Monday, 6 February 2012

Book Review: “The Caliphate's Soldiers: The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's Long War”by Wilson John

Over three years ago, on 26 November 2008, a bunch of terrorists infiltrated into Mumbai and attacked a number of targets ranging from five start hotels, a public transport hub, a Jewish community centre, a hospital and the like. The terrorists were young men who were superbly motivated and trained by an organisation which was a state within a state. As powerful as a state, but with no accountability to the international community and with notions of human rights and liberties far removed from what the average civilised being holds. None of the terrorists expected to survive the attack, they were expected to fight to the death and cause as many casualties and as much mayhem as possible. However, one of the terrorists did survive and based on his testimony and other evidence, the world now knows a lot more about the Lashkar-e-Taiba (“LeT”), the organisation responsible for that atrocity.

It was only after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks that the United Nations designated the LeT as a terrorist organisation. Despite that, even now, there is a dearth of information on the LeT. So much has been written about the Taliban and the Al Qaeda and so little about the LeT that Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has written the foreword to Wilson John’s The Caliphate's Soldiers: The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's Long War tells us that ‘there is no book quite like it, traversing as it does a huge swath ranging from the Lashkar’s history to its virulent ideology, to its organization, resource mobilization and operations. John’s book thus functions as a primer in the best sense of the world: it provides a comprehensive introduction to this insidious terrorist group who global reach has increased considerably during this last decade at a time when most analysts and governments, atleast in the West, were consumed by threats posed by the Al Qaeda.

In certain respects, the LeT does not appear to be much different from other terrorist groups that are spawned and incubated in Pakistan. The LeT runs a number of recruitment and training centres in Pakistan. It openly raises money through a number of front organizations, many of which are charitable ones. The leaders of the LeT live in various Pakistani cities. A lot of money is received from overseas donors. However, in one crucial respect, the LeT is different from other terrorist groups based in Pakistan. At a time when Pakistan seems to be on the verge of civil war, when so many Islamic fundamentalist organizations have broken with the Pakistani government and have attacked the Pakistani army, the LeT has never attacked a single target in Pakistan. In other words, the LeT is closer to the Pakistani establishment than any other terrorist group based in Pakistan.

Does it mean that the LeT has nothing to do with the Al Qaeda? Far from it, the LeT has been actively supporting the Al Qaeda in Pakistan and elsewhere. Does this mean that the LeT is focussed only on Kashmir, which still remains the primary goal for the Pakistani State? No, the LeT’s dream is to establish a global Islamic caliphate, though it is much more active in Indian Kashmir than anywhere else. The LeT acts as a kind of terror BPO, managing terror campaigns for the Pakistani army in Kashmir and for other wealthy patrons elsewhere. It has the ability to do so, with a strength of around 50,000 men, well trained by ex-army men and equipped with the best weaponry that donations can buy. According to John, the LeT is a threat to Pakistan, coalition troops in Afghanistan and the rest of South Asia.

What is the genesis of the LeT? Why was it set up after the Soviet troops had exited from Afghanistan? What are the LeT’s ideological moorings? Can it be said that the defeat of Shah Waliullah’s grandson and his followers at Balakot in 1831 has played a role in the creation of the LeT almost 175 years later? To what extent was LeT’s found Hafiz Mohammad Saeed influenced by Shah Waliullah, Mawdudi and Ibn-e-Taymiyyah? How could an organisation based in Pakistan motivate a paunchy Chicago businessman named David Coleman Headley, aka Daood Gilani, to help them carry out the 26/11 Mumbai attacks? Does LeT have links to Dr. A. Q. Khan? How much funding and support does the LeT receive from the Pakistani army and the ISI? If India and Pakistan were to be embroiled in armed conflict yet again, what sort of role could the LeT be expected to play? Would this ruthless organisation hesitate to use nuclear weapons if an opportunity presents itself? Do please read this wonderfully expansive book for answers to all these questions.

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