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Offensive from Pakistan


"…the purpose of jihad is to carry out a sustained struggle for the dominance of Islam in the entire world and to eliminate evil forces and the jahiliya (ignorant unbelievers)."

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, Amir (Chief), Jamaat-ud-Dawa / Lashkar-e-Taiba

There is no doubt that the carnage of November 26-29, 2008, in Mumbai was engineered by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which has been permitted to operate openly in Pakistan under the name Jamaat-ud-Dawa, since its supposed ‘ban’ in 2002. The outpourings of the single surviving terrorist, Ajmal Amir Khasab, have been substantially confirmed by a multiplicity of independent sources – including Western investigative agencies and media, as well as a number of Pakistani non-governmental and media sources. But the evidence doesn’t matter. What is of far greater interest is the ‘shadow war’ that the Pakistani state launched to defend its terrorist assets, despite mounting international pressure to come clean and take action against those who planned and commanded this operation from Pakistani soil. To understand the nature of contemporary Islamist terrorism and the complicity of the Pakistani state and establishment in its perpetuation, it is necessary to examine this ‘shadow war’ in defense of terrorism, launched in the wake of the Mumbai carnage.

When India first raised the question of involvement of elements ‘based on Pakistani soil’, the Pakistani response was an unqualified stonewall, though it quickly transformed into a shifting argument: First, complete denial; when this becomes unsustainable, denial of state sponsorship or involvement, and transfer of responsibility to non-state actors and institutions, with token ‘action’ against some of these; eventually, where this became unsustainable, calibrated action in which some of these actors are ‘sacrificed’, with promises that their operations will be permanently ‘wound down’ if the regime is ‘given time’. These positions were sought to be strengthened with the claim that Pakistan was itself a victim of terrorism. More impudently, the retaliatory allegation that India was involved in terrorism on Pakistani soil was thrown into the argument. To back this, a case was quickly framed against alleged ‘Indian’ perpetrators of the Lahore bombing of December 24, 2008, in which one person was killed and four were injured. Unfortunately, for the Pakistani case, a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)-linked grouping, the Ansar-wa-Mohajir, claimed responsibility for the attack, as vengeance for earlier rocket attacks on the Dera Ismail Khan by US drones. Nevertheless, there were legions of happy dupes across the world – and many in liberal democracies – who immediately seized upon these allegations to impose a moral parity between the Indian and Pakistani positions, confidently ignorant of decades of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism, and the now increasingly acknowledged role of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), both in Mumbai and in the Indian Embassy bombing at Kabul on July 7, 2008. At the same time, every effort was also made to destroy clinching evidence – including engineering the ‘disappearance’ of Khasab’s family from Faridkot in the Okara District of Pakistan’s Punjab province – of the Mumbai terrorists’ roots and linkages in Pakistan.

The most audacious defense, however, was the bogey of war that Pakistan whipped up in its effort to distract from the real issue of neutralizing terrorist groups on its soil. Over days of escalating rhetoric and warlike movement of Army units from its Northwestern frontier to the Indian border, Pakistan drummed up hysteria within the country and across the world, on the supposed threat of an imminent Indian attack and all-out war between the two nuclear-armed nations. This was despite the fact that there was no mirror movement of troops on the Indian side, and repeated commitments by top Indian leaders that war was not being examined as an option. ‘Authoritative’ Western sources fed the frenzy, creating imaginary scenarios of ‘retaliatory’ Indian action, including cross border precision strikes and war, and ‘warning’ businesses of the consequences of an imaginary "military confrontation between India and Pakistan". The outcome was a shift of emphasis in the international discourse from rising demands for Pakistan to take action against terrorists and their sponsors on its soil, to anxious pleas to ‘de-escalate’ and to avoid a war that was, in fact, not even under contemplation by either side.

Pakistan’s simulated war-frenzy had a significant impact within the country as well, quickly (if temporarily) restoring the authority and prestige of an Army leadership that stood utterly discredited just months ago. It also brought Islamist extremist groupings – such as the TTP – which had increasingly been turning their violence against the establishment in Islamabad, closer to the power centres in the country, as they assured the national and military leadership that they would fight shoulder to shoulder with the Army in the event of a war with the kuffar (unbelievers) of India.

This strategy, despite its initial successes, however, has failed to secure its intended objectives. With evidence mounting and US investigators demanding increasing access to Jamaat-ud-Dawa leaders exposed by Khasab for their role in engineering the attack in Mumbai – in which six American citizens were also killed – Pakistan has been forced to take some reluctant action where the evidence was inescapable, even as it continued to cover up the larger ramifications of state sponsorship of terrorism. Following the UN Security Council resolution placing the Jamaat-ud-Dawa on its list of terrorist organisations, Pakistan officially banned the group, put some of its top leaders under ‘house arrest’ and froze its bank accounts. This, however, was done after a great deal of deliberate delay, giving the group enough opportunity to transfer or transform its assets. More significantly, the Government has subsequently clearly asserted that the ‘charitable’ works of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa would be permitted to continue – ignoring the reality that its terrorist activities have received funding and flourished essentially under the cover of such ‘charitable’ works. At the time or writing, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa is reported to have simply reinvented itself under a new name, Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool (Movement for the honour of the Prophet), just as the Lashkar-e-Taiba had, after the official ban of 2002, continued its operations under its new identity as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

It is useful to quickly examine the history of this Lashkar – Jamaat – Tehreek formation. The Lashkar-e-Taiba was created by the ISI under the command of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed in the Kunar province of Afghanistan in 1990, and initially trained and pitched in with the Taliban – al Qaeda campaigns in that country. It is, consequently, part of the ‘al Qaeda compact’ and is a member of the ‘International Islamic Front for the struggle against the Jews and the Crusaders’ (Al-Jabhah al-Islamiyyah al-‘Alamiyyah li-Qital al-Yahud wal-Salibiyyin) set up by Osama bin Laden. In 1993, its forces were diverted to the Pakistan-backed jihad in the Indian province of Jammu & Kashmir, where it has operated continuously since, even as it has extended its networks and strikes across the rest of India (crystallizing the strategy that Saeed had articulated as far back as on February 18, 1996, declaring, "The jihad in Kashmir would soon spread to entire India. Our mujahideen would create three Pakistans in India."). The organization is headquartered at Muridke on a large plot of land gifted to it by the Pakistan Government, and has run terrorist camps at Muzaffarabad and Gilgit (in Pakistan occupied Kashmir), Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Multan, Quetta, Gujranwala and Sialkot. The group runs at least 16 Islamic Centres, 135 ‘secondary schoos’, 2,200 offices and a vast network of madrassas (religious seminaries), orphanages, medical centres and charities across Pakistan. It publishes, without restraint, a number of journals, papers and websites, including; an Urdu weekly called Gazwa; an English monthly, Voice of Islam; an Urdu monthly, Al Dawa; an Arabic monthly, Al Rabat; an Urdu youth magazine, Mujala-e-Tulba; and an Urdu weekly, Jihad Times. Crucially, it remains a ‘loyal’ group, coordinating all its activities with Pakistani state agencies, unlike many others created by the ISI, who have turned against the Pakistani state, or whose loyalties are now suspect.

In addition to the Lashkar formation, the most significant terrorist groups created by the ISI, and which operate in India, include what can be spoken of as the ‘Harkat Triad’, comprising the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami (HuJI), the Harkat-ul-Mujahiddeedn (HuM and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), each of which is also linked backwards with the Afghan jihad, the Taliban and al Qaeda.

HuJI came into existence in 1980 and has a long history of fighting in Afghanistan. After the end of the Afghan war, HuJI turned its attention to Kashmir. HuJI cadres have also fought in Islamist campaigns in a number of other countries, including Bosnia, Myanmar and Tajikistan. HuJI was one of the major organisations that sent hundreds of its mujahiddeen into Afghanistan during the campaigns against the Northern Alliance and the US Coalition’s Operation Enduring Freedom. It is also a member of bin Laden’s ‘International Islamic Front’. HuJI’s greatest surviving strength is in Bangladesh. HuJI Bangladesh (BD) was established with direct aid from Osama bin Laden in 1992 and seeks to establish Islamic hukumat (rule) in Bangladesh. Since 2005, HuJI-BD has been involved in a number of major Islamist terrorist operations in India. HuJI-BD executed joint operations in India with a number of Pakistani terrorist groups, including the LeT, the JeM and HuM, and coordinates closely with the ISI.

The Harkat-ul-Mujahiddeen was set up in 1985 at Raiwind in Pakistani Punjab, by Maulana Samiul Haq and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leaders of factions of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), Pakistan, to participate in the jehad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Samiul Haq’s madrassa, the Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania at Akora Khattak near Peshawar (NWFP), later emerged as a primary training ground for the Taliban, and also came to dominate the HuM. Within months of its creation, the HuM was exporting recruits, initially from Pakistan and PoK, but subsequently from a welter of other countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Phillipines, and India. HuM is one of the original members of bin Laden’s ‘International Islamic Front’. The primary area of HuM’s activities, after the Afghan campaigns, was J&K, though it has suffered continuous erosion of its stature as a leading player, as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, and HuM’s breakaway Jaish-e-Mohammed, consolidated their role through a succession of dramatic attacks, both within and outside the State.

The JeM is one of the most virulent Pakistani groups operating in India. The organisation was set up in early 2000, after Azhar Masood’s triumphant return to Pakistan on his release in the hostage exchange following the IC 814 hijacking. Masood split with his parent HuM as a result of differences over matters of "finance and influence". Bin-Laden is believed to have extended generous funding to the JeM. Earlier, Azhar is said to have accompanied bin Laden to Sudan in 1996. The JeM has also been extraordinarily successful in motivating second-generation South Asian Muslims in the West to join the jihad. These include Ahmed Sayeed Omar Sheikh, one of the conspirators in the 9/11 attacks in the US, and Daniel Pearl’s killer; as well as ‘Abdullahbhai’, a Birmingham (UK) resident, the suicide bomber in the Badami Bagh incident of December 2000 in Jammu & Kashmir.

There are a significant number of other Pakistan-based groups operating in India, playing roles of varying significance in the machinery of Islamist terror that has been assembled over the years, including some which have substantial Indian membership. It is neither possible, nor useful, here, to attempt a profile of each of these diverse groups1, but the most significant among these in recent years, the Student’s Islamic Movement of India, (SIMI) demands attention. SIMI has been involved in terrorist activities, principally as a facilitator to various Pakistan-based groups, since the 1990s, providing a range of services, such as couriers, safe havens and communication posts, for specific terrorist operations or terrorist cells. Since 9/11, however, SIMI’s significance in Pakistan’s strategic projections has grown, as the country came under increasing international pressure to dismantle the terrorist networks it had constructed and deployed. Pakistan sought, consequently, to project an increasing proportion of its operations in India as ‘indigenous terrorism’ purportedly sparked by discontented Muslims in ‘Hindu India’, and SIMI’s role in operations increased gradually, initially as its cadres joined with the various Pakistani groups to participate in collaborative operations, and eventually, in the Ahmedabad and Delhi bombings of July 26 and September 13, 2008, respectively, operating ‘independently’, under the identity of the ‘Indian Mujahideen’. Crucially, however, it remains the case that the top leadership and cadres of SIMI receive safe haven and training in, and resources from, Pakistan, and it is there that they locate their operational command centres, and that their capacities have been transformed into an effective and efficient terrorist organisation. Nor, moreover, is the ‘emergence’ of an ‘Indian face’ of Islamist terrorism a recent phenomenon. There has always been an ‘Indian face’ to terrorism. Terrorism in Kashmir, which has been unambiguously Islamist despite its sub-nationalist pretensions, was initiated by Indian cadres. Similarly, the 1993 Mumbai blasts were engineered by an Indian organised-crime group, the Dawood Ibrahim gang. Thereafter, groups such as the al Umma, the Deendar Anjuman, the National Development Front, and the Islamic Sevak Sangh, among others, executed a succession of serial blasts through the 1990s. Crucially, however, the transition of each of these groups to terrorist activities – and often the creation of these groups itself – has been facilitated and supported by Pakistani agencies and actors. Not one of these movements or groupings could have engaged in significant acts of terrorism absent such active provocation and support.

Pakistan’s responses to the Mumbai 26/11 attack reinforce the assessment that the country’s establishment remains firmly enmeshed with the Islamist terrorist enterprise, despite the fact that it is, itself, an increasing victim of the ‘blowback’ from this disastrous adventure. This constitutes a clear and present danger, not only to India, but also, in the immediate neighbourhood, to Afghanistan, but also, urgently, to the West. It is crucial to recognize that much of the impetus of extremist Islamism and terrorism experienced in the West continues to emanate from Pakistan – in terms of the actual source of acts of terrorism, their ideological and financial support, elements of leadership, training infrastructure and safe haven. It is in Pakistan that the world’s first modern and global Islamist terrorist movement was bred and nurtured, and from where it was exported – first into the immediate neighbourhood, and then across the continents, into the heart of ‘fortress America’ on 9/11, and into nation after nation thereafter. Crucially, the footprint of almost every major act of international Islamist terrorism, for some time before 9/11 and continuously thereafter, invariably passes through Pakistan2. After 9/11, and the US-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the dynamics of the Islamist terrorist enterprise have undergone dramatic adaptive adjustments and modifications. Essentially, however, this dynamic, its underlying ideologies, and its motivational and institutional structures, remain intact.

It is now widely recognized that militants from Pakistan will be the most likely authors of any future terrorist attacks against US interests. US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen stated, on June 10, 2008, "I believe fundamentally that if the US is going to get hit, it is going to come out of the planning of the leadership in FATA (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan)." Pakistan remains intimately linked to the threat of Islamist terrorist acts in Europe, South and South East Asia as well.

The ‘root cause’ of Islamist terrorism emanating from Pakistan is that state and non-state actors in Pakistan have instrumentalised Islam for domestic political management and external power projection. This needs urgently to be recognized by the global community – but most significantly by the US and by India. A grave crisis threatens the South Asian region and the world, in the event of the progressive collapse of state power in Pakistan, the cumulative augmentation of areas of jehadi autonomy and influence (both within and outside state structures) or the takeover of the state by radical Islamist elements (again, both within or outside state structures). These eventualities yield two principal strategic challenges: the containment of the inevitable terrorist fallout and overflow across the region, and probably across the globe; and the neutralisation of Pakistan’s nuclear assets and the prevention of their leakage or lapse into the hands of radical Islamist elements or a radical Islamist Pakistani state. K.P.S. Gill wrote, as far back as in June 2002, "The only possible solution to the terror that is presently located in South Asia is the early and complete demilitarisation and de-nuclearisation of Pakistan itself."

Unless this reality is accepted and addressed, Islamist terror will remain Pakistan’s principal output and export, both to India and Afghanistan, and across the globe.

  • A detailed listing and profile of principal groups can be found at "India: Terrorist, insurgent and extremist groups",

  • For an exhaustive and updated listing, see K.P.S. Gill, "Pakistan: The Footprints of Terror," in Islamist Extremism and Terrorism in South Asia, South Asia Terrorism Portal, The 9/11 attacks themselves were a culmination of this process, and virtually all the perpetrators and conspirators had trained, resided or met in, coordinated with, or received funding from or through Pakistan. More specifically, the then-serving Chief of Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), was directly implicated in a transfer of US$100,000 to the principal architect of the 9/11 bombings, Mohammad Atta.

[Published in translation in Limes Magazine, Italy February 4, 2009 Under the title "Attenti al Pakistan" ]





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