BOOK REVIEW Lashkar-e-Toiba - safe at home Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Toiba by Stephen
Reviewed by Brian M Downing
There are a dozen or more militant groups operating today along the AfPak
frontier. Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) remained relatively unknown outside of the
region and a few intelligence circles until it launched a murderous attack in
Mumbai in December 2008. That brought closer attention to LeT and to the
relationship between similar groups and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence
Since then, attention to this relationship has only intensified as Osama bin
Laden was found ensconced near a Pakistani military facility in Abbottabad, ISI
blocked negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul, and a noted Pakistani
journalist - Asia Times
Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief, Syed Saleem Shazhad - was murdered after
reporting on al-Qaeda ties with the Pakistani army. Tankel's book, then, is
quite timely. It is also one of the finest studies of a jihadist organization
LeT's social origins lie in Pakistan's fusion of nationalism and Islam in the
service of maintaining national unity and opposing India. Indeed, Pakistani
nationalism and hostility toward India have been intertwined since the 1947
partition of British India. Schools, mosques, and government agencies alike
instill abiding hostility toward India, especially in regard to the occupation
of Kashmir. They also seek to weaken separatist sentiment in the Northwest
Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal agencies (FATA), where many Pashtuns saw
themselves as unjustly taken from their natural homeland of Afghanistan in
Institutionally, LeT emerged out of Pakistanis who fought the Soviet Union in
eastern Afghanistan and who after the war coalesced into a group of military,
political, and social service organizations geared toward promoting their
austere form of Islam (Ahl-e-Hadith) and fighting the Indian presence in
Kashmir. Significantly, LeT retained its training camps in eastern Afghanistan
after the war.
Demographically, LeT's rank and file are drawn from the lower middle classes
and are above average in education. (In this respect they are similar to the
mujahideen and al-Qaeda volunteers we know of.) They come chiefly from the
Punjab and NWFP, though LeT also recruits from the diaspora of Pakistanis and
Indian Muslims in the Gulf and Great Britain. Recruits are paid the equivalent
of 100-200 euros a month (US$130-$280) and given separation pay of 3,000-5,000
euros for each year of service - enviable wages in many parts of the world and
a princely sum for most Pakistanis. LeT draws its money from indigenous private
benefactors, private Wahhabi donors, and of course from the large and
munificent coffers of the ISI.
Like Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and Palestine respectively, LeT and its
related entities operate an array of social services, including education,
mosque construction, and medical treatment. Its less humanitarian elements
conduct attacks and bombings in Indian-administered Kashmir and inside India
itself, but it has also sent fighters into Bosnia, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan,
where it works with the Haqqani network to attack US and Indian targets.
International in aspirations, it has established ties with like-minded groups
throughout the sub-continent and Central Asia. All in all, LeT proved to be one
of ISI's more dependable proxies. To a significant extent, it still is.
Pakistan's connections to LeT and the dozen or more kindred groups along the
AfPak frontier - including the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda - became a source of
embarrassment if not dismay once al-Qaeda struck the US in September 2001. If
the US sided with India to fight Pakistan's client groups and their army
supporters, Pakistan's security would be jeopardized as never before.
Pakistan - Tankel often avoids pointing specifically to the army or ISI - opted
for a duplicitous policy of short-lived breaks with its client groups or merely
limiting the number and severity of their attacks, while purporting to be the
US's partner against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Reining in LeT and its like, though not eliminating them, allowed Pakistan to
keep forces-in-being for its long-term efforts in Kashmir. This had adverse,
though perhaps not unforeseeable, consequences. Many client groups saw
Pakistan's cooperation with the US as a betrayal, and diverted their violent
practices against their former benefactors. And so the Pakistani Taliban (TTP)
came into existence.
By and large, however, LeT remained loyal to its benefactors, but it risked
desertions should it become too inactive. Some fighters shifted to fighting the
US in Afghanistan and Iraq as well and may also have played supporting roles in
the 2005 London train bombings. Others became persuaded of the TTP view that
the Pakistani government was now an ally of the US. LeT may have been involved
in attempts to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf.
LeT's activities in India declined sharply a year or so after the September 11,
2001, al-Qaeda attacks on the US and the attack on the Indian parliament a few
months later, in which LeT took part. Several years later, however, LeT began
to plan and train for what would become the 2008 Mumbai attack, which killed
166 people and wreaked havoc on a landmark hotel, Western tourist spots, and a
Jewish community center, signaling a greater movement away from a
Kashmir-centric agenda and toward a global-jihadist one.
Making use of Indian intelligence, interrogations of two LeT captives, and
other open sources, Tankel details the Mumbai operation and ISI's involvement
with planning and training for it. Why did ISI break from its post-9/11
position of limiting the number and scale of operations against India? Tankel
interprets ISI's involvement in the Mumbai attack as stemming from ISI's
concerns that a large-scale operation was needed to keep LeT intact and
indisposed to joining TTP attacks on the Pakistani army and state.
Tankel concludes that, despite Mumbai and similar terrorist acts, LeT is
reasonably secure inside Pakistan and does not at present risk facing a
showdown with security forces. LeT remains a useful lever at the disposal of
the army in the conflict with India; its social service network is popular with
the public; and thus far it has eschewed generally siding with the TTP against
the army and state.
LeT has been primarily engaged against India, but after the attacks in London
and Mumbai, LeT's aspirations of becoming a global-jihadi force have become
both more apparent and more ominous.
Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Toiba by Stephen
Tankel. (C Hurst and Co, London, 2011). ISBN-10: 184904046X. Price US$100, 364
Brian M Downing is a political/military analyst and author of The
Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and
Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at
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