Antecedents and Implications of the November 2008 Lashkare-Taiba (LeT) Attack Upon Several Targets in the Indian Mega-City of Mumbai
C. CHRISTINE FAIR
RAND | Testimonies | Antecedents and Implications of the November 2008 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Attack Upon Several Targets in the Indian Mega-City of Mumbai
On November 23, 2008 ten Pakistani terrorists associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)/Jamaat ul Dawa (JuD), operating in four attack teams, rampaged across some ten different targets in the Indian port city of Mumbai. In part due to the complexities of the counterterrorist operations, the tenacity and training of the attackers, and the inadequate capabilities of the Indian security forces, iit took some four days to end the terrorist campaign which claimed the lives of at least 172 victims. In this testimony, I have been asked to focus upon four specific concerns emerging from this attack and its perpetrators. First, I contextualize LeT among the proliferating expanse of militant
groups operating in and from Pakistan. Second, I provide specific information about LeT, the militant group responsible for this and many other attacks within India. Third, I draw out both the antecedents and innovations of the 2008 Mumbai attack. I conclude with a discussion of some of
the important implications that emerge from this and other LeT activities for regional and international security generally and U.S. security in particular.
While LeT was banned in 2002, the LeT began operating under the banner of JuD, which was overtly operational until the Pakistan government formally banned it following immense international pressure in late 2008, including a resolution in the U.N. Security Council that JuD is a terrorist organization. In the service of brevity, I use LeT and JuD somewhat synonymously even though there are a few important technical differences.4
Pakistan’s Myriad Militants: Situating Lashkar-e-Taiba
Pakistan has given rise to numerous militant groups in recent decades that operate to secure Pakistan’s state interests in India and Afghanistan. In addition, Pakistan has sustained numerous covert operations campaigns in Indian-administered Kashmir since 1947.5 Many—if not most—of
these militant groups have enjoyed the specific patronage of the Pakistani state intelligence and military agencies to prosecute Islamabad’s interests in India (with particular focus upon Kashmir) and Afghanistan.6 These varied militant groups, until circa 2002, could largely be disaggregated
according to religious ideology (school of Islamic thought) and operational goals.7
Among Pakistan’s various Islamic interpretative schools, the Deobandi school of thought claims the most militant groups. Key Deobandi militant groups include the Taliban (Afghan and the Pakistani), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JM), Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami (HUJI), Harkat-ul-Ansar/Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUA/HUM), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba-e-Pakistan (SSP) among
numerous offshoots. The Deobandi tradition emerged as a puritanical movement to uplift Muslims by purifying Islamic practice through discouraging mystical beliefs such as intercession by saints and veneration of graves and shrines. Deobandi institutions, notably a burgeoning archipelago of
Deobandi madaris across the Pashtun belt and beyond, received support from the Pakistani government and others to produce mujahideen for Afghanistan both in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods.8 These Deobandi militant groups also have enjoyed both close connections to and overlapping membership with Deobandi political organizations including personalized factions of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). Until the February 2008 elections, JUI factions comprised important partners in the Islamist coalition (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or MMA) that formed the provincial government in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), a coalition government with President Musharraf’s political ally (the Pakistan Muslim League-Q) in Balochistan, and the loyal opposition in the national parliament. A second important school of thought that animates militancy in Pakistan is the Ahl-e-Hadith interpretative tradition. The most prominent Ahl-e-Hadith militant group is the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Ahl-e-Hadith is a Sunni interpretative tradition associated with Hanbali school of
jurisprudence, which in Pakistan is sometimes called Salafist or derogatorily “Wahabbist.” The Ahl-e-Hadith tradition is the South Asian variant of the theological tradition motivating core al-Qaeda ideologues. While LeT is most known for its militant activities, one of the organization’s crucial functions is the expansion of the market share of Ahl-e-Hadith adherents in Pakistan. For
this reason, LeT trains many more potential militants than it will ever deploy for operations. LeT expects these recruits to return to their localities and continue propounding support for LeT and its creed.9
Several groups operating in Kashmir (e.g. Hizbul Mujahideen and related factions such as Al Badr) are associated with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which is a supra-sectarian school of thought and Islamist political party in Pakistan. Jamaat-e-Islami, while formally a political party, espouses the ideological leanings of its founder Maulana Maududi. Jamaat-e-Islami is similar in goals and
outlook to the Muslim Brotherhood. JI was, until the 2008 elections, a member of the Islamist bloc (the MMA) despite growing differences between JI and the Musharraf government and with otherIslamist leaders within the MMA who continued to support Musharraf. JI boycotted the 2008 elections.
In addition to these schisms across interpretative traditions, Pakistan’s militant groups can in some measure be distinguished by their historical and current goals. As will be discussed herein some of these goals have changed or have not always been stable. For example, groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad (JM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) have traditionally
focused upon the Kashmir issue. Only the HM and other JI-related groups have limited their operations to Indian-administered Kashmir.10 From 1999 if not earlier, LeT and JM began operations in the Indian hinterland both in the name of “liberating Kashmir” but also in the name of a wider jihad in India and exacerbating Hindu-Muslim discord within India to undermine India’s claims to be a diverse democracy that accommodates the aspirations of its varied religious and ethnic groups.11
In addition, Pakistan hosts a number of sectarian groups such as the Deobandi Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba-e-Pakistan (SSP) which traditionally focused upon anti-Shia targets. These groups have also had a historical presence in Afghanistan as well. In the past, Iranian-backed Shia militias such as the Tehreek-e-Jafria and the Sipah- e- Muhammad have targeted Sunnis, especially those propounding an explicit anti-Shia agenda. These groups were
particularly active throughout the 1990s. While the Deobandi-Shia axis garners the most attention with respect to sectarian violence, it should be noted that considerable violence and discord exists among Pakistan’s various Sunni traditions (maslaks). From as early as 2002, some elements of Pakistan’s varied Deobandi groups (e.g. JM, HUJI, LeJ, SSP) began targeting the Pakistan state as evidenced by the attacks on then President Musharraf, various civilian leaders including the Ministry of Interior and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and numerous military, police and intelligence individuals and organizations.Analysts believe that these groups disagreed with President Musharraf’s policies of supporting the United States and its military campaign in Afghanistan as well as Musharraf’s policy of “moderated jihad” in Kashmir. Musharraf adopted this approach due to, inter alia, increased
international pressure in the wake of the Indian Parliament attack in December 2001 by Pakistanbased militants. That attack triggered the largest amassing of Indian and Pakistani troops and stoked international fears of an Indo-Pakistan war. Indian diplomatic fortitude was again tested when the LeT massacred wives and children of army personnel in Kaluchak. The United States
engaged in vigorous diplomacy to dampen the compound crisis and avert conflict. In response to the Indian mobilization, Pakistani troops swung from the west to the east which compromised U.S.operations in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s various Deobandi groups have also been responsible for numerous attacks against international targets such as the various attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, the suicide attack against numerous French naval engineers working in Karachi, a church in Islamabad frequented by foreigners, among numerous others.12 Notable among these groups attacking
Pakistani and international targets within Pakistan are JM, HUJI, and LeJ/SSP.
Following Pakistan’s military operations in the Pashtun belt and U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, a series of Pashtun-led militant commanders emerged that began targeting the Pakistani security forces including the regular army, paramilitary organizations such as the Frontier Corps and police. In late 2007, many of these commanders coalesced under the banner
of the “Pakistani Taliban” (e.g. Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan) under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsood based in South Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Mehsood claims many allies all of whom to seek to establish in various degrees sharia (Islamic governance) across the Pashtun belt in Pakistan including the FATA and settled areas such as Swat.13 In late February 2008, two dissident commanders (Mullah Nazir of South Waziristan and Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan) set aside their differences with Baitullah Mehsood and forged the Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden.14 In addition to the above noted Pakistani groups, Pakistan also hosts elements of the Afghan Taliban, with leadership committees (shuras) in Quetta, Peshawar, and Karachi.15 The Afghan Taliban remains focused upon ousting foreign forces in Afghanistan, overthrowing the Karzai
regime, and restoring their role in governing Afghanistan. As is well known, Pakistani territory is also used by al Qaeda. Al Qaeda operatives are known to reside in North and South Waziristan and Bajaur among other areas in the Pashtun belt. Moreover, many al Qaeda operatives (such as
Abu Zubaidah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad among numerous others) have been arrested in Pakistani cities.16
Pakistan has rightly noted that it is a victim of sanguinary terrorist violence that has escalated since joining the U.S.-led war on terror. Indeed, the TTP and other sectarian and ethno-nationalist militants in Pakistan have wreaked considerable havoc in Pakistan with 63 suicide attacks and an
astonishing 2,148 attacks or clashes with security forces in 2008 alone.17
Howsoever horrific these facts are, the LeT has never targeted the Pakistani state or international targets within Pakistan. This has led many analysts within and without the region to intuit that LeT continues to enjoy special relations with Pakistan’s intelligence and military agencies notwithstanding much-touted Pakistani efforts to proscribe LeT’s activities and those of its cover
organization, the Jamaat ul Dawa (JuD). The March 2, 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore may signal an important shift in LeT operations and its ties to the state. In that incident, several heavily armed men viciously assaulted the team, umpires, and related officials as well as their police escort in the Punjabi city of Lahore, killing six police officers and two civilians. Speculation is rife that the commando operation may have been the handiwork of the LeT. If so, this attack will be the first LeT attack on Pakistani soil. At the time of writing, it is too early to inveigh upon the evidence for or against these allegations of LeT involvement. While the verdict is out on perpetrators of the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers, few analysts and journalists interviewed during my recent trip to Pakistan believed that Pakistan could or would
decisively eliminate JuD despite its late 2008 ban on the organization. This is both because JuD/LeT is still considered to be an important asset in Pakistan’s quest to secure its regional objectives and because it, unlike the proliferating morass of Deobandi groups, has never targeted the state. However, even if Pakistan were to resolve to eliminate JuD/LeT, few believe that Pakistan has the ability to do so.