When 10 gunmen terrorised central Mumbai for three days last November, effectively holding an emerging great power to ransom, elements from within Pakistan were immediately suspected.
Mustafa Qadri investigates the organisations believed by many to have been behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks
When 10 gunmen terrorised central Mumbai for three days last November, effectively holding an emerging great power to ransom, elements from within Pakistan were immediately suspected. No other single event has so focused the world’s attention on the international threat posed by militancy in Pakistan.
Indian authorities claimed that Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone gunman captured alive at Mumbai, was a Pakistani with links to the banned militant organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba. But it took Pakistan more than a month to agree that Kasab was Pakistani. The admission, finally made by Minister for Information Sherry Rehman on 9 January, followed weeks of public denials of any link between Pakistan and the Mumbai attacks.
The conflicting signals reflect the tensions within Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership as to the most appropriate response to the crisis. According to a senior army officer contacted by The Diplomat, civilian authorities have been put under pressure to avoid scrutiny of possible Pakistan military intelligence links in the attacks, even if they are indirect.
The ensuing saga, which continues with Pakistan now admitting the attacks were partly planned on its soil, has brought to light an organisation hitherto little known outside the subcontinent. Lashkar-e-Toiba, or Army of the Pure, has been implicated in several attacks in India, including a daring and deadly December 2001 assault on the Indian parliamentary quarter in New Delhi. Then, as with Mumbai, in what have been described as ‘fidayeen’ attacks, the gunmen sought to maximise casualties and continue their assault until killed.
Lashkar-e-Toiba was established in the late 1980s with assistance from Pakistan’s powerful covert operations agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Thanks to massive United States largesse, the ISI became a semi-independent institution answerable only to the army’s top brass. Although that funding was aimed at training and arming mujahidin to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Pakistan army soon concluded that this same militancy could serve their interests in the unending clash over Indian-controlled Kashmir.
‘The army realised – if it worked so well in Afghanistan, why not use [the same militants] to fight Pakistan’s wars,’ explains Farrukh Saleem from the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.
Lashkar-e-Toiba, an offshoot of the religious welfare organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa, was created precisely for this purpose. The Line of Control separating Indian and Pakistani Kashmir is one of the most militarised on the planet. Conventional wars in the region, of which the two countries have already fought three, have inevitably ended in stalemate.
In contrast, Jihadi militias like Lashkar are able to cross the border with a minimum of equipment, wreaking havoc and terrifying Indian soldiers before either being killed or melting back into Pakistan. ‘All we had was some provisions, our rucksacks and Kalashnikovs,’ recalls Shakeel (not his real name), one such militant who narrowly escaped capture by Indian soldiers after his squad was encircled deep inside Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Ever since Mumbai, Pakistan has been under extreme pressure, particularly from the United States and India, to crack down on Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-e-Toiba. Both have been listed as terrorist organisations by Pakistan and the United Nations Security Council.
Crackdown is ‘cosmetic’
In December 2008, shortly after Mumbai, authorities arrested most of Jamaat and Lashkar’s senior members, including Jamaat’s founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, and key Lashkar commanders Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah. According to a January report in the Wall Street Journal, both Shah and Lakhvi confessed to involvement in the Mumbai attacks under interrogation from Pakistani authorities. The US also claims to have intercepted phone calls between Shah and one of the attackers at the Taj Mahal hotel.
Whether their arrests will lead to an end to the organisations’ operations or their links to the Pakistan army remains unclear. Saeed was also placed under house arrest after the 2001 attacks in New Delhi, but was released a year later, once international attention subsided.
Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani security analyst, believes Pakistan’s response to Mumbai is largely cosmetic. Her seminal book, Military Inc., lifted the lid on the Pakistan army’s cronyism and graft, methodically documenting the manner and means with which it effectively controls the country.
‘There is no shift in the relationship between militant organisations and Pakistan,’ Siddiqa says. ‘The crackdown was a drama.’
Yet, at present, Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s welfare activities, which have no direct relationship with Lashkar-e-Toiba’s militancy, remain entirely frozen. ‘Jamaat-ud-Dawa is a welfare organisation, they are not terrorists,’ argues Emir Mohammed Husain Mehanti, a leader of Pakistan’s largest and relatively moderate mainstream religious political party, Jamaat-e-Islami. ‘Because of the [Security Council's and Pakistan's] ban, hospitals, schools, clinics, all have been closed down. What happens to the women and children, the people who depend on these services?’
Hafiz Mohammad Saeed is a popular figure in Pakistan, not least because of Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s charitable work throughout the poverty-stricken country. Jamaat volunteers, for instance, were the first to assist victims of the October 2005 earthquakes in Pakistani Kashmir, which killed more than 70,000. ‘In some places they [were] even rescuing [Pakistan army] soldiers from their [devastated] outposts,’ recalls a senior bureaucrat.
Markaz Dawa Wal Irshad, the forerunner to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, was founded around 1987 by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed in the midst of strong Pakistani support for anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan. It began as a religious seminary, teaching the same kind of ideology that inspired young Pakistani men to fight in Afghanistan. Saeed, a professor at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, along with fellow professor Zafar Iqbal, created a massive religious colony in the town of Muridke just outside Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province in Pakistan.
The complex was meant to rival Atchison College, the British-era grammar school where the Punjab’s elite sent their sons. The difference was, Muridke offered students a rigid interpretation of the salafist school of Islamic thought that originates from the Arabian peninsula, not a secular education based on the British public school model.
Fearing a crackdown on Lashkar, which was eventually banned by Pakistan and the international community in the wake of the 11 September, 2001, attacks on the United States, Saeed channelled Markaz’s welfare activities into a new umbrella organisation named Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Until the crackdowns occurred in December last year, Hafiz Saeed and Jaamat’s other preachers spoke widely and vociferously against India and the West.
Jamaat’s offices throughout Pakistan have now been shut down and its members have gone into hiding, although they remain under close surveillance by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Even as The Diplomat interviewed a member of Lashkar-e-Toiba (see page 24) at an inner city madrassa (school), a towering man in a traditional shalwar kamees tunic kept a watchful gaze and proceeded to contact someone on his mobile phone.
At the end of the interview, the tall figure vanished into the crowd.
‘MY DUTY’ — INTERVIEW WITH A LASHKAR JIHADIST
What is the aim of Jamaat-ud-Dawa?
To speak God’s name and to wage jihad [struggle] with anyone who challenges Qur’an.
Who are your enemies?
Those who do not follow the Qur’an [the Muslim holy book]. Every day the infidels are growing [stronger]. Our duty is to end this infiltration [of Pakistan and other Muslim societies by outside influences].
But isn’t India’s presence in Kashmir your main focus?
Of course it is, [but] the infidels are everywhere! This [India and Kashmir] is only one region where we must fight jihad.
Tell me about Jamaat’s membership.
If you go to the mosque and tell people to go [fight] for jihad, no one will come because they are scared. Members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa are those who are willing to fight. Only those who fear nothing but God, who are willing to fight for God’s laws, [are allowed to join] Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Are Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-e-Toiba the same entity?
Of course! When we do jihad we change our names from Jamaat-ud-Dawa to Lashkar-e-Toiba. However, it is not necessary for all [our members] to be involved in combat. By the grace of God we have many capable people who help in different ways.
Could you give us an example of things your organisation does besides waging jihad?
Most of what we [as Jamaat-ud-Dawa] do is welfare or zakaat [one of the five pillars of Islam whereby a Muslim is obliged to give alms to the poor]. Everyone knows about [the school complex in] Muridke, [but] we have several other schools and welfare centres. We also provide food and dispense medicine.
What is the relationship between Lashkar-e-Toiba and Pakistan?
Everybody [in Pakistan] has a responsibility to fight jihad. Whenever there is [a need for] someone to fight for Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Toiba is the first to respond, [even] before the Pakistan army. In fact, the Pakistan army itself sends [Lashkar-e-Toiba] first.
Was Lashkar-e-Toiba involved in the Mumbai attacks?
Who can say who was behind the Mumbai attacks? A Muslim could not kill innocents. Muslims think of [non-Muslims], too. Islam does not permit this kind of wanton attack. And what do you gain from doing this? God will not honour [the Mumbai attackers] in heaven, so what benefit is there in doing it?
Are you involved in Jamaat-ud-Dawa at the moment?
Right now there are no Jamaat-ud-Dawa activities because they have been cancelled by our leadership [because of the clamp down by Pakistan government authorities]. Right now I am teaching Qur’an at this madrassa.
Where to from here for Jamaat-ud-Dawa?
We don’t know what the future holds for Jamaat-ud-Dawa. They may have closed us down. But the jihad will continue.