“LeT may benefit from Indo-Pak. tensions”

Stephen Tankel says the LeT has uses for the Pakistani state both externally and internally.— Photo: V. Sudershan

Stephen Tankel says the LeT has uses for the Pakistani state both externally and internally.— Photo: V. Sudershan  

Sounding a warning over the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s plans to “indigenise” its operations in Jammu and Kashmir, a U.S. expert on the LeT says the group responsible for the Mumbai 26/11 attacks could benefit from tensions between India and Pakistan. “Even when I had spoken to members of the LeT earlier, they had confirmed that they were looking to “get things going”.

“I do not believe we are going to see a return to the levels of violence we saw in Kashmir during the 1990s or post-2000. What we might see and what we are seeing is a rise from a few years ago,” says Professor Stephen Tankel, who has written a book on the LeT’s rise, and was appointed senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Defence for 2014.

Significantly, Dr. Tankel says he has seen “no evidence” of a “strategic shift” in the Pakistani establishment’s support for the LeT and its leader Hafiz Saeed after the Peshawar massacre in December.

In the aftermath of the brutal attack that saw the death of more than 140 schoolchildren, Islamabad had drawn up a “National Action Plan” vowing to crack down on all terror groups.

“LeT has uses for the Pakistani state both externally and internally,” Dr. Tankel told The Hindu in an interview, explaining why no crackdown has occurred on the LeT.

“LeT doesn’t support attacks on Pakistan, it provides intelligence about the other militant groups, it has been used to attack other groups such as the TTP [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan]. It has internal utility as a result.” However, he does feel there is a “debate within the establishment” over whether groups such as the LeT should be cut off by the state, while the Army was clearly going after groups such as the TTP and the LeJ [Lashkar-e-Jhangvi] in recent months. The Pakistani government has always denied that it provides any support to the LeT and its off-shoot, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, claiming that it had banned the organisations on several occasions.

“U.S. can’t wave

a magic wand”

Dr. Tankel rejects the idea held by many in India that the U.S. has focussed more on Pakistani action against the Haqqani network that attacks its troops in Afghanistan than it does the LeT that targets India. “The U.S. can’t wave a magic wand and get Pakistan to take certain actions,” Dr. Tankel replied to a specific question about the ease of mobility for Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, and a lenient plea bargain to 26/11 conspirator David Headley in the U.S.

“The Haqqanis have attacked the U.S. primarily; so they do get more focus. But the U.S. has pressured Pakistan to prosecute the LeT, restrain them from further attacks, and to take actions against their leaders,” he says.

Based on his study of the group in Pakistan and operatives in Europe and other countries, Dr. Tankel says there are growing divisions within the LeT, including on the succession plan for Hafiz Saeed.

“I think there are divisions in the LeT between those who want to push for political influence in Pakistani society, and those who want to stick to militancy. Also those who want to globalise, and those who don’t. There are those more willing to abide by state diktats, and some who want to fight the state. And then there is the generational shift,” he says explaining that the group could face pressure from those such as the Islamic State.

He says that as a result, an “Osama-style” operation against Hafiz Saeed may not actually shut down the LeT’s operations against India.

“Any plan of Indian operatives targeting Hafiz Saeed would have a very destabilising effect on the region. So I can’t suggest it. I would just say the costs and benefits have to be weighed,” Dr. Tankel, who is writing a second book about the U.S.’s counter-terrorism partners, said.

The terror outfit looking to “get things going”

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