Christine Fair’s lecture “Macabre Social Capital: The Families of Pakistan’s Lashkar -e -Taiba” at Manthan on 8th February 2019 discussed her new book,” In Their Own Words: Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba”. Christine began her talk with brief history of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba or LeT , the domestic politics of LeT and a successful recruitment process followed by LeT. LeT began their operations in India with Indian Parliament attack in 2001, attack on army base in 2002 and the latest 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Founded in late 1980s in Afghanistan by Hafeez Sayeed, LeT emerged as military wing of Punjab based Markaz Daawat ul Irshad (MDI) with crucial partnership with ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence, the intelligence agency of Pakistan). LeT is different from other Pakistan based militant groups ( Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban, the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, ‘Kashmiri” outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkut-ul-Jihad-Islami) from the perspective of interpretive Islamic tradition they follow. LeT follows Ahl-e-Hadis interpretive tradition of Islam, while all the organisations mentioned above follow Deobandi interpretive tradition of Islam (Deobandi began from Deoband in modern India in mid-19t century as a religious revivalist movement in South Asia and also took root where Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi have migrated).
The difference implies that LeT insists that only jihad outside of Pakistan is legitimate and stands for stability and peace in Pakistan at all costs. Other Deobandi organisations have a long history of killing Pakistanis, whether security forces, civilian politicians, or members of other religious groups such as Ahmediyas, Shia, Christians, Hindus, and increasingly Barelvis, who comprise the majority of Pakistani and even declared the rulers and regime as Takfirs (apostates), and not sufficiently Islamic, and so have justified waging wars against it. The LeT clearly stands in opposition to declaring any class/category/maslaq of Muslims as apostates (within Pakistan) and strictly prohibits its cadres and supporters from waging a war/causing instability in Pakistan.
It also helps the state in its propaganda of externalising all internal security challenges of Pakistan as Indian, Jewish and American conspiracy. While LeT has no qualms about killing Hindus and Christians outside Pakistan, it opposes violence against them in Pakistan. It seeks to convert these minorities to Islam through ‘dawa’ and proselytization. It however opposes any attempt to secularize any Pakistani law and remains committed to an Islamic state. Due to their ideology they withdrew from Afghanistan and ISI and Pak Military decided to work with them in Kashmir.
LeT is is more like a para-military wing of Pakistan and less of a terrorist organisation. It is tightly controlled, hierarchical and bureaucratic organisation with operations in almost all districts of Pakistan. Contrary to popular myth, the LeT recruits are not uneducated and drawn from madarsaas. They are more educated than an average Pakistani and receive the religious education only after joining LeT. The recruits are carefully chosen from the ten districts of Pakistan’s Punjab adjoining Indian border, the districts which suffered a lot during partition and are having Pak military’s training camps, making it ideal recruitment ground for LeT.
LeT keeps in constant touch not only with its cadres/recruits/supporters but also their families and in case of the death of its cadres, provides them with monetary support.
While studying almost 900 biographies of the slain LeT recruits, Christine came across a common thread where mothers and wives of young men encourage them to sacrifice their lives by spreading terror in Kashmir. Their belief that such “Shahaadat” would elevate the family’s social status and on the judgement day their son or brother will intercede on their behalf and take 70 of their relatives with them to ‘jannat’.
This belief comes from the Islamic teaching of sacrificing one’s sons for the betterment of the community which LeT uses to motivate the recruits not just to cause maximum damage but also to sacrifice their lives for that purpose. For this ideological stand of LeT, Pak military finds it financially useful to train LeT recruits as they are supposed to die in the operation thus not requiring retirement benefits accruing to a trained army officer. From this perspective, Ajmal Kasab failed to complete his task as he failed to die and that helped Indian authorities to know the nexus between LeT and ISI and Pak military.
LeT invests financially and socially not just in the life of the recruits but their family as a whole. Only when the family and especially mother is convinced about the Islamic tradition mentioned above, the recruits are trained and eventually sent for the terrorist mission. The family is given all types of assistance whenever required, which strengthens LeT’s place in the life of recruits. Compared to any other terrorist organisation, LeT has developed better relations with women associated with their recruits giving them better mobility compared to an average Pakistani woman.
While answering the question on LeT’s lesser success in carrying out terrorist activities, Christine replied that currently Pakistan state is struggling with another terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad which is emerging as bigger challenge. On a surprising note, Christine commented that cultural exchange and economic relations between two countries do not have any bearing on improving relations between the two countries. Pakistan army has existential fear of India and hence whenever Indian government tries to take any initiative to improve relations, within no time Pakistan replies with a terror attack. She quoted Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Lahore visit and following Kargil war to prove her point.
On USA’s inability to see through Pakistan’s act, Christine commented that there is a structural bureaucratic flaw in DC, where in absence of experts and complete knowledge of Indo-Pak relations, the reaction of US state has been inconsistent. Pakistan takes advantage of this flaw and with the excuse of controlling Afghanistan has created an influential lobby to promote its cause.
On being asked if the USA was the biggest terrorist country, Christine replied that she doesn’t consider US as a terrorist country, however George W Bush’s should be charged for the war crime he committed by invasion of Iraq and he repeatedly lied to US citizens about it. His crime led to creation of a deadlier terrorist organisation, ISIS.
On Kashmir issue, Christine said that Kashmir’s performance on HDI is better than many other Indian states and Indians should visit Kashmir and talk to Kashmiris to understand the problem. Christine ended her discourse with the fact that in both USA and India more people die in road accidents than the terrorist attacks. Even after spending millions, the citizens in both the countries do not feel any safer and worse have become more distrustful of Muslims as a whole. So, the first step would be doubt less and think more. Develop the capabilities to fight terrorism but to abstain from doubting fellow citizens from the purview of religion only.