When it comes to the common terrorist thread between Willie Brigitte,
Izhar-ul-Haque, David Hicks and Faheem Lodhi, Australians constantly
hear the name “Lashkar-e-Taiba” (LeT) bandied about. Given the
preponderance of LeT connections to terror plans within Australia
therefore, it is critical that Australians understand the origins and
activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba. To begin with, one must be disabused of
the notion that the LeT is a “Kashmiri” group. It is not. The LeT was
founded in Pakistan and is made up of mostly Pakistani Punjabis with a
smattering of Afghans, Arabs, Bangladeshis, South East Asians and the
occasional Western or Indian Muslim recruit. To understand the LeT, it
is critical to appreciate its position in the Pakistani as well as the
global jihadist movement.

Islamists today are a fractious bunch, but they can agree on the notion
that the creation of a ‘pure’ Islamic state represents the best hope
for salvation in both this world and the next, and as such Muslims
everywhere are obliged to strive for such a goal. The Jihadist movement
represents a subset of Islamists who intensely believe that
near-perpetual war, pursued by any and all means against the unbeliever
offers the best way to meet their obligations and make the Islamist
dream real. In particular those inspired by the 18th century Saudi
preacher Ibn Abd al-Wahhab – often known as ‘Wahhabis’ or ‘Salafis’-
are among the most persistent, energetic and emphatic promoters of this
kind of jihad.

Salafis have been active since the 19th century in the sub-continent,
where they are also became known as the “Ahle-Hadith” (People following
the Prophet’s Tradition.) The connections were renewed as thousands of
Arabs armed with billions of petro-dollars streamed in to Pakistan
after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. One result was the
Lashkar-e-Taiba or the “Army of the Pure” is the jihadi or military
expression of the Pakistani Ahle-Hadith movement.

While the Salafi LeT represents one part of the Pakistani jihadi
community, the other major grouping consists of the more numerous
Deobandi sect with terrorist groups like the Sipah-i-Sahaba-Pakistan
(SSP) Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM.) Unlike the
Ahle-Hadith, the Deobandis have built a powerful political movement
within Pakistan but their political participation has also resulted in
periodic bouts of serious tension with the Pakistani Army, which
although highly supportive of jihad in Afghanistan and India,
nevertheless brooks no challenge to its vice-like grip on political
power within the nation. In contrast, the LeT led Ahle-Hadith movement
has traditionally stayed apolitical and instead focused on its main
goal – the dream of establishing an Islamic Caliphate that stretches
from Indonesia to Morocco, including Northern Australia by means of a
violent jihad.

Due to its eschewing of political confrontation with the Pakistani army
and thanks to the strength of its ties to Saudi Arabia the LeT steadily
grew in to one of the largest and most capable jihadist groups in
Pakistan, despite the relatively small size of the Ahle Hadith
followers in that nation. Even though the LeT elects not to take part
in politics, it does have an unarmed wing, the Markaz Da’wa wal-Irshad
(MDI) or “Centre for Religious Learning and Social Welfare”. At the
inspiration and by some accounts seed money from Osama bin Laden,
Pakistani Salafists Zafar Iqbal and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed of the
University of Engineering and Technology of Lahore, founded the MDI in
1987.

One of the other founding fathers of the MDI was Palestinian promoter
and scholar of jihad Abdullah Azzam of the Muslim Brotherhood. Azzam
was also one of the inspirations behind the creation of the Palestinian
terrorist group Hamas. Many consider Azzam the “Godfather” of the
modern jihadist movements. Azzam was in fact the religious and
political mentor of Osama Bin Laden and the inspiration behind the
“Arab-Afghan” phenomenon of international, particularly Arab volunteers
hijacking local conflicts involving Muslims in the name of Islam and
turning them into a part of a global jihad. To this day, Lashkar uses
Azzam’s speeches and publications to train and motivate its cadres.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the Lashkar-e-Taiba, before it renamed
itself “Jamaat-ud-Dawa”(JuD) in 2002, linked on its website to the
Hamas official website and the then English mouthpiece of al Qaeda,
Azzam.com. Before Israeli forces killed him, Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin
routinely addressed LeT rallies in Pakistan through phone. It is to be
noted that Hafiz Mohammad Saeed became the supreme leader or the “Emir”
of the LeT following Azzam’s death.

The 190 acres large headquarters of the MDI/LeT is located in the town
of Muridke, about 45 kilometres from Lahore. Its vast campus contains a
huge mosque for the construction of which Osama bin Laden had
reportedly contributed 10 million Pakistani Rupees, along with a
garment factory, an iron foundry; a wood works factory, a swimming pool
and three residential colonies for the volunteers. During the days of
the US-Saudi funded jihad in Afghanistan to drive out the Soviets, the
MDI was allowed its LeT volunteers to fight along with the Afghan
Mujahideen. The Muridke campus also served as a base camp for Arab
fighters to rest and recuperate and even train for jihad.

Reports say that Bin Laden also paid for the construction of a lavish
and secure guesthouse in the LeT’s Muridke campus. Other than staying
in the guesthouse occasionally, Bin Laden also used to chair LeT’s
annual conclaves. After he became a global fugitive in the early to mid
1990s, Bin Laden preferred not to stay in the Muridke guesthouse due to
security concerns. While Osama bin Laden stopped attending LeT’s annual
moots, he has addressed them over the phone until a few years ago from
his hideout in the Sudan and, since after 1996 from Afghanistan.
Addressing the November 1997 LeT annual meeting on the phone from
Kandahar, bin Laden reportedly said: “Those who oppose jihad are not
true Muslims.” The LeT like other Pakistani jihadist groups also
benefited greatly from Al Qaeda training at its camps in Afghanistan.
In those camps, LeT fighters gained access to suicide bombing
techniques, learned how to build large truck bombs that could destroy
reinforced concrete structures, how to conduct surveillance on targets
without being noticed, how to plan for spectacular operations covertly
etc.

It was only after the Mujahideen’s capture of Kabul in 1992 that the
LeT aimed its attention on Kashmir. Urged on and materially assisted by
the ISI, Pakistan’s sinister intelligence agency, with whom it had a
working relationship during the Afghan jihad, the LeT started a mass
recruitment campaign in Pakistan to fight Indian troops in Kashmir.
Though the LeT’s nominal goal was to help Pakistan annex Kashmir, it
fit in well with its grand plans of establishing an Islamic Caliphate.
The LeT saw Hindu majority India as an obstacle on par with the US and
Israel to the Islamist dream of creating a unified empire that spans
the entire Muslim world. At a press conference at the Lahore Press Club
on February 18,1996, LeT’s Emir Saeed said: “The jihad in Kashmir would
soon spread to entire India. Our Mujahideen would create three
Pakistans in India.” The LeT is still active in Kashmir while
simultaneously being faithful to its original goal.

To finance its day-to-day activities, the LeT leverages its contacts in
Saudi Arabia as well as launches donation campaigns with overseas
Pakistanis, especially middle class and wealthy Punjabis in Britain,
Australia and the Middle East. According to Jane’s Terrorism &
Insurgency Centre, Osama bin Laden has also financed LeT activities
until recently. The LeT, under its new name JuD, uses its outreach
networks including schools, social service groups and religious
publications to attract and brainwash recruits for jihad in Kashmir and
other places.

While LeT apologists try to use its connection to Kashmir to palm it
off as a “Kashmiri freedom fighter” group, the reality is that it has
always used brutal terrorist tactics in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.
LeT members have perpetrated and even claimed responsibility for scores
of attacks on Hindu pilgrims, temples and innocent farmers. In fact,
the LeT boldly claimed responsibility for a May 2002 attack on the
wives and children of Indian troops at a time of war-like situation
between India and Pakistan. European Union External Affairs
Commissioner Chris Patten noted at that time that he was repulsed by
the sheer savagery of the attack where sleeping infants were
machine-gunned to death at close range. Despite this, the LeT openly
praised the attack and glorified it on its website.

Along with the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the LeT is widely suspected of
involvement in the December 2001 attack on India’s parliament in New
Delhi, almost leading to war between India and Pakistan. The LeT was
also responsible for an attack on a temple outside the city of
Ahmedabad in September 2002, India where 28 innocent worshippers were
gunned down ruthlessly by two suicide terrorists, perhaps in the hope
of inciting riots between Hindus and Muslims. The LeT was linked to a
car bomb attack in Mumbai in August 2003, which killed at least 52 and
wounded nearly 200 people. LeT members in Kashmir were also especially
noted for their extreme cruelty. In the run up to the recent Indian
parliamentary elections, LeT terrorists cut off the ears of two
political workers as a warning to Kashmiris not to participate in the
polls. LeT members have also used injections of poison to inflict pain
and kill those who they considered as informants in Kashmir.

Based on the above, it should be quite clear that the current portrayal
of the LeT in Australia is incomplete and misleading. By mislabelling
what is essentially a pan-Islamist terrorist group and the Pakistani
partner of al-Qaida and as a “Kashmiri rebel group,” some media outlets
in Australia are doing the public a great disservice. The second and
concluding part of this series will look at the real danger that the
LeT poses to Australia and also take a critical look at the efforts in
Pakistan to supposedly curtail the LeT which actually may turn out to
be little more than eyewash so far.

Kaushik Kapisthalam is an Atlanta-based IT professional
and a freelance commentator on South Asia issues who writes frequently
on non-proliferation and terrorism related topics. He can be reached at
contact @kapisthalam.com

Peter Fray

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