Guest columnThe challenge of fighting Lashkar-e-Toiba

By Bidisha Biswas

Published 27 February 2012

In her debut guest column, Bidisha Biswas, an associate professor of political science at Western Washington University, explores the threat that Lashkar-e-Toiba poses to the United States as well as India and Pakistan and what can be done to stop the extremist group

In November 2008, India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, was racked by a series of coordinated terrorist attacks.  The siege lasted almost three days, killing over 160 people, including both Indians and foreign nationals. The daring and meticulously planned strikes brought international attention to the group that allegedly executed the operation, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).  As international investigations into the India’s 26/11 (named after the date of the attacks) continue, the case has revealed a close, and disturbing, U.S. link, one which points to larger implications for U.S. security.  

One of the key alleged co-conspirators of 26/11 is David C. Headley, an American citizen of partial Pakistani descent. Currently on trial in the United States, he has given detailed testimony on his work with Lashkar. Headley has also outlined interactions with officials of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), pointing to close links between Pakistan’s government and the militant group.  While this is something that Pakistan hotly denies, the group has a long presence in that country.

Founded in the early 1990s, Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistan-based militant group whose chief goal is the liberation of Kashmir through sustained attacks on the Indian state. Proscribed by the Indian government, it is also on the United States list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Originally funded by the ISI, it was banned by the government of former Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf in 2002. After the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistan government arrested some Lashkar members, butlittle concrete action has followed these announcements. The trials of those who were arrested are pending, and the group’s leadership continues to travel and speak freely within Pakistan.

The literature of LeT demonstrates a commitment to targeting India and Indians as well as infidels in other parts of the world.  The group enjoys little support among Kashmiri Muslims. Many of Lashkar’s recruits are non-Kashmiri in origin. Its rigid, jihadi ideology position is not in tune with Kashmir’s historically heterodox culture.  Today, the question of Kashmir does not even seem to be paramount in the minds of the LeT leadership. Rather, a deep-rooted hostility towards India, as well as the West, is at the core of LeT’s ideology.

It is highly unlikely that any agreement between India and Pakistan on Kashmir – or any other issue- will mollify it. The LeT has quite explicitly stated that it seeks to establish its version of Islamic rule over all of South Asia. It has also begun to ally itself with al Qaeda and other