India, not Kashmir, Lashkar’s true goal
Recent actions by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) have fuelled a belief in Washington that the militant group’s agenda is much broader than a resolution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.
At a congressional hearing this week, analysts made the point that LeT would no longer be satisfied if India and Pakistan resolve their differences over Kashmir. Ashley Tellis at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the panel of lawmakers that there was no doubt in his mind that a way must be found to settle issues related to Kashmir, but, he added, “I think resolving Kashmir is not going to solve the problems relating to LeT.”
Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council echoed that opinion. “Resolving the Kashmir problem by itself is not going to remove this threat because the aim of these groups is to leverage themselves into a position of power inside Pakistan and to take control,” he said.
Nawaz noted that successive civilian and military leaders in Pakistan had supported LeT as what he described as a “strategic asset” to counter India and force it to negotiate a settlement on Kashmir “by waging a war of... a thousand cuts.”
Over time, LeT took a life of its own, he said, and found the economically backward regions of Pakistan’s Punjab province to be a fertile ground for recruiting militants.
Nawaz said Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency lost control of LeT as the group became self-sufficient. “Similar to the disbanding of the Iraqi Army after the US invasion when thousands of trained soldiers and officers were let go, the LeT was cut loose without a comprehensive plan to disarm, retrain, and gainfully employ the fighters,” he added.
Earlier this year, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, accused India of imposing war on Pakistan by constructing “illegal dams” and diverting the water of Pakistani rivers.
In a fiery diatribe at the launch of a “nationwide protest,” Saeed called upon the Pakistani government to prepare the country to counter this aggression. This focus on water issues has added credence to an opinion held by a growing majority that Kashmir is merely a red herring raised by LeT and its affiliates.
“LeT represents... a Frankenstein’s monster created for the purpose of assisting the Kashmiri freedom movement but that ended up becoming a powerful Sunni Punjabi movement with an independent agenda that appears to have taken on a broader regional role,” Nawaz contended.
Responding to questions raised by congressmen, Tellis said, “I always find it interesting that the people conducting the murder and mayhem (in the valley) today are not Kashmiri. The people who actually are deprived of all their political rights. The murder and mayhem is being conducted by groups that have absolutely no connections to Kashmir. To my mind ... the fact that this is a group that has operations in 21 countries, that has an ideology that is completely anti-western, that is opposed to modernity and secularism and all the kinds of values that we take for granted. This group is not going to be satisfied by dealing with the issue of Kashmir.”
While the panel’s co-chair, Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, was insistent that the resolution of Kashmir should be the No. 1 issue for everyone involved, subcommittee chairman Gary Ackerman, New York Democrat, disagreed. Ackerman cautioned against the temptation to think that LeT is interested only in the “liberation” of Kashmir. “The LeT’s true goal is not Kashmir, it is India. And the LeT is not shy about announcing that its intention is to establish an Islamic state in all South Asia. Neither does it hide or try to play down its declaration of war against all Hindus and Jews, who they insist are enemies of Islam,” he said.