Wednesday, December 1st, 2021 08:53:31

LeT And Its Pakistani Masters

Updated: April 3, 2010 12:09 pm

The world was shocked by the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai from November 26 to 28 that killed nearly 170 people, including six Americans. The ten perpetrators of the attacks had travelled from Pakistan by sea, and were armed with AK-56 automatic assault rifles, hand grenades, GPS devices, and cell phones. For nearly three days the attackers terrorised Mumbai, gunning down innocent civilians at a train station, hospital, two five-star hotels, a Jewish centre, and a restaurant frequented by Westerners.

            The attackers were in constant contact via cell phone with their controllers in Pakistan, who provided them detailed instructions on where to go and whom to murder. Released recordings of those cell phone conversations reveal the diabolical nature and sheer ruthlessness of the leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)—a group that has long been supported by Pakistan’s military and intelligence service. The attackers were clearly under the control of their masters in Pakistan, who revelled in the media attention given to the attacks and who exhorted the attackers to massacre as many innocents as possible, while ordering them not to let themselves be captured alive. The operation did not go according to plan, however, and the Indian authorities were able to capture one of the gunmen, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab. Kasab confessed to being recruited and trained by LeT and identified the leader of the operation as Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.

            The Mumbai attacks represented a watershed event for most Indians. The country had faced a series of smaller-scale terrorist attacks in the 18 months leading up to the November 2008 attacks. Mumbai had also experienced a major terrorist attack just two years prior, in July 2006, when terrorists bombed commuter trains, killing 180—about the number killed in the 2008 attacks. What made the 2008 attacks unique was that multiple locations were targeted, including a train station and a hospital, and five-star hotels that serve mainly Westerners and upper-class Indians. The 2008 rampage also differed from previous assaults in that they lasted over a period of three days, with the attackers holing up inside the hotels and Jewish centre, where they fought Indian commandos to the death under the glare of the media. By attacking multiple targets almost simultaneously, the terrorists created a sense of chaos and fear throughout the city.

            The inadequate response to the attacks by the Indian security forces provoked severe criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government and prompted the resignation of Home Minister Shivraj Patil. Much like the effects of 9/11 on the US, the Mumbai attacks catalysed Indian efforts to adopt a more integrated and structured approach to homeland security. Shortly after the attacks, the Indian cabinet approved proposals to increase the number of police officers in major cities, install closed-circuit televisions in busy areas, and create a research wing to investigate terrorist threats in the country’s internal intelligence service.

            Two major challenges India faces with securing its homeland are lack of information-sharing among the different intelligence agencies and difficulties in conducting investigations across state jurisdictions. To overcome these obstacles, the government passed legislation in late 2008 establishing a National Investigation Agency (NIA), much like America’s FBI, to investigate threats or acts of terrorism. Senior NIA officers are granted unique authority to pursue and investigate terrorism cases throughout the country, thereby addressing the challenge of separate

jurisdictions between Indian states. The new Home Minister P Chidambaram also issued an executive order to start the functioning of the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) as an interagency counterterrorism centre similar to the CIA’s National Counter terrorism Center. The MAC was created several years ago, but it has been plagued by lack of staffing and resources.

            One result of the Mumbai attacks was an unprecedented level of counterterrorism cooperation between India and the US, breaking down walls and bureaucratic obstacles between the two countries’ intelligence and investigating agencies. The US and India should continue to recognise the value of their shared experiences in dealing with terrorist threats and enhance their counterterrorism dialogue further and develop joint strategies, thereby improving the security of both nations.

Headley Investigations

The arrest of Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley in the US in October 2009 provided a major breakthrough in the Mumbai attack probe and shed fresh light on the operations and objectives of LeT. On October 2, 2009, US authorities in Chicago arrested David Coleman Headley (also known as Daood Gilani) for conspiring with LeT in Pakistan to conduct attacks in India, and for plotting an attack on the Danish newspaper that first published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed in 2005. Headley had apparently travelled frequently to Pakistan, where he received terrorist training from LeT. He allegedly scouted the sites of the Mumbai attacks as well as sites for subsequent attacks in India, including the National Defence College in New Delhi and two well-known boarding schools. Headley’s alleged co-conspirator, Pakistan-born Canadian citizen Tahawwur Rana was also arrested in the US in mid-October 2009.

            The findings from the Headley investigations have awakened US officials to the gravity of the international threat posed by Pakistan’s failure to crack down on terrorist groups, including those that have primarily targeted India. US officials had previously viewed LeT solely through an Indo-Pakistani lens rather than as an urgent international terrorist threat. The Headley investigations appear to be changing the way the US government views LeT. US State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Daniel Benjamin, for instance, recently said that the Headley investigations show LeT has global ambitions and is willing to undertake bold, mass-casualty operations.

            Most troubling about the Headley case is what it has revealed about the proximity of the Pakistani military to LeT. The US Department of Justice indictment that was unsealed on January 14, 2009 names a retired Pakistani army major, Abdul Rehman Hashim Syed, as Headley’s handler, and Ilyas Kashmiri, a former commando with Pakistan’s elite Special Services Group, and now leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihadi-Islami, as the operational commander behind the Mumbai attacks. While the allegations do not specify that serving Pakistani army or intelligence officials were involved in the attacks, they reveal that the Pakistani army’s past support and continued facilitation of LeT contributed to the terror group’s ability to conduct the assaults.

Pakistan ‘s Response

Pakistan initially denied any Pakistani or LeT involvement in the Mumbai attacks. It took several months for Islamabad to admit publicly that Pakistanis had been involved. Islamabad eventually arrested seven LeT operatives, including those that India had fingered as the ring leaders of the attacks—Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah. The Pakistani government also reportedly shut down some LeT offices throughout the country. Despite these actions, there are indications that LeT continues to operate relatively freely in the country.

            The revelations from the Headley investigations prompted fresh US demarches on the Pakistani government to crack down more forcefully on LeT. Just before the one-year anniversary of the attacks, and perhaps in response to this increased US pressure, Pakistan finally charged the seven LeT operatives in an anti-terrorism court. Pakistani authorities have not charged LeT leader Hafiz Muhammed Sayeed, however, even though Kasab has indicated that Sayeed gave his blessing to the attackers before they departed Pakistan. In fact, on February 5, 2009, Sayeed reportedly addressed a crowd of around 10,000 in Lahore, Pakistan, where he called for additional attacks on India. Eight days after Sayeed’s speech, terrorists bombed German Bakery in Pune, India, killing nine and wounding dozens of others. Home Minister P Chidambaram last week criticised Pakistan for allowing Sayeed to make provocative anti-Indian statements, especially after the Indian government had provided information on his role in the Mumbai attacks.


When we browse through the philosophical concepts and spiritual manuals of various Hindu schools and sects, what clearly appears is that the spiritual evolution conception of God can be broadly classified into three stages.

            First, the Vedic (that includes Veda Samhita, Aranyakas, Brahmanas and Upanishads), second, the Agamic or tantric (that includes various tantric texts of various schools Shaivas, Shaktas, Vaishnavas, Ganapathyas). Aghoras like naths, even though form a separate category by them-self, can be clubbed in tantras under vamachara (Left hand Path). The third stage is Puranas.

            The usual division of Hindu philosophy (Astika schools) is into 6 schools: Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaishesika, Mimamsa and Vedanta. All of them can be traced back into the Gita and Upanishads and Itihasas. For one, Mimamsa and Vedanta take Vedas as Ultimate Authority. The ideas of Yoga and Sankhya are mentioned in Upanishads and Gita. Yoga is a practical application of samkhya. Mimamsa is ritualistic aspect of Vedic Knowledge. The Vedanta is based on the prashtana Trayi (Upanishads, Gita and Brahma sutra). Hence, the Astika schools are just the extension and independent development from the Vedic stage.

            In the Vedic stage, we first find the evolution of period of mantra Samhita. The samhita consists of Mantras which are the spiritual truths realised by rishis in meditation and expressed in human language. That is the reason, vedas are called “apaurusheya” and as “drashtya”. apaurusheya means divine origin, that is not created by humans. The rishi’s visualised these truths in meditation, hence they are called “Drashtya”.

            It appears that, rishi’s mainly worshiped 5 elements, agni being most prominent. They attained highest realisations using upasana the 5 elements. In Rig vedic period, the agni refereed is clearly the Internal bhuta agni. By Yajurvedic period, agni seems to have materialised into external fire of yangna. This seems to suggest that, spiritual methods were discovered and or invented to help common people. These common people were not spiritually advanced enough to worship the bhuta agni. And hence, external fire worship was conceptualised which would help them to spiritually advance to a stage where they can worship the internal fire directly.

            The Brahmanas are detailed manuals for conducting yagnyas. Every fire ritual includes jap and dyan. Doing jap and dyan in a fire ritual, will purify the fire element in body to begin with. Where as pranayam purifies the air element in the body. This pranayam was codified and developed in the Yoga school in the latter age. Doing a fire ritual not only purifies the sadhak but also amplifies the effect of the jap and dyan done.

            The Upanishads sages, concentrated more on laying down proper philosophical explanations for the various spiritual experiences mentioned in Samhita. Upanishad means “near guru”, they are teachings from guru to shishya. And hence, we find them explaining meanings and interpretations of other aspects of Vedas.

            The latter day development of astika schools not only take inspiration from Vedas but they can be traced back to Upanishads and the Gita. So, we find a continuous development of Vedic thought and practice, even though they became less prominent day by day in practice, even though they dominated

the Philosophy. Shankaracharya who was first person to codify Vedic thoughts and write commentaries on it was also a Sri Vidya upasak, a tantric path of Maa Lalita Mahatripurasundari. Ramanuja and Madhava were proponents of bhakti, derived from its puranic version.

            These clearly establish that, even during the time of Adi Shankara, Vedic and tantric methods were used in Integrated way. Some scholars believe that tantra is contradictory to Vedas. But this claim is far from truth. If we examine basic tantric texts, it clearly shows that they do not differ from Vedic thoughts. Infact, tantric texts are mainly practical manuals. They explain different ways of attaining siddhis and realisations of spiritual truths.

The differences, if there are some are in the practical approaches and not in Spiritual truths between Veda and tantra.

            The Vedas were composed over few millenniums and have been passed into the present age. The agamas are of comparatively recent origin. Agamic texts are similar to Vedic texts in the sense that they are also collections of Spiritual experiences of sadhakas. They were also passed from Guru to Shishya. It appears that after Upanishadic period, a need was felt to expand the domain of spiritual practices and explore new ways and siddis. This lead to Individual sadhakas involving themself in deep sadhana to understand different aspects of cosmos and tap different energies of cosmos.

            A simpler fire ritual-Homam was designed. The Vedic mantra”s had given more importance to “Intonations”. But, Agamic mantras were more to do with “Intend” than “Intonations”. The spiritual diagrams, yanthras were conceptualised. Deities are nothing but personification of different energies. They represent different aspect of Cosmos. As the source of whole Universe is primordial sound OM (Shabda Brahman). Mantras are mediums for tapping different energies of the Universe.

            Mantras are the subtle bodies of the deities. Every mantra meditated upon, creates a particular visualisation in him corresponding to that aspect of Cosmos. A sadhaka who does a jap of mantra, first purifies his ego which will create a void in him. Then the deity of the mantra could fill him fully. His whole personality will be transformed. And hence, the Mantra is the subtle body of that deity. Similarly, we could invoke the deity either in fire(Homam) or in yantras. During Agamic period, agni was not directly worshiped, but he was used as a medium where different cosmic energies can be invoked.

            The third stage, Puranas appears to be compilations done specifically for the masses. The spiritual truth”s have been symbolised in the form of stories. Even the spiritual sadhanas have been included inside the stories. These were composed specifically for people who are yet to involve themselves in sadhana. The latter day bhakti traditions derive heavily from Puranic literatures.

            The mantras, Yantras and the Icons/Idols are all not only representations of deities, but also the abodes of subtle bodies of deities. We observe that, during Vedic period only mantra was enough to visualise and invoke the Deities (Cosmic energies). But by the time of Agamas, Yantras were used along with Mantras in he process of sadhana. It was only during Puranic age that, personifications of cosmic energies were complete. The icons and human representations of divine energy were materialised during this age. What is important to note here is, the images and idols of deities are not products of whims and fancies of some superstitious people. But, they were representations of cosmic visions which genuine sadhakas had experienced.

            One important conclusion can be derived at from the evolution of representations of deities. It appears that, spiritual level of people in Vedic period was more advanced than that during agamic or puranic. And hence, with the Kali Yuga set in, and spiritual level successively deteriorating, new methods and simpler tools were introduced to assist the masses. And as a result, aids to help in visualisations were successively introduced.

            There is a lack of research in this direction. If more research is done in this aspect of “Spiritual evolution”, many misconceptions about Hinduism would be cleared.

By Nithin Sridhar

Pakistan had detained Sayeed up until June 2009, when the Lahore High Court called for his release on grounds of insufficient evidence. Sayeed was one of the original founders of LeT and is one of its most charismatic leaders, as evidenced by the crowd he attracted in early February. Sayeed’s release from jail and ability to hold public rallies sends a strong signal that terrorism will be tolerated in Pakistan, especially if it is directed at arch-rival India. Pakistani parliamentarian and former Information Minister Sherry Rehman, during a recent address to Pakistan’s parliament, criticised Pakistani authorities for allowing Sayeed to hold public rallies, noting that they undermined the authority of the state. She asked, “What is the point of our innocent civilians and soldiers dying in a borderless war against such terrorists, when armed, banned outfits can hold the whole nation hostage in the heart of Punjab’s provincial capital?”

            The degree of control that Pakistani intelligence retains over LeT’s operations remains an open question. Some Pakistani officials claim that al-Qaeda has infiltrated LeT, implying that Pakistani officials were not involved in the planning and execution of the Mumbai attacks, and that elements of LeT were “freelancing”. Regardless of whether the Pakistanis did or did not have control of the group that carried out the Mumbai attacks, they are now responsible for taking actions that seek to ensure LeT and its affiliates are incapable of conducting additional attacks. The appearance of LeT leader Hafiz Muhammed Sayeed at a public rally casts grave doubts about Pakistan’s commitment to reining in the group’s activities.

LeT Ambitions and Links to International Terrorism

The US government has viewed LeT primarily through an Indo-Pakistani lens and calculated that the group did not pose a direct threat to US interests. This view is short-sighted. LeT leaders themselves view the group as part of a global jihad movement and seek not only to undermine India but also to attack any countries they view as threatening Muslim populations. LeT’s operational focus has evolved considerably over the last several years. Throughout the early and mid-1990s, LeT focussed primarily on attacking Indian security forces in Kashmir. By the late 1990s, LeT began calling for the break-up of the Indian state. In 2001, LeT and another group, the Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM), attacked the Indian Parliament in the heart of New Delhi, precipitating a military crisis between India and Pakistan and demonstrating LeT’s ability to put the subcontinent on the edge of a potential nuclear catastrophe.

            Even after the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, US officials tended to view LeT (and JeM) as less threatening to US interests than al-Qaeda, despite well-known links between these groups and international terrorism. For instance, shoe bomber Richard Reid was apparently trained at an LeT camp in Pakistan; one of the London subway bombers spent time at an LeT complex in Muridke, Pakistan; and al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubayda was captured from an LeT safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan. But LeT links to al-Qaeda go back even further. In 1998, LeT signed Osama bin Laden’s fatwa for Muslims to kill Americans

and Israelis. The revelations from the Headley investigations that LeT in coordination with the Harakat-ul-Jihadi-Islami planned to attack the US Embassy and Indian High Commission in Bangladesh around the one-year anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai attacks should help convince US officials that LeT ambitions include hitting US targets.

            LeT involvement in Afghanistan has picked up since 2006. LeT apparently trained at camps in Kunar and Nuristan provinces in the 1990s but did not fight alongside the Taliban at that time. In the last four years, however, as the Taliban has regained influence in Afghanistan, LeT has supported the insurgents by recruiting, training, and housing fighters and facilitating their infiltration into Afghanistan from the tribal areas of Pakistan. LeT has also helped al-Qaeda by recruiting men from the Jalozai refugee camp in Peshawar for training at al-Qaeda camps to become suicide bombers in Afghanistan. LeT fighters were also likely part of the group that attacked a US outpost in Wanat, Afghanistan in 2008 that killed nine US soldiers.

US Policy Moving Forward

It has been a failure of US policy to not insist Pakistan shut down LeT long ago. US officials have shied away from pressuring Pakistan on LeT in the interest of garnering Pakistani cooperation against targets the US believed were more critical to immediate US objectives, i.e., al-Qaeda shortly after 9/11 and the Afghan Taliban more recently. But overlooking the activities of LeT in Pakistan is equivalent to standing next to a ticking time bomb waiting for it to explode. Furthermore,given that LeT has cooperated with al-Qaeda and shares a similar virulent anti-west Islamist ideology, it makes little sense to believe one can dismantle al-Qaeda without also shutting down the operations of LeT.

            US officials have begun to acknowledge the importance of Pakistan pursuing more consistent counterterrorism policies, rather than relying on its past tactic of fighting some terrorists, while supporting others. US Defense Secretary Gates argued in a recent op-ed that ran in the Pakistani daily The News that seeking to distinguish between different terrorist groups is counterproductive. US Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair elaborated on this point when he testified before Congress on February 2, 2010, thus: “Pakistan’s conviction that militant groups are strategically useful to counter India are hampering the fight against terrorism and helping al-Qaeda sustain its safe haven.”

            To degrade the overall international terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan, the US must convince Islamabad to confront those groups it has supported against India. The Mumbai attacks and subsequent Headley investigations reveal that LeT has the international capabilities and ideological inclination to attack western targets whether they are located in South Asia or elsewhere. The boldness and sophistication of the Mumbai attacks demonstrate that Pakistan needs to take decisive action to neutralise LeT before it conducts additional attacks that could well involve western targets and/or precipitate an Indo-Pakistani military conflict. More specifically the US must:

            Closely monitor Pakistani actions to dismantle LeT. Merely banning the organisation has done little to degrade its capabilities. The US in collaboration with other allies must increase pressure on Pakistan to take specific steps like denying LeT leaders the ability to hold public rallies, collect donations, and engage in paramilitary training on Pakistani territory.

            Avoid conveying a message that the US is more interested in some terrorist groups than others, which only encourages the Pakistani leadership to avoid addressing the issue of confronting Lashkar. Washington should repeat Defense Secretary Gates’ message about the futility of trying to distinguish between terrorist groups that share more commonalities than differences.

            Convey to the Pakistani leadership that the US will monitor closely India’s military posture toward Pakistan as it dismantles groups like LeT.

(Excerpts from the testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, March 11, 2010)


 By Lisa Curtis


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *