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What if Lashkar-e-Taiba Is a Scapegoat?

December 11, 2008 by  


Courtesy New America Media, Yoichi Shimatsu

Editor’s Note: The dirty tactics used against civilians in the Mumbai massacres last month are more typical of the Mumbai underworld than of the Islamic militant Lashkar jihadists who fought the Indian army to a standstill in Kashmir. By blaming Lashkar, the Indian right hopes to forestall any Obama initiative to resolve Kashmir. Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times, has reported from South Asia for New America Media and Pacific News Service for over a decade.

2008-12-10T155121Z_01_MUM09_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA

On India’s “most-wanted” list of 20 suspects believed to have planned the recent Mumbai attacks is the name of fugitive crime boss Dawood Ibrahim, who ordered an earlier wave of bombings 15 years ago. Among those chief suspects, only Dawood has sufficient local knowledge, an entrenched organization — known as D-Company — and the deep pockets for such a complex operation in a world city.

The bold raid by young gunmen, who apparently came by sea, was preceded by extensive preparations by city insiders – mapping and targeting were specific and explosives were stocked inside hotel rooms rented before the attack. Most telling was an early police report that indicated one of Dawood’s lieutenants inside the Mumbai Customs House organized the transfer of guns and ammunition from warehouses on Sassoon Dock onto the speedboats used in the landing.

The assault was a made-in-Mumbai production much like the Bollywood crime movies about D-Company’s many bloody gang wars. A Hindu breakaway gang, in concert with conservative politicians and police officers, revived the turf wars in 2007 with a spike in shootings and arrests, along with gaining Pakistani approval for Dawood’s deportation. Then D-Company, with a few lowly recruits from Pakistan, struck back.

Why then is New Delhi and Washington insisting that Islamic militants in Pakistan are primarily responsible for the attack while downplaying Dawood’s larger role?

Lashkar-e-Taiba is the convenient solution for the politicians who are trying to cement an Indo-American “civilian” nuclear pact and military alliance, and every such arranged marriage demands a common enemy.

Blaming the Lahore-based Lashkar is all-too easy since the outfit was once the West Point of the Kashmir insurgency. The Army of the Righteous, as it is known in English, was a paramilitary force par excellence that routinely mauled the Indian Army along the Himalayan ridge that forms the Line of Control of divided Kashmir. In an attack on the strategic town of Kargil in late spring 1999, Lashkar broke through India’s alpine defense line and came close to forcing New Delhi to the negotiating table.

Along the sawtooth LoC, Lashkar is respected by professional soldiers on both side. A Pakistani hero who fought on the Baltistan heights, Corporal Ahmed, told me of his admiration for the stoicism of these jihadis, who wore sandals to battle in the snow. At a checkpoint in Indian-controlled Kargil, an army captain wearing a Sikh turban said frankly that nobody in the Indian Army could fight man-to-man against Lashkar.

Lashkar earned its reputation in clean-fought mountain warfare, pitting lightly armed guerrillas against Indian armor and superior firepower.

In its finest hours, these fighters would never consider the dirty tactics used against civilians in Mumbai, for example, the gangland-style executions using a shot to the back of a kneeling captive’s head. That is more typical of the Mumbai underworld.

Like many of the misguided decisions in the war on terror, the banning of Lashkar by Pakistan in 2002 did more harm than good. Without central discipline and a unifying cause, splinter groups broke off and many a cadet went solo. During his residency in Karachi, Dawood is known to have sent his young recruits for training by former Lashkar instructors. The moralistic cause had degenerated into a school for hitmen.

Conservative politicians in New Delhi have seized on the brutal Mumbai attack to discredit the nationalist revolt in Kashmir and undermine the five U.N. Security Council resolutions (1948-1965) that call for a plebiscite on the status of the once-independent country. By linking Lashkar to Mumbai, the Indian right hope to deter President-elect Barack Obama from his oft-stated policy of bringing the Kashmir issue to the fore.

These same politicians hope to repeat their successful handling of Bill Clinton, who reversed the American policy of sanctions for India’s nuclear bomb tests in 1998 within two short years by proposing nuclear cooperation with New Delhi. The Enron gas-fired electricity plant outside Mumbai played a major role in that about-face.

So did the Battle of Kargil. A greater international leader would have seen that the Islamic tactical victory was the key for dislodging New Delhi’s institutional inertia against Kashmir talks.

Clinton intervened in the Kargil battle by pressuring Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif to order a pullback, and the Indian artillery in violation of the truce opened fire on the retreating guerrillas.

The Kashmiris again lost their right of self-determination, the U.N. resolution remained unresolved, and America got nothing out of the deal.

Worse yet, this policy failure shattered any lingering hopes among Islamic militants for American evenhandedness. The inevitable consequence of the Kargil betrayal was 911, and the rise not of Laskar-e-Taiba but of Al Qaeda.

President-elect Obama should not submit to the hysteria being whipped up over the Mumbai atrocities. Mumbai was a criminal event that India’s elite cannot face up to, for Dawood’s D-Company was and still is their procurer of starlets, smuggled gold, drugs, loans for gambling debts and urban land for their new hotels and office blocks.
Don’t mix up the healthy oranges for the rotten apples Kashmir is a historic judgment awaiting the verdict of a popular referendum.

Yoichi Shimatsu. Former editor of The Japan Times in Tokyo and journalism lecturer at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Shimatsu has covered the Kashmir crisis and Afghan War.

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