The Pakistan Supreme Court ordered Mumbai 26/11 master-plotter, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi’s further detention on January 6, 2015, referring back the case for hearing both the sides by the Islamabad High Court. It is by no means certain that the judiciary may cater to pressure in this regard for too long.
Even as a beleaguered Pakistani establishment struggles to avoid international opprobrium on his imminent release, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) seems poised to emerge in a more high profile role in 2015.
A pamphlet, ‘Jehad in the Present Times’ written by Abdus Salaam bin-Muhammad, a leading Markaz Dawat wal’Irshad (MDI) ideologue in the early 1990s enunciated LeT’s raison d’être. Eight reasons were given for waging jihad . The first objective is to end the persecution of Muslims wherever it takes place; the second and third objectives are to restore the Muslim caliphate and establish the ‘dominance of Islam’; the fourth objective is to help weak and oppressed Muslims wherever they are; the fifth ordains taking revenge for murder of fellow Muslims; the sixth entails punishment to those who violate their oaths with Muslims; the seventh objective is to ‘fight to defend’ oneself and the eighth is to recapture occupied Muslim territory. Organisations such as MDI, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and LeT understand and use the concept of jihad in the sense of ‘qatl’ or ‘killing.’
Spreading terror to India Soon after LeT’s formation, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed started presenting the jihadi discourse in Indian Kashmir as a struggle between Islam and kufr (unbelief). Kashmir was projected as the entry point but the aim was to break up the whole of India. Ahle Hadith members of MDI were asked to establish sleeper cells in different parts of India.
After the proscribing of LeT, other front names like MDI or JuD were propped up to divert focus and suggest that their work was bigger than that of LeT but its leadership has always claimed that ‘they would return to the banner of LeT one day,’ as the army the Prophet led into Mecca was also called Lashkar-e-Taiba, or the Army of Medina.
“ LeT activists claim to enjoy the support of employees of almost every government department in Pakistan ”
After Mr. Saeed was banned by the U.S., the Army connived to rebrand him as a political or social activist rather than as a terrorist engaging in violence. He has been provided security while engaging in relief work or while visiting border villages affected by the recent shelling. Mr. Saeed’s elevation through the Difa-e-Pakistan Council had another purpose. He is seen as having the right credentials for an anti-India patriot, who would not rise against the state and someone who is not motivated by sectarian differences (though a Salafist, Mr. Saeed does not support ‘Takfir’ — killing of non-believers). He provides the perfect mix of what the establishment wants: a platform to use JuD as a bulwark against radical Islamic militants attacking the state.
If Mr. Lakhvi’s release eventually materialises, it may start a leadership struggle within the organisation. It must be realised that he came to prominence within the power echelons of the MDI/LeT before Mr. Saeed did. He was one of the first Ahle Hadith volunteers to join up with other Pakistani Deobandi and Barelvi fighters in Afghanistan under the leadership of Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. They fought the Soviets in the Orgun valley of Paktika (1979-82) and later in Nooristan.
In contrast, Hafeez Mohammad Saeed and Zafar Iqbal, founding members of the MDI, had little to do with the Afghan jihad till 1985. They were teaching Islamic studies at the Lahore University College of Engineering and Technology (UET). The LeT was formed in 1993 as part of the power struggle by Mr. Saeed and Mr. Iqbal to sideline ulemas such as Allama Rashidi. The ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate) was preparing the ground for a new jihad in Indian-held Kashmir even as the Afghan jihad was losing momentum after the Soviet pull-out in 1988. It supported Mr. Saeed in this struggle.
As was first evinced in David Coleman Headley’s interrogation, younger elements in LeT may be chaffing at the bits, against the controls imposed on it after 26/11. In case of such a leadership struggle developing within, these hardened militants may plump for Mr. Lakhvi, as against an ageing Mr. Saeed.
As the deadline for withdrawal of U.S./International Security Assistance Force troops from Afghanistan passes, the ISI could also be looking for a new role for the LeT there. As Deobandi Taliban of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan ilk seem no longer under Pakistani military’s control, the aim could be to use the LeT against them, while continuing to utilise it as proxy against Indian interests in Afghanistan too, as seen in the recent attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat.
Future role Speaking to Arif Jamal, author of Call for Transnational Jihad: LeT 1985-2014 , Hussain Nadim, a faculty member of the military-run National University of Science and Technology explained the Army’s thinking on JuD. Pakistan’s security establishment categorises militant organisations into three groups: first, those that are a threat to Pakistan only; second, groups that pose a threat to both Pakistan and the US; third, groups that are a threat only to the U.S., India or any other country; LeT/ JuD fall into the third category.
This could be an erroneous expectation about how the JuD/Lashkar’s future role evolves. The Army’s support of JuD is based on a flawed belief that it would not spin out of their control, or wage jihad against Pakistan. JuD leaders have publicly held they would not stop jihad even if Indian Kashmir was ‘liberated.’
LeT activists unabashedly claim that they enjoy the support and sympathy of employees of almost every government department in Pakistan.
Though it may not be in a hurry to wage jihad in Muslim countries or go against the Pakistani state, the JuD’s long term aim is to run ‘a model Islamic State.’ They seek to acquire weapons for mass destruction capability and nuclear weapons in the long run. LeT’s younger ideologues believe that Pakistan is destined to lead the global jihad and JuD would not be averse to having an Islamic caliphate in South Asia. Though, at present, the Army leadership appears sanguine about controlling the LeT, given the JuD’s ability to systematically and diabolically pursue its plans, this may inevitably bring it into confrontation with the Pakistan Army in the days ahead.
(Rana Banerji is a former bureaucrat and a distinguished fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.)