Category Archives: LeT

Violence Returns to Pakistan’s Major Cities



At dawn July 12, militants raided a prison guard residence in Lahore, Pakistan, leaving nine staff members dead and three more wounded. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the guards had mistreated prisoners who were members of the Pakistani militant group. The raid came just three days after militants ambushed an army camp in the district of Gujrat, killing seven soldiers and one police officer who were searching for a missing helicopter pilot. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan also claimed that attack.

Over the last two years, Pakistan has had something of a respite from dramatic attacks such as those that plagued the country from 2007 to 2010. During those years, a series of high-profile and highly disruptive attacks against police, army and intelligence targets challenged the government’s ability to control the country. The attacks occurred in Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, in cities such as Lahore and in the capital, Islamabad.

While suicide bombings and attacks in Pakistan’s troubled northwest (along the border with Afghanistan) have continued apace since 2010, major attacks in Pakistan’s Punjab-Sindh core have essentially ceased. The sole instance of dramatic violence involving government targets outside of the northwest since 2010 was an attack on a naval station near Karachi following the death of Osama bin Laden.

Despite the break from violence in Pakistan’s major cities, many of the same conditions present during the wave of attacks from 2007 to 2010 remain. Another escalation in violence is very possible, especially in Pakistan’s volatile climate and with elections coming up.

Timing of the Attacks

The two attacks (along with numerous other attacks and an attempted assassination) came the week after Pakistan formally reopened NATO supply routes through the country to Afghanistan. The supply routes had been closed for more than seven months after a deadly cross-border attack by U.S. forces in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The day the routes reopened, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan told journalists it would attack trucks carrying NATO supplies in protest.

But rather than an impetus for attacks, the reopening of the supply line is more likely a political opportunity for the Pakistani Taliban militants to promote anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. The NATO supply line is one of the most visible products of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and some political opposition groups have criticized the Pakistani government for helping Washington while the U.S. military conducted strikes killing mostly Pakistanis along the border with Afghanistan. By opposing the NATO supply line, the Pakistani Taliban militants are able to generate popular support across Pakistan.

The seven-month closure of the supply line gave NATO and the United States a chance to prove that they can use the Northern Distribution Network to bypass Pakistan. During the shutdown, there was no evidence in Afghanistan of an attempt to exploit the closed route, so it is hard to argue that the Afghan Taliban (or their Pakistani peers) gained any material advantages from the shutdown. If anything, the Pakistani Taliban militants can benefit from the supply route’s opening; the trucks are easy targets for looters and can provide revenue and supplies for militants in Pakistan’s northwest, and the militants can exact extortion payments from transportation companies.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s real motivation for resuming attacks in Punjab after a two-year hiatus is more complicated than the reopening of the NATO supply line. It involves a remote geographic region of Pakistan that has been dragged into the 10-year-old Afghanistan War, a struggling Pakistani economy, distrust of Pakistan’s current government and upcoming elections that are seen as an opportunity to address grievances against Islamabad. Most of these grievances are the same complaints that drove the violence from 2007 to 2010, when militant activities in Pakistan peaked. Since 2009, however, military forces have moved into many of the militant havens in Pakistan’s northwest, denying the Pakistani Taliban forces sanctuary. But this is not a permanent solution to Pakistan’s internal rifts.

The Broader Context

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is based in the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the Pakistani northwest. During the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, Pakistan and the United States used Islam as the ideological motivation to rally militias in the border region to oppose the Soviet occupation. The United States turned its attention elsewhere after the Soviets withdrew, leaving Pakistan to manage a complex network of militants. Islamabad attempted to use these militants as proxies during the 1990s to exercise influence in Afghanistan and India.

But after 2001, the United States pressured Pakistan to restrain its militant proxies in Afghanistan in order to support the U.S. war against Islamist militancy. After a few years of wavering, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf did crack down on these groups’ leaders in Pakistan, beginning with the Red Mosque siege in 2007. It soon became apparent that the militant groups were more autonomous than believed. By 2009, radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah claimed the district of Swat as an Islamic emirate, threatening Pakistan’s territorial integrity within roughly 320 kilometers (200 miles) of the capital.

The Pakistani Taliban militants made it clear that their goal was to take over the Pakistani state, beginning in the mountains surrounding the Indus River Valley. This led the government to deploy forces to Swat in April 2010. These forces expanded their offensive to South Waziristan later that year and by the end of 2010, they had gone into every single district of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas save North Waziristan. Since the army’s operations in South Waziristan, one of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s strongest sanctuaries, militant attacks in Punjab have decreased.

The United States launched operations parallel with Pakistan’s, targeting Pakistani Taliban militant leaders using unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in North and South Waziristan. These strikes disrupted the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s leadership structure and likely affected the group’s ability to organize, train and conduct attacks in Pakistan’s core. Such disruptions would certainly affect the Pakistani Taliban militants’ ability to construct and deploy very large bombs, such as vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. The attacks in Gujrat and Lahore were both simple, involving gunmen on motorcycles. Such tactics do not require elaborate training or preparation and can be staged easily in Pakistan’s core.

Although its capabilities might be diminished, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has not disappeared. Fazlullah recently indicated that he and his forces are intent on retaking Swat from the military. Fazlullah and his followers based in neighboring Afghanistan’s Kunar province periodically have conducted cross-border raids against military outposts in Pakistan’s Dir district. Because of the continuing threat, the Pakistani military does not appear to be anywhere close to withdrawing troops from the area. Pakistan’s chief of army staff confirmed as recently as July 7 that troops are staying in the northwest.

Between the international economic turmoil and the parallel dynamics of a democratic uprising and jihadist insurgency that led to the fall of the Musharraf regime, Pakistan has been in dire economic straits since 2008. Chronic energy shortages, high military spending related to the counterinsurgency campaign and revenue shortfalls led Islamabad to sign an $11.3 billion package with the International Monetary Fund three years ago. However, in the last half of 2011, the fund withheld the final tranche of more than $3 billion largely because Islamabad had failed to take steps to reduce its budget deficit. (At the time, Pakistan, sensing slightly better economic growth and an inability to comply with the fund’s stringent budgetary demands, decided to pursue its own fiscal reform program.)

More recently, Islamabad has been forced to return to the IMF for a new loan arrangement to keep from defaulting on the existing loan. As with other countries implementing austerity measures in order to balance their budgets and qualify for outside help, the Pakistanis are finding that applying austerity measures hurts political popularity. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan will exploit this situation by pointing out the costs of deploying tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers to the northwest to combat militants.

Moreover, Pakistan’s supreme court is challenging Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on corruption charges. Zardari faces allegations that he embezzled millions of dollars from the Pakistani financial institution when his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister.

Whether Zardari embezzled the money is somewhat irrelevant, since the case has been elevated to a political dispute between the executive and judicial branches of the Pakistani government over the limits of executive immunity and how much authority the supreme court has over the president. This is no insignificant challenge; the judicial branch politically damaged Musharraf during his presidency after he fired Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in 2007. Zardari’s current difficulty with the supreme court indicates that the political struggles between the two branches have not been resolved. The rift opened up by the legal conflict allows other parties to gain political support at the expense of Zardari and his ruling Pakistan People’s Party.

Even though the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan favors the adaptation of an extremely austere interpretation of Sharia to Pakistan’s current legal system, it is savvy enough to see a political opening and exploit it. The Pakistani Taliban militants will use Zardari’s case to paint the country’s politicians as corrupt and untrustworthy. Elections are slated for the first half of 2013 but could be held as early as the next quarter of 2012, given the mounting political crisis in the country. With the political environment in flux, this is the time for various elements to assert themselves to get attention from the political parties. The stronger the Pakistani Taliban militants can make their case, the more pressure they can put on any future government to relax military deployments in the northwest.

The Military as a Temporary Fix

Many factors in Pakistan have not changed since the spate of attacks from 2007 to 2010. The United States is still trying to negotiate the terms for its withdrawal from Afghanistan, and those terms depend on Pakistan’s ability (and willingness) to keep security in Afghanistan on its current track. The withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan will create a major security crisis for Pakistan, which is weakened and is racing to stabilize its side of the border before the 2014 deadline. The United States’ negotiations with the Taliban and with Pakistan are not making much progress right now, but the sooner Pakistan can get militants along the border under control, the stronger its negotiating position with the United States will be. The Pashtun tribes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border — the area from which the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan came — will certainly want a say in matters. Without meaningful political power, these groups will use violence to negotiate with Islamabad.

And as long as there are Pakistanis displeased with the regime and the economic situation, there will be Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan sympathizers in Punjab who support more radical change. These individuals provide the network and motivation for continuing attacks against the Pakistani government.

Military deployments to northwest Pakistan have kept militants in check for the past couple of years (at least in Punjab state), but that is not exactly a long-term solution. The military was supposed to provide security in Pakistan’s northwest to allow the civilian administrations to regain control of the districts. However, the federal and provincial governments have made little progress in reviving civil government at the municipal and district levels in Swat and the surrounding region. Meanwhile, the military continues to battle militants in the tribal badlands for which Islamabad lacks a political strategy, relying instead on the military’s continued presence.

Domestic military deployments are rarely popular and, though sometimes necessary for short periods, eventually become self-defeating and a drain on resources. Right now, Pakistan’s military presence in the country’s northwest is backed only by a feeble government. The lead-up to Pakistan’s elections is an opportunity for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to make its case against internal military deployments. Should Islamabad’s political will shift and the military lose its advantage in the northwest, the militants could continue their campaign in Pakistan’s core, returning to high-profile, disruptive attacks.

Violence Returns to Pakistan’s Major Cities is republished with permission of Stratfor.”


American journalist Sebastian Rotella’s twin exposes in ProPublica – America’s botched chances to stop the American Lashkar operative David Coleman Headley behind India’s 9/11 and LeT operational head, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi’s jail life with all the trappings of status guest status, have coincided with the release in India of journalist Wilson John’s new book titled “The Caliphate’s Soldiers: The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s Long War”.  Read both works together. It becomes clear that despite investing the title of Man of Peace on the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, and despite intense global scrutiny and sanctions, Lashkar-e-Toiba remains a grave threat to the world than ever before not only to the immediate neighbours of the ‘land of pure’ as Pakistan would like to project itself but to the entire world.

The LeT is more complex and orthodox to the core than even the Haqqani network, with which the Americans are disparate to hold talks or the Taliban with which Pakistan’s establishment is going through the motions of a dialogue for peace in an apparent bid to misguide the ears on the ground and eyes in the sky.

Sebastian and Wilson look at the Lashkar-e-Toiba phenomenon through different prisms; the American’s concern is how and why Pakistan army chief Gen Kayani is disregarding US concerns over LeT particularly Zak-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Headley. The Indian scholar goes beyond the headline and comes up with a scholarly work on LeT to add another feather to his cap as the only thorough bred terrorism expert in this part of the world, who has made the world to sit up and put on the thinking cap.

Though the Americans were loath to admit in public until the recent Mullen outburst, the US-Pakistan relationship has been strained because of LeT and its 2008 Mumbai attacks.  The state guest status that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi enjoyed ever since he was placed under custody to assuage world opinion did not help matters either. One of the luxuries accorded to Lakhvi is access to the outside world and with a mobile phone he is conducting LeT operations without hindrance. American officials took up the issue with Gen Kayani, and he rejected the request, says Sebastian, quoting a memo addressed to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and America’s National Security Council.

What about Headley, the half-Pakistani-half American, who is known to have juggled allegiances with militant groups, slipped with effortless ease through American cracks, and manipulated and betrayed wives, friends and allies? Official America is less than honest in sharing the unprecedented confessions he had reportedly made opening a door into the secret world of terrorism and counterterrorism in South Asia and America.

Why Washington acted in the way it did on the issue is linked to its fond hope of arm-twisting Pakistan to do its bidding in North Waziristan to tame the Haqqanis and Afghan and Pakistan Taliban.  The mission was doomed to fail and it had failed with the high-decibel interaction between the US and Pakistan offering a mild distraction.

Sebastian’s investigation report in ProPublica fills some gaps in the narrative by looking at Hedley’s past, particularly his growing up years in Pakistan as a devout Muslim, an enthusiastic jihadi, a young ideologue of Lashkar-e-Toiba and privileged informant for the US drug enforcement.  But real key to understanding the Headley phenomenon comes from looking at the bigger picture which has come to be identified with the LeT phenomenon.   And this is the canvas of Wilson John’s labours. His conclusion is disturbing to say the least as the LeT has been maintaining a very low profile and appears engaged in Dawa (religious preaching) activities through paid workers since the Mumbai attacks.

There are no visible signs of any disruption in the `strategic partnership` of LeT with the Pakistan army and ISI. Nor are there any visible signs of the Pakistani state ‘disengaging with’, and ‘dismantling the terrorist group’, according to the author.  In his assessment, Let remains the world’s most powerful, and resourceful, multi-national terrorist group. It is this what makes terrorist attacks directly carried out by LeT or by its proxies in India and elsewhere in the world a possibility and the threat will remain quite high in the coming years. ‘At least some of these attacks would be spectacular in visibility and impact, and will carry the potential of triggering a military conflict in the region’, Wilson opines.

With over 50,000 armed cadres trained in guerrilla warfare, intelligence gathering, explosives, and sabotage, LeT has a unique leverage vis-a-vis Pakistan military hierarchy. In fact, it has become a reliable military reserve force that can be outsourced work by the Pakistan Army like it did during the Kargil war waged by then army chief Gen Musharraf.

Today, , LeT runs scores of training centres in Khyber Pakhtunkhwah, Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and POK. The objective is to have an office and centre in every district of Pakistan.  LeT spends about $330 per trainee for the daura-e-aam course (basic) and about $1700 per trainee in the more advanced three-month daura-e-khaas course.  Its operational bill is over $5 million a year.

Pakistan Army and ISI reimburse the bill on training camps, and launching of attacks on India and Afghanistan.  Herald magazine from the stable of Pakistan’s most respected and sedate daily, Dawn,  reported in June 2006 that ISI pay off was as much as $50,000 -60000 every month. LeT also manages for a fee the terrorist campaigns of Pakistan Army/ISI and the extremist agenda of anonymous patrons in West Asia.

The other key source of LeT money is Islamic charities across the world, particularly those based in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Inside Pakistan, LeT acts primarily as a dawa group promoting a radical interpretation of Islam much on the lines of its Wahhabi patrons in Saudi Arabia and UAE. This alliance brings the group an enormous amount of petro-dollars as donations   to its madrasas and mosques in Punjab. A 2008 US estimate put this annual munificence at over $100 million a year. Some Pakistani business houses in Punjab have been supporting the group’s terrorist activities by giving money and food articles for the recruits.

Wilson John’s study brings to light another lesser known facet of Lashkar-e-Toiba. The group’s wide-ranging terrorist activities flourish under the guise of various charity organisations and trusts. These are not driven by any domestic agenda but a broader goal of establishing a Caliphate through jihad. It goes about the task in four ways though on a low key.

One it runs recruitment centres out of mosques, book shops, and social-welfare centres sprinkled across Pakistan. Two it taps kinship networks of maulvis, local terrorist/extremist allies, Afghan Jihad associates and its own alumni in South Asia.  Three it recruits bright faces in the West through allied or proxy groups in the home countries.  A former soldier, Sajid Mir, heads a well-funded external recruitment wing at the LeT headquarters.  Four, it has become a terror consultancy with military officials – retired, dismissed or resigned in its ranks.

Aftermath of a terrorist attack in Quetta

By the late 90s, LeT had set up its main training campus at Baitul Mujahideen near Shawai Nala in Muzaffarabad (PoK). The campus was expanded by 2001 to house several hundred recruits at any time. The training syllabus was overhauled under the supervision of former and current ISI and Army officers. Specialised courses were introduced, among them: intelligence gathering; communication technology; sabotage; and managing interrogation.   American authorities are aware of the danger posed by LeT’s global recruitment and consultancy. In-house research carried out by New York University’s Centre on Law and Security has brought into sharp focus how American citizens or residents had travelled to an overseas training camp or war zone since 9/11.

Simultaneously, LeT has been acting as an agent for al Qaeda and the Taliban to train their new cadres, procure weapons, and generate funds and give them protection. Result is that emergence of unparalleled jihadi alumni in as many as 22 countries and the ripples of the wave are being felt across many parts of the world. While it would be difficult to arrive at even a rough estimate of their numbers, it is fair to suggest that it would go beyond a few thousand, according to Wilson Johan. Difficult to disagree with his conclusion after seeing the spread of LeT tentacles through South Asia, and the emergence of double deep cover agents like David Headley in America, which has become the hate symbol for the jihadis of all hues.

Says Wilson: “This ability to infiltrate and implant agents far away from its natural harbour in Pakistan—and its capacity and willingness to train terrorists from different groups and nationalities, even individuals—strongly raises the possibility of LeT or any of its proxies, alumni, or trained cadre, executing a spectacular terrorist attack on the US homeland, or in any other western capital…in other words, LeT today has the operational capability, reach and resources to carry out an attack of the magnitude of 9/11 anywhere in the world”.

What makes LeT a greater threat than other outfits is its BPO service to eliminate other sectarian/extremist/militant groups which take on the Pakistan Army and  run protest campaigns, hold conferences and public meetings for the army, to create and shape public opinion especially against India and the US.  (Syndicate Features)

(* the author is a columnist on South Asian issues and terrorism)