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The Web: Eight Legs, Nine Lives

The Web: Eight Legs, Nine Lives

Author: Amir Mir
Publication: Outlook
Date: November 30, 2009
URL: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?262954

Introduction: Pakistan's feeble attempts to rein in terror is apparent in the thriving militant groups

When a band of terrorists swooped down on Mumbai on the night of November 26 last year, leaving behind a trail of death and a devastated metropolis, their act of violence-both highly targeted and, simultaneously, casual and random-stoked international fury against Pakistan's refusal to disable the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) from targeting India. Under intense diplomatic pressure, Islamabad incarcerated a clutch of LeT leaders, detained Lashkar founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and raided militant camps countrywide. These belated measures fanned hopes that the Lashkar-and its parent body Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)-would now be dismantled and defanged.

On the first anniversary of 26/11, as India remembers the dead, New Delhi might want to take some heart from the perceptible decline in JuD activities, particularly public rallies. However, it is yet to wind up its activities and continues to raise funds and recruit cadres. In parts of Punjab, you can still see banners urging young boys to join the JuD-LeT combine to wage jehad against infidels. The banners even furnish contact details of local offices. In rural Punjab, JuD has been a big draw because of its charity work-free education, board and lodging. The students, in the course of their education, are indoctrinated in jehad and imparted military training. From them are recruited the footsoldiers of LeT, willing to fight and die for the cause, a strategy the group has adopted for years.

JuD activists are also visible outside mosques in Punjab's rural areas, distributing pamphlets and periodicals that preach the virtues of waging jehad in Kashmir. These describe India and Israel as also Hindus and Jews as the enemies of Islam. The donation boxes of JuD that had disappeared following 26/11 are back at mosques and other select public places across the country.

As the JuD's Muridke headquarters came under intense media scrutiny post-26/11, the government brought the educational institutions functioning there under its administrative control. This measure prompted the JuD leadership to shift its base to Lahore's Jamia al Qadsia Mosque, from where a virulent campaign against India and the US is now being carried out. During a recent Friday sermon, JuD leader Maulana Saifullah Khalid declared, "Muslims under the leadership of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa will conquer the entire South Asia. Nobody can stop us from fighting India. The forces of the infidels which are making all out efforts to supress us will be crushed themselves."

In fact, terror experts believe the LeT has redefined its goal. Instead of positioning itself as an anti-India group, waging jehad to free Kashmir, it has begun to talk of bringing South Asia under the banner of Islam. Reports say its training camps have been thrown open to non-Pakistani terrorists. These allegations prompted the outgoing CIA director Michael Hayden to declare in June '09 that the LeT would be among the top ten security challenges for the agency.

Observers feel the success story of the Let-JuD combine can be ascribed to the support it has received from the military and intelligence establishment for pushing its geostrategic agenda. Sources say Saeed is favoured because in contrast to other militant leaders, he's amenable to ISI control and willing to accede to the requests of his patron to curb terror activities in Kashmir. The LeT is Punjabi-dominated, but experts say broad affinities allow its activists to mingle with the population of not just Kashmir but even outside. No wonder the LeT has emerged as the most powerful anti-India militant organisation.

The symbiotic relationship between the LeT-JuD combine and the ISI explains Saeed's defiance, the way he has been in and out of custody. When the United Nations Security Council sanctioned JuD and Saeed, he convened a press conference the following day (December 11, '08) at Jamia al Qadsia Mosque and condemned the punitive measures against him, besides declaring his intention to have it overturned by the International Court of Justice. Observers feel Saeed's strident criticism of the unsc was at the government's behest, keen as it was to counter Indian allegations of Pakistan and Lashkar's complicity in 26/11.

The international outcry against Saeed's press conference prompted the Pakistan government to place him under house arrest the same evening. Six months later, on June 3, '09, the Lahore High Court ordered his release saying his detention was illegal and the government had no evidence of his links with the Al Qaeda and Taliban or his involvement in any anti-state activity save for the Indian allegation implicating him in the Mumbai attacks. His release had many in diplomatic circles question the government's sincerity. India too protested demanding action against the masterminds of 26/11. Islamabad, however, blamed India for providing evidence which couldn't stand the court's scrutiny.

But Islamabad's arguments seem feeble as it has in the past failed to keep Saeed in custody for a credible period of time. For instance, Pervez Musharraf had detained him in January '02 for his alleged involvement in the December '01 Parliament attack. Within a few weeks, he was released on flimsy grounds. He was arrested again on May 15, '02, but released five months later on a court order. In the aftermath of the July '06 train bombings in Mumbai, Saeed was detained again, but released a few days later on Lahore High Court orders.

Many in diplomatic circles in Islamabad say when a Third World country like Pakistan wants to detain a person, he or she is routinely thrown into prison irrespective of their influence. In a country where coups are legal, Saeed's release, even on court orders, is proof of the military intelligence establishment's reluctance to allow action against him. All this even though the democratic government wanted to initiate action against him.

Indeed, a year after 26/11, the JuD-LeT combine still retains the potential to menace India through its terror network. The arrest of David Coleman Headley in Chicago is testimony to the organisation's deadly tentacles.

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