Originally Published 2005-07-21 12:48:30 Published on Jul 21, 2005
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call for zero-tolerance to terrorism in Washington on July 18 has come at a time when there is an urgent need for a global consensus on this issue. The Ayodhya and London attacks have clearly proved the re-emergence of terrorism with a renewed vigour.
Time to decapitate Lashkar
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call for zero-tolerance to terrorism in Washington on July 18 has come at a time when there is an urgent need for a global consensus on this issue. The Ayodhya and London attacks have clearly proved the re-emergence of terrorism with a renewed vigour. The two attacks indicate the beginning of the second phase of terrorism. The first was the emergence of a hierarchical, pyramid structure of terrorism with Osama bin Laden at the head.

This phase witnessed the creation of a loose confederation of terrorist network across the globe with its main operational headquarters in Afghanistan-Pakistan. Laden and his team of advisors created a chain of command with enough autonomy to local units to carry out terrorist operations. Pipelines for weapons and money were camouflaged through hawala channels, criminal syndicates, charity organisations and parallel trading and financial institutions that worked outside the legal banking and trading framework.

The phase was halted by the relentless US-led war on terror, which saw the decapitation of the Taliban and crippling attacks on Al Qaeda and its supporting arms across the globe. The war against terror, however, left untouched terrorist groups that publicly denied ties with the Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. These groups, Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in Pakistan, to name just two, have, in the midst of the war on terror, managed to survive and flourish. These groups staffed by angry and educated youth are the torchbearers of the second phase.

Pakistan's LeT, in this context, needs special attention for two reasons. It is one of the few terrorist groups (Hamas is another) which has a clearly defined agenda, hierarchy, funding sources, state protection and infrastructure. Second, it is a group that has attracted the young in countries across the world, from the US to Australia. The group is currently recruiting a large number of youngsters for terrorist activities, setting up new training camps and expanding its base beyond the Indian subcontinent.

It is imperative to understand what really drives the militant wing's ideological indoctrination and weapons training. It is based on a concept evolved by Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed. His philosophy has been to merge jihadi education with modern curricula to train young students not only in Islamic principles but also make them adept in science and technology. This, he believes, will enable them to work towards alternative models of governance and development while learning fighting skills to wage jihad. Saeed believes that jihad was essential to achieving political power. Jihad, he said during the All Pakistan Ulema Convention held on July 17, 2003, at Lahore, was the only way Pakistan could move towards dignity and prosperity. Incidentally, Saeed favourite phrase from the Holy Quran is "Wajahidu fee sabilallah" (Wage a holy war in the name of god).

This key to Hafiz Saeed's mind is the genesis of Lashkar itself and its mother organisation, Markaz Dawat-ul Irshad (Center for Religious Learning and Social Welfare). It was established by Hafiz Saeed and Zafar Iqbal of the Engineering University, Lahore, and Abdullah Azzam of the International Islamic University, Islamabad, in 1987. LeT is the centre's militant wing. Several of Azzam's speeches and publications are used as textbook material to motivate and teach the LeT cadre. Before the ban, the Markaz Dawat-ul Irshad's (MDI) website had links to the official website of Hamas and www.azzam.com, one of the several websites which the Al Qaeda used to operate before September 11. Saeed has denied this, maintaining that the contributions came from a rich Saudi trader, Ahmed.

Although Lashkar's involvement in terrorist attacks in Kashmir and other parts of the country were well documented by India and presented on numerous occasions to the international community, there were no sanctions on the group. It was the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, barely two months after the terrorist attacks in the US, that led the US and Pakistan to impose a ban on the group, freeze its bank accounts and severely restrict Saeed's activities. Undeterred, Saeed addressed the media on December 24, 2001, outlining his plans to reorganise and strengthen LeT. He was arrested on December 31, 2001, but not for terrorist activities. The Lahore High Court set him free on November 19, 2002.

To circumvent these restrictions, the terrorist group changed its name to Jamaat ul-Dawa (JuD) and Maulana Abdul Wahid Kashmiri was appointed as the new LeT chief who, soon after, declared that his group was shifting its base to Indian Kashmir. These steps were aimed to circumvent the ban and avoid further international sanctions. There was another clear change in Saeed's outlook: He had turned against the US. Addressing the Pakistan Ulema Convention at Lahore, Saeed said: "We do not fear America. We can defeat it through jihad very easily, but Gen Musharraf is holding us up. He has become the biggest enemy of jihad, and if we can get him out of the picture, we can take care of the infidels."

The worrying aspect is not LeT's continuing terrorist operations in Kashmir alone, but the group's linkages with criminal syndicates and its determination to expand beyond the Indian subcontinent. It has set up sleeper cells in the US and Australia, trained terrorists from other countries, and has shown a willingness to enter new operational areas like Iraq. There is evidence that the group has been buying weapons with the help of Cambodian traffickers who are part of the Chinese-led Snakehead syndicate, an evidence of the group's linkages with criminal syndicates.

Two years ago, the FBI busted a few LeT sleeper cells in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania and arrested 11 men who were later indicted for conspiring to "prepare for and engage in violent jihad on behalf of Muslims in Kashmir, Chechnya, the Philippines and other countries". The indictment said some of the accused had been to Pakistan to train with LeT. Last year, in April, Australian authorities stumbled upon a similar cell when they arrested 34-year-old Faheem Khalid Lodhi and charged him with planning a terrorist attack. Authorities said he was a leader of LeT in Australia.

Several months prior to that, Australian authorities had deported a French, Willie Virgile Brigitte, with alleged ties to Al Qaeda. Brigitte had reportedly trained with Lodhi at a LeT camp in Pakistan. Brigitte reportedly told the French judge hearing his detention case that there were 2000 to 3000 mujahideen in LeT camps. On September 22, 2003, Pakistan authorities arrested 15 Malaysian and Indonesian students studying in various madarsas run by LeT in Karachi; the arrested included Gun Gun Rusman Gunawan, brother of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali, known ally of Al Qaeda. It is no secret that the terrorists who carried out Ayodhya and London bombings were associated with LeT.

The action against LeT has to be immediate and decisive. Hafiz Saeed should be arrested and tried for terrorist activities. The group's Muridke headquarters should be taken over by the Pakistan Government and converted into an educational and vocational training institution. The training camps in Muridke, Sindh and Muzaffarabad should be dismantled. Both Pakistan and India should evolve a joint mechanism to unravel LeT's network in India. The US has a clear role to play in this war. It will also be a chance to salvage the floundering war against terror.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, July 20, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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