine-tune these rudimentary strategies. Islamist chief of army staff General
Zia ul-Haq staged a military coup in 1977 and in 1979 the Soviet Union invaded
Afghanistan, which gave rise to the Western-sponsored Islamic resistance
against the Soviets.
Haq handed over the task of commanding the whole resistance to the ISI and
personally selected officials for this task who would be the most professional,
ideologically motivated and practicing Muslims. Later, Lieutenant General Hamid
Gul and Ameer Sultan, also known as the father of the Taliban, emerged as
strategists for the regional Islamic guerrilla struggle.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided the money and resources and
the ISI utilized these according to its military doctrine, which rotated around
two major principles: The adoption of a forward strategy under which while
fighting a guerrilla war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, Islamic
resistance groups would also be established in the Central Asian republics to
fight against communism.
The Pakistanis acknowledged that the 1,000-year Muslim rule in India was only
able to last because of its strategic depth in Central Asia; when the Mughal
rulers disconnected from this region after the death of the sixth Mughal ruler
Aurangzeb in 1707, they lost their writ in the Indian states and eventually
British rule was established.
Under these two major principles, with the American money being funneling to
aid the Afghan resistance, Pakistan started building its strategic assets in
Afghanistan to guarantee its dominance in South Asia.
These assets were non-state actors - the mujahideen. Kashmiris were groomed in
Afghan camps and then launched into Kashmir to start an indigenous Kashmiri
liberation movement in 1989. The movement was fueled by several big and small
Afghan mujahideen groups disengaging from Afghanistan and going to Kashmir.
The best of these was the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
In 1988, Abu Abdur Rahman Sareehi, a Saudi and a deputy of al-Qaeda leader
Osama bin Laden, founded an organization in the Afghan Kunar Valley which
recruited Afghan youths and Pakistanis in Bajaur Agency to fight the Soviets.
Sareehi was the brother-in-law of Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, now named by the US
Treasury and the Security Council as chief of operations for the LET. Seed
money for the training camps was provided by Bin Laden.
The organization flourished in the Kunar Valley and in Bajaur. Hundreds of
youths from Pakistan belonging to the Salafi school of thought joined the
organization, beside hundreds of Afghans.
By 1989, Bin Laden was anxious to set an agenda for global resistance, and then
in 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bin Laden offered Saudi Arabia his volunteers to
defend the country, instead of taking American help, sending details of his
resources. These clearly outlined Sareehi's setup in the Kunar Valley (before
the Taliban, an Islamic Emirates based on Salafi tenets, supported by Kuwait
and Saudi Arabia, was founded in the valley). Saudi Arabia did not take the
offer seriously and signed a military agreement with the Americans to protect
Kuwait and allowed US soldiers to be based in the kingdom.
Bin Laden, already angered by the Americans for their support of Israel,
condemned the Saudi rulers and called on the US forces to leave the holy land
or the mujahideen would carry out attacks on them. The Saudis were aware of Bin
Laden's influence in Saudi Arabia and of his considerable resources so they and
the CIA launched a joint operation to counter Bin Laden's network.
Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq, (described by the US Treasury as the main LET
financier in the 1980s and 1990s and now named by the Security Council as a
terrorist) was a Saudi intelligence proxy planted in the network.
He built up his influence in the network with Saudi money and eventually
established Markaz Dawa wal Irshaad. The name related to a renowned Saudi
office for preaching Islam. This organization was then completely hijacked by
Saudi intelligence and the CIA and later operated under the name
Lashkar-e-Taiba. After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, it renamed
itself Jamaatut Dawa and clearly distanced itself from al-Qaeda.
The ISI groomed several groups, such as the Harkat-e-Jihad-i-Islami, the
Harkatul Mujahideen and the Jaish-e-Muhammad, but none was as near or as dear
to the military establishment as the LET. There were several reasons for this.
First was the ethnic connection. Most of the Pakistan army comes from central
Punjab, as do LET members. Second, its members were extremely disciplined,
patriotic and tough fighters. In some cases, the LET was provided as good a
training as the army’s elite commando force. Indeed, the LET was groomed as a
paramilitary force to enable Pakistan to launch massive guerrilla operations in
the event India tried to engage Pakistan in conventional warfare.
The experiment was successful and Pakistan, with the help of Kashmiri
guerrillas, engaged over 800,000 Indian forces in restive Indian Kashmir. The
finest contributor was the LET.
After the brief Kargil war of May-July 1999, (when Pakistani troops and
insurgents, including those of the LET, were forced to withdraw from peaks on
the Indian side of the Line of Control that separates the two Kashmirs), the
outfit launched its suicide attacks strategy. Under this, small groups of two
to five members of fidayeen (suicide squads) would storm a security camp
or base. In another frequently used tactic, groups of LET insurgents, dressed
in security forces fatigues, would arrive at remote hill villages, round up
Hindu or Sikh civilians and massacre them. These two tactics were designed to
achieve maximum publicity and to extract public allegiance, mainly out of fear.
In coordination with groups like the ones associated with revered Pakistani
sufi Syed Mubarak Ali Gilani - to whom US reporter Daniel Pearl was desperate
to talk and was killed in the process - whose network is deep inside southern
India, the LET is the most important, unconventional strategic arm of the
Pakistani armed forces which, in the event of war, will play a major role by
providing frontline troops. The LET is estimated to have about 10,000 to 15,000
The Western media reported that after the Mumbai attacks in late November,
Indian was on the brink of conducting surgical strikes on militant camps inside
Pakistan, but stayed its hand on the advice of Indian strategic institutions
which were very cognizant of the reaction that could be expected from the LET
and non-state actors trained by Pakistan as a lesson from the fall of Dhaka in
1971. Instead, Delhi was advised to tighten the noose around Pakistan through
the United Nations.
The LET, meanwhile, though officially banned, lives on.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]