ISI continues to maintain links with Lashkar

Last Updated 12 March 2010, 04:26 IST

Attending a special Congressional hearing on 'Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Growing ambition of Islamic Militancy in Pakistan', Congressmen unanimously expressed concern that despite best of the efforts by the Obama administration, the ISI continues to maintain links with LeT and that Pakistan is not taking decisive action against the terrorist outfit.

"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," said Gary L Ackerman, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the House Committee on International Relations.

And it is the same Pakistani military, to which the Obama administration is selling advanced arms, he pointed out.

Testifying before the Congressional committee, Marvin G Weinbaum, from the Middle East Institute –- a Washington-based think tank, said despite the government official ban of LeT, ISI continued to consider the organisation as an asset.

The ISI is believed to continue to share intelligence and provide protection to LeT, he said.

"It is a measure of the impunity with which LeT is allowed to operate in Pakistan that the authorities have been unwilling to contain LeT chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed.

His inflammatory remarks would be expected to land him among the hundreds of disappeared political activists in the country. Although he has been periodically arrested, his house detentions have been cosmetic," Weinbaum said.

Noting that LeT poses a threat to the US national security interests, Lisa Curtis from the Heritage Foundation said the appearance of LeT leader Hafez Muhammed Saeed at a recent public rally casts grave doubts about Pakistan’s commitment to reining in the group’s activities.

Curtis said it has been a failure of US policy to not insist Pakistan shut down the LeT long 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, that is al-Qaeda shortly after 9/11 and the Afghan Taliban more recently.

"To degrade the overall international terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan, the US must convince Islamabad to confront those groups it has supported against India," Curtis said.

The Mumbai attacks and subsequent Headley investigations reveal that the LeT has the international capabilities and ideological inclination to attack western targets whether they are located in South Asia or elsewhere.

Eminent Pakistani scholar Shuja Nawaz too conceded that the relationship between the ISI and LeT has stayed overtime.

Nawaz is currently the director, South Asia Center, The Atlantic Council of the United States.

"The LeT's emerging role as a trans regional force that has broadened its aim to include India and perhaps even Afghanistan, by linking with the Students Islamic Movement of India or SIMI and the Harkat ul Jihad al Islami or HUJI of Bangladesh poses a serious threat to regional stability," Nawaz said.

"Another Mumbai-type attack involving the LeT might bring India and Pakistan into conflict, a prospect that should keep us awake at night. In Pakistan, both the civil and the military now appear to recognise the existential threat from home grown militancy.

"The army appears to have dislocated the Tehreek e Taliban of Pakistan. Yet, it faces a huge and, to my mind, greater threat in the hinterland, in the form of the LeT,” he said.
Ashley J Tellis, senior associate at the prestigious Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told lawmakers that today LeT relies on the ISI primarily for safe haven and political protection for its leadership, intelligence on selected targets and threats, campaign guidance when necessary, and infiltration assistance, particularly in regard to long distance operations involving transits through third countries.

"Although the interrogation of David Headley has now established that there were clearly some shadowy ISI connections with the Bombay attacks, the management of the LeT detainees by the Pakistani state and the tortured progress of their trial demonstrates that, whatever the outcome of this charade, the ISI has simply no intention of eviscerating LeT (or any other anti-Indian jihadi groups) because of their perceived utility to Pakistan’s national strategy vis-à-vis India," Tellis said.

"So long as the Pakistani Army and the security establishment more generally conclude that their private interests (and their conception of the national interest) are undermined by a permanent reconciliation between India and Pakistan, they will not rid themselves of the terrorist groups they have begotten and which serve their purposes—irrespective of what New Delhi or Kabul or Washington may desire," he said.

"This fact ought to be understood clearly by the Obama administration. Once it is, it may push the United States to either compel Pakistan to initiate action against LeT or hold Pakistan responsible for the actions of its proxies.

If these efforts do not bear fruit, the United States will have to contemplate unilateral actions (or cooperative actions with other allies) to neutralize the most dangerous of the terrorist groups now resident in Pakistan.

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," Tellis said.

(Published 12 March 2010, 04:26 IST)

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