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Press Pak to crush Lashkar, Obama urged
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

US lawmakers on Thursday urged the Obama administration to press Islamabad to crack down against Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks and more recently suspected in a deadly attack against Indians in Afghanistan.

“This group of savages needs to be crushed,” said Gary Ackerman, chairman of the House subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “The LeT is a deadly serious group of fanatics. They are well-financed, ambitious and, most disturbingly, both tolerated by and connected to the Pakistani military.”

LeT was brought into US’ focus on October 2, 2009, when US authorities in Chicago arrested David Coleman Headley for conspiring with LeT in Pakistan to conduct attacks in India. “The findings from the Headley investigations have awakened US officials to the gravity of the international threat posed by Pakistan’s failure to crack down on terrorist groups, including those that have primarily targeted India,” Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation told lawmakers in her testimony. “US officials had previously viewed the LeT solely through an Indo-Pakistani lens rather than as an urgent international terrorist threat,” she added.

Pakistani-born Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana was also arrested in October on charges he helped the 2008 Mumbai attackers. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Curtis said it has been a failure of US policy to not insist that Pakistan shut down LeT a long time ago. “US officials have shied away from pressuring Pakistan on the LeT in the interest of garnering Pakistani cooperation against targets the US believed were more critical to immediate US objectives, i.e., Al-Qaida shortly after 9/11 and the Afghan Taliban more recently. But overlooking the activities of LeT in Pakistan is equivalent to standing next to a ticking time bomb waiting for it to explode,” she warned.

Testifying before the committee, Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace warned that continued Pakistani support for LeT threatens to undermine the delicate peace between India and Pakistan and plunge the region into conflict, with significant consequences for American interests abroad.

Describing LeT as “the spearhead of the Pakistani military’s campaign against India,” Tellis said the group remains primarily Pakistani in its composition, uses Pakistani territory as its main base of operation, and continues to be supported extensively by the Pakistani state, especially the Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). He advised lawmakers that the US should stop pretending that LeT is an independent actor. “A candid recognition that the organisation receives protection and support from the Pakistani state would go a long way toward solving the problem,” he said.

Ackerman acknowledged LeT's “clear public presence” in Pakistan saying, “Public estimates suggest LeT operates some 2,000 offices in towns and villages throughout Pakistan, as well as maintaining ties with the Pakistani military.”

Dan Burton, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said, “Dismantling and eliminating the threat posed by LeT is clearly no easy task but we cannot shy away from it.” He cited Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal saying this would “pose a grave threat to the entire region should it fall under the control of extremists.”

Curtis urged the US administration to develop policies that approach the LeT with the same urgency as that which the US deals with the threat from Al Qaida. “Given the potential for LeT-linked terrorist cells to conduct a Mumbai-style attack here in the US, Washington must pursue policies that contain and shut down the operations of this deadly organisation,” she said.

Tellis suggested that if Pakistan cannot or will not take decisive action against LeT, then the United States and its allies should be prepared to act in its place. “Doing so may be increasingly necessary not simply to prevent a future Indo-Pakistani crisis, but more importantly to protect the United States, its citizens, its interests, and its allies,” he said.

He suggested Washington should use its influence with both India and Pakistan to encourage a dialogue that leads to a resolution of all outstanding disputes, including Kashmir. “But, unfortunately for those who advocate pressing India, the impediments to a lasting peace in South Asia do not emanate from New Delhi. Rather, they are incubated in Islamabad, or to be more precise, in Rawalpindi,” he said. “That a conflict has been avoided thus far has been solely due to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s courageous decision to stay India’s hand, despite enormous pressure to the contrary...there is no ‘peace party’ in Pakistan today that is both politically effective and committed to reconciliation with India: those who seek to turn the page in relations with New Delhi are for most part feckless; those who truly hold power in Islamabad do not consider making peace with India a particularly pressing priority,” added Tellis.



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