(op-ed), The Wall Street Journal. August 18, 2006.
More than a week after the arrest of 23 would-be airline bombers in Britain, information about their background, networks and training continues to emerge. The common thread appears to link the plot to Pakistan’s Jama’at ud-Dawa (JUD), previously known as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). The New York Times reports that investigators are focusing on the group’s role in funding the bombers. If so, this marks a new level of ambition for a terrorist outfit that has thus far restricted its mayhem to India. In the past, despite well-documented evidence of JUD/LET’s activities, the international community has done little to impel Pakistan to shut it down. Now that must change. With this globalization of regional terror, a problem far away has made itself ours, and we must solve it.
Despite a flimsy attempt to disguise this, Jama’at ud-Dawa is simply a new name for Lashkar-e-Taiba–which has battled India since 1997, when it began sending suicide-jihadists into Indian Kashmir to “free” the population. In effect this has meant butchering those who don’t subscribe to their seventh-century worldview–Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims alike–a program to which the group brings flourishes such as slicing off the noses and ears of those deemed insufficiently pious. Lashkar’s brutality and fervor injected a new instability into Kashmir. They also brought the region to the brink of war by attacking India’s Parliament in December 2001, in response to which India mobilized half a million troops on its border with Pakistan.
In 2002, Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf, under intense pressure from the U.S., banned several terrorist groups that had operated with impunity on Pakistani soil, including Lashkar. But the emptiness of this gesture became obvious when the group merely changed its name to escape arrests and asset seizure. Newly minted as the Jama’at ud-Dawa, with the same leader–Hafiz Mohammad Saeed–it continued to churn out jihad recruitment material, under the same titles, and to convene massive jihad jamborees to call more of the faithful to arms.
For a brief while, two years ago, it appeared as though the Pakistani military had finally become serious about stamping out terrorism emanating from its territory. A peace process between India and Pakistan moved forward bolstered by the growing confidence that this time bombings would not derail it. But the lull was short-lived. Last year serial bombings in a Delhi market on the eve of the Hindu new year, an attack on a temple in the holy city of Varanasi, and the murder of a mathematician at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore all bore Lashkar’s fingerprints. And then, last month, came the Mumbai blasts that killed more than 200 train commuters and injured another 700. Indian officials have implicated Lashkar in this atrocity, and Indo-Pak relations have naturally suffered another sharp setback.
Like Hamas and Hezbollah, Lashkar excels at both terrorism and humanitarian relief. The funds for the airline bombers are alleged to have been diverted from those gathered in British mosques after last year’s massive earthquake in South Asia. This combination of jihadism with social work makes tackling such groups infinitely more tricky, but tackle them we must, and for that Gen. Musharraf’s regime must be held to account.
Five years after 9/11, Pakistan remains a deeply problematic ally in the war on terror. Despite regular promises of cooperation–and the occasional arrest of an al Qaeda bigwig from a safe house in Karachi or Lahore–the country continues to draw terrorists from Birmingham to Bangalore. Gen. Musharraf presents himself as the last line of defense between the mullahs and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, but in fact, as has been amply documented by the Pakistani diplomat and scholar Husain Haqqani, the relationship between the army and the jihadists is symbiotic rather than adversarial. The army plays up the terrorist threat in order to consolidate its position in Western capitals, while at best turning a blind eye to the violence they export.
All this was bad enough. But now with the airline bombing plot implicating the LET specifically, this problem has arrived on our doorstep. A coordinated trans-Atlantic effort must make the closure of Lashkar–and also the resurgent Taliban, which increasingly uses Pakistani bases to launch attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan–the highest priority. Pakistan must take responsibility for the activities of these groups that operate from its soil, and cosmetic gestures, such as the recent house arrest of Saeed and the arrest of low-level Taliban in a Quetta hospital–will not suffice. For its own sake, the sake of the neighborhood, and indeed the security of our homeland, it is time Islamabad backed its platitudes about fighting terror with real action.
Ms. Ayres is deputy director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania.