Is Lashkar-e-Taiba Turning Against Pakistan?

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Is Lashkar-e-Taiba Turning Against Pakistan?

Reports suggest the world’s other great terror menace may be tiring of its key enablers, writes Rajeev Sharma.

Pakistan watchers in India are following the Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba closely.

No wonder.

Long seen as India’s biggest bugbear, the LeT, suspected to have ties to Pakistan’s defense establishment, may now be turning against its master, diplomatic and security sources told The Diplomat.

The latest Indian assessment of the LeT is apparently based on defiant posturing of its founder and alleged chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed on several key issues. This has raised serious questions about the terrorist group’s growing ambitions and brazenness. Saeed is reportedly unhappy with the Pakistan Army’s attitude. He believes that LeT has done more than any other terrorist group to promote the army’s strategic interest but has got back precious little. His group has not only trained recruits for jihad in Kashmir but also carried out some spectacular attacks against India, in addition to training cadres for the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Any sign of the terror group turning away from Pakistan has the potential to threaten Pakistan’s own security and broad interests. But it would also have important implications for India.

Saeed’s biggest grouse against the Pakistan army is that it wanted him to lie low, as Rawalpindi has needed a breather from unrelenting pressure from the international community. He responded by stepping up his anti-U.S. ranting and publicly called for jihad not only against India but also the U.S. In April, 2012, Saeed dared the U.S. to arrest him and said so while addressing a large gathering at his headquarters in Jamia Markaz al-Qadsia: “They are scared of my name. America should leave Pakistan and Afghanistan peacefully. Then, we will not come to you with guns but will instead invite you to Islam“.

Saeed has now taken up the leadership of Difa-e-Pakistan, an umbrella council of 40-odd extremist groups, which is gearing up to stake a political claim with generous assistance from ISI. Saeed has not only been leading the group but also addressing its rallies across Pakistan, venting spleen as usual on India and the U.S. He has also taken upon himself to campaign against the Pakistani government’s moves to make up with the U.S., a move that has not gone down well with military brass.

He has opposed Islamabad’s decision, announced yesterday, to reopen NATO supply lines for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In an open letter to the National Assembly, Saeed accused the U.S. of betraying its agreements with Pakistan. He said if Pakistan accepted U.S. demands, the country would be “engulfed yet again by the flames of terrorism fanned by the likes of the U.S., NATO and India… Please remember that those helping people who burn the Quran and kill our brothers will be accountable for their sins in this life and beyond. “

Since Saeed has hardly deviated from the diktats of Rawalpindi GHQ, his `soft` opposition to the latter’s decisions could be an indication of the terror leader’s bid for autonomy. Or it could also mean a division within the military hierarchy on supporting the U.S. line and Saeed’s actions and words could be a `weather balloon` floated by the group opposing the U.S. line.

It might be worth asking: is Saeed’s newfound belligerence a ruse to divert attention from the Haqqani Network and the Taliban, both critical to the Pakistani Army’s Afghanistan strategy? Whichever way you look at it, the terror emanating from Pakistan remains as serious as ever.

Hafiz Saeed owes his very existence to the Pakistani Army. He was an ordinary religious teacher in a Lahore university when, according to some allegations, he was chosen by the Army to head a new terrorist group launched in Kunar province of Afghanistan. He was then supposedly given generous funding and state support to set up the big complex in Muridke to recruit, indoctrinate, train and launch terrorist attacks in Kashmir.

Saeed obliged with fervor. He broke bread with virtually every other extremist group in Pakistan, his patrons in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries to create one of the world’s most notorious terror groups, the LeT, which worked towards one solitary goal: to liberate Kashmir from India.

Saeed and his patron’s biggest success have been the Mumbai 2008 attacks, cited in repeated dossiers that India presented to Pakistan (the sixth reported here). While Saeed provided the cover, recruits and training, the patrons ISI and Pakistan Army planned and executed the terror attack on India. Since the Army and ISI higher ups were deeply involved in every step of the preparation of the attack, Saeed knew that he would remain safe from prosecution. But after the Mumbai attack, the Army decided to keep a safe distance from LeT and Hafiz Saeed, primarily because of intense pressure from the U.S.

The reason why Rawalpindi has pulled back from the brink is obvious, but not obvious enough for Saeed. The Pakistan Army cannot afford to get its name dragged into the international terror matrix, particularly linking it explicitly with the Mumbai attacks, because it would inevitably be concomitant with international sanctions and the possibility of the country being declared a `terrorist state`. Such international actions will mean a global squeeze on investments and aid which will certainly push Pakistan into yet greater dysfunction.

India is apprehensively watchful of events unfolding. Any degree of change in the relationship between Saeed and his controllers among the Pakistani military establishment would surely have repercussions on India’s national security. There has not been a major terror attack on India for quite some time now. This could amount to a strategic defeat for the likes of Saeed. But since much could still happen and the landscape around Saeed is still blurred, it is far too soon for India to grow complacent.